The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Web Readers are Supposedly Men 

I caught this article on Wired News:

If you're reading this, chances are you're a man. It's not just because Wired News covers technology, the traditional domain of men. Recent surveys found that a large majority of people who read news online are male.

While the gender ratio of people who read print newspapers is about 1-to-1, 60 percent to 70 percent of the people who read the websites of the same newspapers are male. For example, 61.8 percent of NYTimes.com readers are men, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, an agency that provides research and analysis on Internet users. However, the audience of the paper version of The New York Times is roughly 50-50, according to audience reports provided by the paper.1 (Wired News' male-female ratio is about 7-to-3, in line with other technology-oriented sites). In general, the number of men reading online news is 8 percent to 13 percent higher than women, according to studies by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The rest of the article really just discusses the implications of this statistic, and is an interesting read. However, I'm not sure we can take these statistics at face value, and I'll explain why. Recently I've also read several things talking about the evils of online newspapers requiring registration. This article also from Wired News was recently linked on Slashdot:

I have a confession. I'm not always who or what I appear to be.

Depending on my mood, I'm a 92-year-old spinster from Topeka whose hobbies include snowboarding, macramé and cryptology; the CEO of a successful high-tech firm in Bumblebutt, New York, whose company has a market capitalization of four cents; or an Alaskan mango grower. What magazines do I read? Soldier of Fortune, Modern Bride, Granta and High Times. Date of birth? Dec. 7, 1941. July 4, 1976. Jan. 1, 1901. My name? Jed Clampett, Mustang Sally or Freddy Fudbuster.
...
Others turn to free services like BugMeNot.com and Mailinator. BugMeNot.com offers communal login names and passwords to a host of media sites, while Mailinator offers temporary, throwaway accounts to circumvent the requirement that news site visitors provide a working e-mail address to receive final login information. A few diehards refuse to view any story from a site that requires registration. They simply surf elsewhere for news.

Even when people are honest, they find ways to gum up the works: "I can never remember my login information," a wire service journalist told me, "so I have several accounts for the several computers in my life. That means the Times must think it has more people reading the online version than are really out there!"

Once again, another interesting article, and taken together I would say that the facts of the second seem to put the facts of the first in a different light. The gender ratios of online newspaper viewership are taken from online registration forms. So if people lie (I'm commonly an 85 year old African American woman from Central California when I have to register), then can these statistics really be trusted?

I'll go one step further. Being a Software Engineer, I commonly have to deal with customers that are having problems with systems. One of the more common problems I face is what I call the "Make It Go Away Syndrome". This is where an error message pops up on the screen, and the user will simply click Ok, or Cancel, without even looking at the message or writing it down, just to make it go away. Could this not be happening when it comes to online registration forms? Even if users aren't trying to lie, they might just be filling in the bare minimum to continue. Since your sex is usually presented in a drop down combo box, with male usually being the first choice, a woman who just wants to get past the form may not change the setting, fill in the other required boxes, and click ok. Suddenly she is a man to that website collecting statistics.

So are most online news readers really men? I tend to think not.

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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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