Women don't surf - they know just what they want

The runaway success of US women's website iVillage has lured top UK women journalists to compete online.
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The tanks are drawn up and the battle is on for the newest and arguably least-sophisticated users of the internet - women. A clutch of top names from women's glossies has been lured into the dot.com world in preparation for at least one big new website launch and a major re-think on the part of the current market leaders.

The tanks are drawn up and the battle is on for the newest and arguably least-sophisticated users of the internet - women. A clutch of top names from women's glossies has been lured into the dot.com world in preparation for at least one big new website launch and a major re-think on the part of the current market leaders.

The newest player is iVillage, the phenomenally successful US women's website, now set to launch a UK version later this year. For this, they've recruited Tina Gaudoin, former deputy editor of Tatler and founding editor of the fashion-with-brains magazine, Frank.

Going head-to-head with her is Maria Trkulja, editor of Associated New Media's Charlotte St, which is currently undergoing a makeover before its relaunch as Femail.co.uk. Trkulja was lured from the editorship of Now magazine and has also edited The Sunday Express Magazine. Meanwhile At IPC, head of content at the Beme website is another high flyer, Eleni Kyriacou, former editor of New Woman and Looks.

There seems little doubt the impetus to get women's websites thoroughly off the ground has been fuelled by the astonishing growth of iVillage in the US from a tiny parenting site to a force which now influences government thinking. Some 10 million women a month log on to read articles and discuss hundreds of subjects, making it the largest women's website in the world, worth £150m.

It will have taken quite a salary to lure Tina Gaudoin, 38, from a life she was hugely enjoying - writing, running a yoga therapy centre in North London and bringing up her two young children - into the world of dot.com. Since she succumbed she has been anglicising thousands of American articles and honing the tone of the site to suit the UK, ready for its launch this autumn, sponsored by Tesco. The basis of iVillage's success is the way that women use the web, she says. "Women don't surf. They know what information they want, they get it and then they leave. So we are a resource where women find answers and we are community-based. We are not about entertainment and we are not an online magazine."

It makes iVillage a "bottom- up" medium as opposed to all other kinds of publications which are "top-down", she says, taking its cues from the subjects women users bring up on the message boards.

A raft of "community leaders" keep the discussions clean and push them along, the site's staff provide articles and experts give advice. Gaudoin has already recruited cartoonist and writer Sally Ann Lasson to advise on dating, Annabel Heseltine on politics and Christine Hill on pregnancy and birth.

"I like to think we will be able to help people with their problems," said Tina. "As a mum I would far rather get advice about breastfeeding, for instance, from another mother in Birmingham who has been through it than a male doctor down the road."

Over at Charlotte St, Maria Trkulja is introducing changes to make the site a "much deeper and broader information source" recruiting "community leaders" to marshal message-board discussions and a panel of experts to give advice.

Though 80 per cent of the new site's content will be original, it will draw on the "editorial brilliance" of the Mail titles, said Maria. The newspapers will promote the site and vice versa, leading to such link-ups as website users being invited to vote on a controversial issue aired in one of the newspaper titles that morning.

Beme, whose slogan is the somewhat confusing and mildly patronising "be whoever you want to be", is also going in for a heavy dose of branding by sponsoring Ally McBeal.

Beme's format is closer to a familiar woman's magazine with six channels covering subjects including fashion, travel, home life, entertainment, food, health, news, consumer issues, plus a popular "spiritual channel" which includes horoscopes and advice on bereavement.

No item is more than 500 words long and few pictures are used because they take too long to download. Clearly, the scope for editorial flair has to be found in the content rather than the quality of the writing.

Beme claims 200,000 "unique users" and 2.5 million "page impressions" - the total of the web pages all visitors looked at - per month. Associated New Media says that Charlotte St gets 1.5 million page impressions a month.

What interests people like Gaudoin is that a website is an entirely new form of communication which should grow organically as a result of a two-way interaction between staff and users. No one is in overall control and no one can predict what it will look like five years from now.

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