Why were there so much less women on the internet?

What's frightening women away from the Internet?

Although the problem has improved today, there is still a feeling among women that the Internet and computers in general are just toys for the boys. Or as one anonymous mother said, "Motherboards are mother bored".

Why is that so?

PROBLEM 1. Women do not feel welcome on the Internet. Women are often harassed by male-counterparts when online unless they choose complete anonymity through the use of masculine names.

"A survey conducted by SYSTERS, a US mailing list for female information professionals, found 20 per cent of women reporting online harassment. Women trying to conduct research are badgered with personal questions and propositions." (1)

SOLUTION A: Create special Web sites for women to increase support and a trouble-free atmosphere when working or relaxing online.

SOLUTION B: Improve Web site content by making it more appealing to a wider audience.

"Some online publishers say they are enhancing the overall content of their sites, creating services that will appeal to all users, men as well as women." (2)

SOLUTION C: Use live online digital audio and video (e.g. video conferencing technology) to allow women to directly observe and/or listen to people when communicating with them.

PROBLEM 2. Setting up the Internet at home is expensive. The cost of a computer, modem and software usually prohibit its use by women.

SOLUTION: Reduce the price of computers by building simple, small, attractive and robust Internet access machines that anyone can use. Modems should be a standard built-in feature of all computers. If possible, the computers should be small and inconspicuous, almost hand-held (like palmtops), and should be free of external cable attachments for ease of use "on-the-road".

PROBLEM 3. The Internet is often difficult to set up and use. Women find it a very complicated and unrewarding experience just to set up a computer and modem and type away at a keyboard for hours just to get a simple message across. As Paul Somerson, a contributor to the respected US PC Computing magazine, said:

"Here's the scary part - we really are relying more and more on all this chip-based stuff, and it's all getting more and more complicated. Wasn't this supposed to make our lives easier?" (3)

SOLUTION A: Provide a 'plug-n-play' common technology platform to make it easier for women to set up and use any computer and communication device for themselves. The software should also have some kind of good-quality and responsive speech recognition technology built into them to allow women to speak directly to their computer rather than typing on a keyboard.

SOLUTION B: Use simple, non-technical jargon when explaining to women how to use any technology.

The use of many complicated or somewhat vague technical words in the IT industry is of concern to most people. The problem is so serious that even the editor of Australian Personal Computer, Mr Nathan Taylor, had this to say about it:

"Finding out what a corporate product is or does is often difficult, because it's nearly always shrouded in buzzwords and propaganda. Spare us. Tell us what a product really does, instead of using vague catch-phrases like "providing optimised e-business solutions for our customer", or "Web-enabling business-critical applications".

...Of course, it's not only in the corporate space that this happens. Intel's name for its new instructions in the Pentium III, Internet Streaming SIMD Extensions, is the ultimate in stupid misdefinition. As more computer purchasing decisions are being made by people without in-depth technical knowledge, companies are looking to prey on the ignorance of their buyers. "Making the Internet a whole lot faster." Piffle. A processor is not a magical bandwidth generator. Not content with this act of obfuscation, Intel has gone on to name the new Pentium 4's "architecture" Net-Burst. Apparently it's also going to make the Internet faster." (4)

As some people would say, "e-communication, e-commerce, e-solution, e-easy? e-bollocks!!"

SOLUTION C: Provide chat rooms on web sites to allow women to talk in real time with other people. Women will only use technology if it will save them time.

SOLUTION D: Throw away the Internet altogether and go back to traditional communication methods (very tempting!).

Mr Bill Gates in 1988, is now the world's richest man thanks to his US-based software company, Microsoft Corporation. He is literally earning billions of dollars every year, and we can only imagine how much the company is earning in totality! Source: Mehlman 2000, p.112.

"Mr [Bill] Gates, chairman of the $US8 billion ($10.2 billion) software company, told hundreds of shareholders at Microsoft's annual meeting last week that the company would focus in the next year on making computers and software easier to use." (5)

Today, Microsoft has made significant headway in making its software easier to use after the release of Microsoft Office 97/98 and again with Microsoft Office 2015. And this ease of use has paid off handsomely for Microsoft, with an already phenomenal number of businesses happily upgrading to the new software version.

What interests women most on the Internet?

According to various research groups such as NetRatings:

  1. As with most boys at a very young age, girls often look for imaginative and fun sites with bright colours, good animation and pictures, simple explanations for things and plenty of online games and interactivity;
  2. While young boys tend to quickly focus their mind on very specific areas of interest, especially computers, finance, sports, downloading software, and even pornography, and stick to them for most of their lives, from the age of 12 and higher, girls and young women tend to have a much more diverse range of interests at different life stages. According to the June 2000 figures compiled by NetRatings, females tend to congregate around health and family-related sites, gardening, holiday sites, arts and craft, and sometimes shopping sites (if it will save them the time of doing the shopping in the normal way);
  3. As women get older, however, there is a tendency to focus on specific subjects of interest to them and, interestingly, the sites visited by adult women often end up being the same sites as adult men, including pornography (6). As Media Metrix chief executive David Stewart-Hunter noted in their research:

"If you look at the population of all adult women and ask which Web sites they visit, they end up being the same sites as adult men. There are some biases, but they're not massive." (7)

Therefore the word is out. Experts, including the women themselves, are now saying it is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, for any one site to cover the interests of all women at every stage of their lives. In fact, it would be silly to try. As senior analyst for technographics data and analysis at Forrester Research, Ms Ekaterina Walsh, said:

"One of the most bland and unsuccessful strategies they've been trying is creating a [generic] site for women. All kinds of women, mind you. It doesn't matter that women are many different kinds of people with very diverse interests. How can you assume that millions of women, just because they are the same gender, would be the same in any other way? There are many differences in experience, interests, professional development and life stage. It's not going to work and they're fools to expect that it will. It's not just cynical, it's plain ignorant." (8)

So if you're not sure what women want, it is better to create an easy-to-use web site with a chat room and/or a quality email service to help women save time, money and effort in using the service, and women will know exactly how they will use the service and what interests they will talk about.