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Web sites cater to boomers

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

NEW YORK -- Sharon Whiteley knows all too well that the baby boomer generation she belongs to is like no other. So she's trying to cater to that group by giving an old concept a new twist.

An online dating service debuting this week will match participants based on questions about grandchildren, Woodstock and the presidential election of 1968. It will also let people ease into dating by giving them opportunities to seek friendships first.

''Getting back to the social scene and the dating scene is very different than it is for younger people,'' said Whiteley, 54, who is running the service as part of the 7-year-old Third Age site. ''We have designed it very thoughtfully with our audience in mind.''

Whiteley's service is one of scores to target baby boomers on the Internet. Others, while not explicitly focusing on boomers, happen to attract many from that age group, 38-56, because of what they do -- provide information on health, raising teen-agers and the like.

Ron Rubin, 50, started Boomer Radio, a Web-based station that shuns the glitz of youth-oriented sites in favor of a ''warm, friendly, homey-kind of feel.''

''As we've gotten older, our tastes have become more eclectic -- jazz, blues, bluegrass, classical,'' he said. ''We just thought it would be perfect to have a radio site that not only catered to the music of the past but music we are currently listening to.''

One fan, 45-year-old accountant Clay Grant of Atlanta, stumbled upon the station while working late one evening and now listens up to 15 hours a week.

''As you get older, the current mainstream top 40 doesn't seem as appealing,'' he said. ''You grew up with something during junior high school, high school or college, then the music changes.''

Don't tell any of these people that the Internet is all about young people. They note that boomers are online in droves -- and more so than teens and 20-somethings, they have money to spend.

But sadly, they say, too much of the Internet still ignores the nation's largest generation.

David Henderson, who considers himself a boomer at heart although at 57 he is a year older, decided to give boomers more of a voice by creating BoomerCafe, an online magazine.

''It's written by baby boomers for baby boomers and serves as a forum for people to exchange ideas,'' Henderson said.

Jan Reisen, 52, started a similar site with the catchy domain name ''AgingHipsters.com'' and is about to adopt an online journal format known as a weblog, which she said will let boomers talk back and have an even greater voice online.

Not everyone's convinced of the need for boomer-specific sites.

''I bristle a little bit at being pigeonholed that way,'' said Mary Westheimer, 47, who runs the BookZone Web site on book publishing. ''It feels like I'm being labeled. I tend toward the more general interest sites.''

Rich Hanley, an e-media professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., said boomers are too diverse to easily target. Those at the upper end, he notes, are thinking more of retirement, while the younger set are sending kids to college.

''The boomer cohort will continue to hunt and gather sites it finds useful for specific purposes, as opposed to turning to a one-size-fits-all portal,'' said Hanley, 46.

Nonetheless, boomers have plenty of hobbies and interests, and they've congregated at sites serving those needs, even those not specifically targeting boomers.

Among them:

--MyFamily.com, a genealogy Web site where half the usage comes from boomers. ''We don't typically become as nostalgic until we start to watch our kids growing up,'' said Tom Stockham, the site's president and chief executive.

--NexCura, which runs CancerFacts.com and related health services. Visitors tend to be boomers looking up information for themselves or their parents, said Howard Mahran, founder and chief science officer.

--TeensAreNotADisease.com, a parenting Web site. Parents of teens are typically boomers, said Carleton Kendrick, the site's family resident therapist.

Knowing the audience, sites have been marketing themselves where boomers are known to congregate.

A real estate site, ForSaleByOwner.com, is launching an ad campaign this spring targeting radio stations that skew toward that age group. MyFamily.com has advertised at the parenting section of America Online and the family section of Microsoft's MSN.

Meanwhile, boomer sites are considering a consortium for advertisers that want to pitch luxury autos, travel packages, medicines and other products to boomers, said Boomer Radio's Rubin.

Brian Liu, chief executive of LegalZoom.com, said that while the initial dot-com craze focused on youths going online, ''as more companies grow ... they realize the much larger market is with people who are slightly older.''

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Anick Jesdanun can be reached at netwriter(at)ap.org



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