Why those women's websites are such a turn-off

New Media
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The Independent Culture
IN THE mad rush to beat their competitors, the new breed of women's portals forgot just one thing - thorough research. Ever since the likes of Handbag.com, iCircle and CharlotteStreet.com launched, I've been conducting an unofficial straw-poll of what women really think of them. I haven't come across anyone who is excited enough about them to take more than a curious first look, myself included.

Last week, I saw the first bit of official research, which might change the focus of some of these superficial women's sites. While the Optimedia research states the obvious, it's reassuring to discover that I am not alone in finding the sites patronising. Oddly enough, Handbag.com came out the worst, perhaps something to do with the name, lack of demographic targeting and confused strategy? Another interesting finding was that women don't like being singled out as "women" on the Web.

Women clearly are not going to spend too long visiting sites that offer the same thing they already get from the huge range of women's magazines. Personally, I'm still waiting for a decent satirical community-driven website that offers something more than the health and beauty bumph widely available offline.

New media, new profit

BUCKING THE trend of slicing a stock flotation price in a last-minute panic, 365 Corp curiously decided to raise its price range to 150-160p last week, obviously feeling confident that it could sustain a high enough share price. Either 365 knows something that we don't (that the market is going to bounce back up) or it's just being optimistic, resting its laurels on a strong business strategy.

The difference between the recent high-profile flotations of Freeserve and QXL, and the imminent offering of 365, is that the latter has a tangible business proposition owning shedloads of content while QXL and the rest don't actually own anything, not even the fickle users they claim are theirs. Clearly, 365's strength lies in its publishing model. It started life as a football e-mail service which turned into a community-driven website, but it soon evolved into a global publishing business which now covers a flurry of sectors such as music, rugby and dating, all spearheaded by content supremo Danny Kelly.

If any new media company were ever going to thrive on the London Stock Exchange, 365 has to be it. God forbid, it's even reached a stage where it's able to bandy around a word not normally associated with new media companies - profit, having generated revenues of pounds 4.6m and operating profit of pounds 277,000 in the three months ending on 30 June.

I just hope Danny keeps his promise and, once he becomes a paper millionaire, starts travelling to work in an old-fashioned sedan chair carted by hand- picked dusky maidens and wearing a ludicrous crown at a jaunty angle (his words, not mine). I can't wait Danny, that I just have to see.

The e-bill falls short

SO THE Government has finally got its act together and published its industry-friendly Electronic Communications Bill, which should become law early next year. The move, intended to bring the UK up to date with the US, is a definite step in the right direction but stops short of anything that will make Britain the leading place in which to trade electronically by 2002 - Tony Blair's target.

The Bill has been somewhat slimmed down, separating law enforcement issues from business processes so that it will pass through Parliament quickly, but I was hoping for something, a line at least, which would put some kind of pressure on BT to drop Internet call charges.

By giving legal recognition to digital signatures the Bill could go as far as boosting the current figure of 2 per cent of trade conducted electronically to around 20 per cent by 2001. Legislation aimed at tackling so-called cyber-criminals is to be included in a separate Bill to be published next year, which will sit under the auspices of the Home Office rather than the DTI.

Eventually, the Government says the e-Bill will allow companies to deliver annual reports and proxy votes electronically, and extend from the business- to-business market to cover consumer trading. The Government will now face more pressure to bring in secondary legislation needed to cover consumer digital signatures, regulation, property rights and taxation issues.

Labour will be recognised for taking the first step to boost the UK's digital economy. But unless it puts more pressure on BT to speed up ADSL roll out and free up Internet calls, it's unlikely that the UK will realise the Prime Minister's digital utopian dream.

The dotcom ad boom

YOU WOULD need to be living on Mars to have missed the huge amount of new media companies advertising across traditional media. It's certainly doing the trick with awareness of online-only brands, even among non-Internet users such as my mum, at an unbelievable high.

Technology-related companies have spent over pounds 15m through September on TV advertising, according to Billetts Consultancy. The knock-on effect has been to push traditional brands out of television to outdoor media because of hiked-up ad rates. This figure is likely to have doubled by the end of the year, judging by the latest round of TV ads (a breath of fresh air after the Freeserve and AOL ads) for the likes of BOL.com, Amazon.co.uk and TheTrainLine.com.

And there's no sign of this abating next year. Already news is filtering through of how much the big launches yet to come - Buy.com, SmarterWork.com, WorldPop.com and Intersaver. co.uk among others - are planning to spend.

While TV revenue figures have never looked rosier, the Internet is taking shape and becoming a big part of the media scene. Are we still two years behind the US?