The number of visitors to websites catering to female audiences has doubled in the past two years, says the New York Times. The number of sites targeting women exclusively has increased by 35 percent in the last year, making it one of the fastest growing online sectors, second only to politically-themed sites. Websites such as Dooce.com, a humorous blog about motherhood, provide content similar to that of popular female magazines, but in a more informal and accessible format. The most popular sites command a high price for ad space and have become quite lucrative.
Investors have taken notice of the rising popularity of these websites and blogs; Comcast recently put down $125 million to buy Daily Candy, a popular fashion blog. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart and JCPenney have been using tactics gleaned from these websites to target products specifically to female audiences. For instance, Wal-Mart employed an online ad campaign on the Glam Media network (a collection of over 650 affiliated women’s sites) in the form of a quiz called “What’s Your Steak Style?” that featured online advertisements of Wal-Mart's oh-so-delicious steak collection.
The Times article also noted that the recent surge in interest in websites catering to women has not been replicated for male audiences. The article accounts for this by stating that women are attracted to the irreverence, humor and community on these sites, while men are often harder to pin down. While I am sure that there are often inherent differences between the websites that men and women choose to read, and that the irreverence and honesty of these popular blogs has helped make these sites popular among women, I am not convinced that these factors can completely explain the discrepancies between trends and male- and female-focused websites.
Historically, men have had a larger presence on the Internet. Websites that may have been male-centric have had more time to diversify, which makes it difficult to generalize a website as "just for men," rather than a more specific topic which appeals to either gender. As these sites catering to women continue to gain popularity, it seems likely that they too will diversify.
In addition, in the rapidly evolving ecosystem of the Internet, it is often difficult to sustain popularity over time. Internet users are finicky and lack loyalty to specific sites, not only expecting change, but demanding it. For instance, in the realm of social networking sites, Friendster begat MySpace, which begat Facebook, which begat LinkedIn—the current darling of the mainstream media (I personally think Mark Zuckerberg was a moron to not sell Facebook when he had the chance, especially given the recent fallout of Google’s talks to acquire the popular—yet likely doomed—news aggregator Digg.com). Once a concept online has been deemed “the next big thing” by traditional media outlets such as the New York Times, the trend is often close to the peak.
So now that I am done with that little tirade on Internet trends in general, I will comment that there are things to be said about the rapidly increasing popularity of sites catering specifically to women. Women account for 50.3 percent of the U.S. population, but their influence on the Internet seems only to be recently acknowledged. Understanding what makes certain sites popular, as well as how female preferences differ from those of men, will be crucial to understanding the direction of female-oriented websites as they begin to diversify and become appealing to more specific demographic groups.