CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: PRIVATE SURF WITH PATRICK SEMPLE

By PATRICK SEMPLE, creative director of Ba, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 December 1999 12:00AM

Trillion. It’s a real boy’s-toy of a word - a billion K - it’s also the number of US dollars that IDC predicts the internet economy will be worth by 2001. Which is doubtless why everyone’s looking to carve a slice of that sticky-portal pie and may explain the recent surge of interest in sites that offer community and e-commerce to women on the web.

Trillion. It’s a real boy’s-toy of a word - a billion K - it’s also

the number of US dollars that IDC predicts the internet economy will be

worth by 2001. Which is doubtless why everyone’s looking to carve a

slice of that sticky-portal pie and may explain the recent surge of

interest in sites that offer community and e-commerce to women on the

web.



But it’s not just the new-media start-ups. Associated New Media and

Hollinger Digital/Boots are already there and Emap and Express

Newspapers are set to join the fray in spring 2000. Can it be that we

live in such an equal society that the big media companies have only

just remembered their oldest and biggest audience? Or is it that

everybody thought the web was for men?



I found a document in the office with the title ’women on the web’,

inside which was the marvellous phrase: ’Women use it, while men play

with it.’ The point being that women aren’t that interested in the games

so much as the content, tend to interact with each other and,

apparently, quite like shopping (on the whole). But there’s the rub -

’Women’ is a very large group and aiming to be the site for women they

are almost guaranteed to fall short of the mark.



Freeserve’s i-circle is less of a magazine than a marketing

initiative.



Its design takes low bandwidth simplicity to new levels of dullness and

its content (with the exception in part of babyworld) still reads like

the rush before launch, or should that be lunch.



Speaking of which, Charlotte Street, by contrast, has professional

journalism written all over it. It’s updated every day across 20

different channels and gives immediate access to bulletin boards and

chatrooms that actually have something going on. I wonder if this has

something to do with its older audience - 55-year-olds may have more to

say and more time to say it. However, the most ’designed’ of the bunch

is also perhaps the most self-conscious - Flash gives really small file

sizes but I wonder if it’s the best software for a pleasurable read, and

I do hate unnecessary secondary windows.



I asked my partner whether she thought handbag.com would replace the

printed magazine and, to my surprise, she said yes straightaway. For

her, immediacy and dialogue online far outweigh in-the-bath-readability.

For me it’s a damn good place for Christmas present ideas. The site

design is very simple and verging on no-nonsense, but manages it with

confidence and style - and reads like someone enjoyed writing it.



I asked a colleague at work the same question but she disagreed. She

said: ’From the pre-sell I expected an iron fist in a Gucci glove, but I

got the usual something designed by men.’ Perhaps that’s why I liked

it.



Quite tricky, this being-a-man-in-a-woman’s-world thing. I wanted to

like everywoman.co.uk but found it quite difficult. It has all the

hallmarks of an idea stumbled upon by two ’real people’ who end up

making it a reality.



It has some nice stuff in it - the ’barter board’ for instance - but has

a bit of a personality disorder. Split into ’woman@home’ and the

slightly uncomfortable ’woman@business’, it has all the same channels as

the others but somehow creates a very ’worthy’ and earnest atmosphere

(nothing to do with having the Guardian Unlimited as a content partner

I’m sure).



For example, I hit ’health and fitness’ and was met by a banner-ad that

read: ’Don’t miss this - scalp psoriasis’, which accompanied a feature

entitled: ’Stay safe - at home.’ Having said that, its ’what’s-on’

search engine was remarkably good.



It’s just about site personality, which is about who you’d prefer to sit

down and have a chat with: someone who’s inspiring and interested in

you, or someone who’s made all sorts of assumptions about you and won’t

shut up. ivillage.com is a bit like everywoman.co.uk only a trillion

times larger and a trillion times more American. Despite being way

outside its target market I quite liked the site - it has a maturity of

delivery and a calm confidence that reflects the state of the US market.

But it’s like American TV - channel-hopping becomes more amusing than

staying with the programme. Content matters.





I-CIRCLE



Client: i-circle



Brief: Be the largest online community for women, providing a friendly

supportive environment in which women can get up-to-date information and

advice



Created by: in-house



Address: www.icircle.co.uk





HANDBAG.COM



Client: handbag.com



Brief: Most useful site online for British women



Created by: Carlo Tartaglia



Address: www.handbag.com





CHARLOTTE STREET



Client: Associated New Media



Brief: Where women meet on the web



Created by: in-house



Address: www.charlottestreet.com





EVERYWOMAN



Client: Everywoman



Brief: Be the number one female community website for women in the UK,

specifically those in small/medium busineses



Created by: Red Fuse



Address: www.everywoman.co.uk





IVILLAGE.COM



Client: ivillage



Brief Organise into brand communities a US women’s network targeting 25-

to 54- year-olds



Created by: in-house



Address www.ivillage.com.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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