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These Women's Sites Are About More Than Gender
WITI.com and womenCONNECT offer specialized tech and business content — and don't try to be all things to all women

Women rule the Net. It's a well-documented fact: We're the fastest-growing segment of shoppers online, in part because we spend more time on the Web, which reflects the fact that we're in charge -- generally -- of what our kids do on the Net and how the family budget is spent. So this idea should be a no-brainer for those who hope to be the next big thing on the Web and Wall Street: Create a site for and about women, and we will come.

Right? Wrong.

Even though several women-specific sites have lured millions from investors based on this concept -- the recent initial public offering from iVillage can testify to that -- they risk eventually losing out to more narrowly focused sites whose users who want unique, specialized content. Women may be the fastest growing segment of the Net audience and control 80% of all purchasing decisions, but that doesn't mean that sites aimed at a specific gender will be successful. In fact, lumping women together just because we're women can be both insulting and confusing.

So it's refreshing to find two women-oriented sites that focus on more than gender: Women In Technology International (www.witi.com) and womenCONNECT.com are two sites that businesswomen will want to check out, not only because they're women but also because they have special business interests.

Women In Technology International (WITI), an organization for professional women who rely heavily on technology, held its most recent conference last month in Santa Clara, Calif., where more than 3,000 women discussed such topics as how to raise capital, how to keep employees happy, and recent market trends and developments in the tech industry. WITI.com is a vertical portal for those women specifically interested in technology. The site offers more than 3,000 presentations given by women in the industry that provide insight into market innovations and career development. Unlike competing sites such as Women.com, Oxygen Media (www.oxygen.com), and iVillage, WITI focuses more narrowly on women in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, and other tech centers around the world.

WITI.com isn't yet financially successful. In fact, it has no revenues. It's funded through sponsorships and advertising partnerships that are managed by the site's creator, USWeb/CKS. Yet even as it ponders how its business model might evolve, it's making a difference. One way is via an online mentoring program through which experienced women help neophytes in the industry. WITI's site attracts nearly 300,000 unique users per month, and more than 3,000 experts are active in the mentor pool. In addition, WITI says it's adding nearly 2,000 experts to the mentoring program each year. Women work one-on-one with their mentors, either online through message boards, live chats, and E-mail, or offline at one of the three yearly conferences and through periodic meetings.

The site also includes news and stock updates, a career center with job listings, medical and fitness information targeted to the particular needs of businesswomen, financial news on public and private companies that are owned by women, and a "community center" -- a message-board area -- where women can find a mentor, sign up to be one, or simply network.

Although its focus on women's issues isn't as relentless, womenCONNECT.com is another excellent resource for women in business. The primary difference between it and so many general-interest women's sites is that you don't need to wade through shopping bots or astrological forecasts to get the information you're seeking. The channels are similar to WITI's: career, health, chat, and business, plus special areas devoted to gender equity and politics.

One of the most useful features on womenCONNECT.com is the business directory, which lists thousands of companies searchable by keyword, subject, or location. Of particular interest to women entrepreneurs is the small-business center, an area that offers some of the richest and most diverse content of its kind on the Web. Women can learn about how to start a business, from writing the business plan to getting financing. There's also a technology center with information on E-commerce tools, plus separate sections on travel, entrepreneurship, home-based businesses, and profiles of successful women CEOs.

Just as portals have a difficult time being everything to everyone online, so do women's gender-specific sites. What might appeal to a mother expecting her first child might not concern the new business school graduate looking for her first job. Studies show that the Web attracts women because of its ease of use and efficiency. WITI.com and womenCONNECT.com add one more ingredient to that mix: The real possibility that women entrepreneurs will find information and advice that will help them succeed in business.


By Stefani Eads in New York
stefani_eads@businessweek.com

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