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WorldNet, iVillage team on women's service

The women's site inks a deal with telco giant AT&T to create what it is calling an Internet access service tailored to women.

Candice Carpenter, chief executive of iVillage, wants the increasing number of women heading online to feel at home there--especially at her site.

Toward that goal, iVillage has inked a deal with AT&T WorldNet to create what it is calling Internet access service tailored specifically to women.

"I think what we feel we can deliver is an integrated package that is very tight and very useful," Carpenter said. "We want women to be in a position to make iVillage their core Internet home."

The partnership is one of several that AT&T has forged with various content providers, but its previous deals all have been with Internet portals--Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, and Lycos.

The iVillage alliance is the first AT&T has made with a so-called "vertical" portal, meaning a site that offers information targeted to one specific community. The telco plans on cutting other such deals in the future, said Dan Schulman, president of AT&T WorldNet.

When WorldNet launched, it focused on providing original content, but that didn't fly with the ISPs customers. Now AT&T is doing the next best thing--or some would argue the first best thing--aggregating content that already has proven popular elsewhere.

iVillage, which competes with the likes of Women.com, gets 75 million page views a month, attracting a predominantly female audience, according to Carpenter. She noted also that the site is tightly focused, targeted at women who constantly juggle career, household, and family responsibilities.

While the major portals, which serve as a front door to millions of Web surfers--are all the rage at the moment, so-called vertical sites that focus on one topic and one community are becoming increasingly popular. Vertical sites clearly are trying to capitalize on the fact that the Net audience--once the domain primarily of early adapters who fit a largely young, largely male, and largely well-off demographic--is rapidly expanding.

They also are aimed at both new and experienced users who want more than a one-stop-shop approach to surfing. The larger portals have been trying to adapt to the demands of those users by offering personalization, which gives users the chance to customize their surfing experiences.

But such features don't always appeal to less technical--and often just plain busy--people, who want to be able to simply turn on their computers, log in, and immediately be greeted with content that makes sense for them. That's what iVillage and its competitors are trying to deliver.

iVillage has narrowed its niche to 25- to 49-year-old women "who have relatively complicated lives," Carpenter said. "These are women with a fairly consistent issue, which is they don't have any time and they like to do things well."

Carpenter said she once was skeptical that women would flock to a site featuring only women-oriented content, but market research indicated that there was a real need. Today, with 45 percent of all Net surfers being female, according to Jupiter Communications, there are enough women online to keep several sites afloat--and to keep several other sites nipping at the heels of those that already are successful.

One advantage the iVillage-AT&T partnership has over such competitors is that it can offer services targeted specifically at iVillage's demographic, such as the ability to switch from Internet chat to real chat without having to dial a number. Research has shown that that type of service is more important to the women's niche than broadband services.

The joint iVillage-AT&T site will launch in January, and the companies have agreed to pay one another a certain fee for every customer referred.