Keeping car advice sites “familiar”

The military origins of the Internet are often considered responsible for the male domination of the technology in its early years. However, once the computer became an integral part of households and workplaces, its popularity among female users increased substantially. In fact, by the turn of the twenty-first century, women’s online participation exceeded that of men (Worthington 44). Research suggests that men rely on the Internet primarily for entertainment, while women increasingly turn to the web for help with tasks and to obtain information. Women often participate in online forums and mailing lists as a way to converse with others and share information; however, many women go online primarily as spectators, looking for specific information – i.e. health, parenting, or career advice – and quickly move on. As Susanna Paasonen writes in Flights of Fancy, “women’s Internet use is characterized as rational and determined, linked with saving time and money rather than fun or leisure” (137). As wage earning women, especially working mothers, have less free time than their male counterparts – often “juggling kids, jobs, and taking care of the house” – the time-saving potential of the Internet becomes both attractive and necessary (Flynn). Unfortunately, the information gathering capability of the Internet is not available to all women, as financial means often determines access. However, women who have computers at home or in places of work find the Internet to be an invaluable tool for obtaining advice and information about a particular service or product. Websites that offer automobile advice for women are representative of such online information sources.

Each of the online car advice sites discussed in this project  – the Edmunds.com “Women’s and Family Car Guide,” AskPatty.com, Road and Travel online magazine, and women-drivers.com – endeavors to create a unique resource for automobile knowledge and information. While many themes, as well as types of knowledge, are common to multiple websites, the way in which the information is gathered, arranged and accessed varies. Edmunds.com takes the form of an online research library. Articles are arranged and archived by subject matter, and can be easily retrieved, printed, or stored by the individual seeking reliable information. AskPatty.com is more interactive, and relies on the latest Internet technologies – blogs, podcasts, and forums – to engage the female driver. Not only does women-drivers.com “twitter” up-to-date auto news, but the entertaining and informative videos on the site provide a short respite from serious automotive research. While AskPatty.com and women-drivers.com each provide visitors with the opportunity to access automotive news and articles, they also encourage women to become actors in the knowledge accumulation process as reviewers of automobiles and car dealerships.

Online information sources, suggests Paasonen, are often configured in familiar formats and themes taken from other media. As Paasonen writes, “the topic areas, discussion forums, articles, and horoscopes of women’s websites owe much to the formats of women’s magazines” (139). Road and Travel, once a printed publication, has converted to an online format while retaining many of the former magazine features. It arranges and archives the articles – much like Edmunds.com – but is magazine-like in its inclusion of additional elements such as human interest stories and travel narratives.

Paasonen argues that the Internet’s use of familiar “feminine” formats is an attempt to appeal to ‘conservative’ media users (138). New York Times reporter Laurie Flynn asserts that female Internet users are interested in “a more efficient experience,” and use the Internet to “make life easier.” It is interesting, therefore, that the four car advice websites included in this project rely on familiar, “feminine” designs to amass knowledge on a product and service that has historically been considered masculine. Perhaps the creators of women’s car advice websites do not rely on feminine formats because they are familiar, but rather, to suggest that automotive knowledge should no longer be considered the province of men.

3 thoughts on “Keeping car advice sites “familiar”

    #   audi news on 11.24.10 at 12:46 pm     

    I was talking to my female friend a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised when she said she’s doing research on all the car review sites before buying a car. I’m an enthusiast so that was great to see. 🙂

    #   Chery Izzo on 02.26.11 at 1:15 pm     

    I conceive this site holds some real good information for everyone : D.

    #   Alex on 02.28.11 at 8:22 am     

    Very interesting read. It’s interesting to see how much the internet is catering to womens needs. I just held a ladies car care clinic here in michigan to help educate them about their vehicles and what questions to ask the repair shops. Education is the most important aspect to maintaining your car.

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