Where Bright and Breezy Is Not Necessarily a Good Thing

Media Reviews for Media People: Yahoo's Shine

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Oh, to have been a fly on the conference-room foosball table when the Yahoo folks were concocting a name for their new gal-focused website/portal/destination thing. Breeze? Nah, too breezy. Light? Too luminously radiant. Air? Probably already taken -- but Mabel, be a dear and check the URL, just in case.
Shine's klutzy execution and kitchen-sink approach serves to overwhelm and even intimidate.
Shine's klutzy execution and kitchen-sink approach serves to overwhelm and even intimidate.

Ultimately they arrived at Shine, a moniker that pulls off the unprecedented feat of being both inspirational and aspirational. It encourages, delights, warms, invigorates. It makes me feel strong and safe and loved, as if the midday sun has chosen to "shine" on my internet connection. La la la la la.

The concept behind Shine makes enough sense: Create an internet landing pad for women between the ages of 25 and 54 who think Oprah's gotten a little too mouthy nowadays. Sprinkle it with publicist-approved celeb factoids, the barest hint of edge-free wit and images of pretty, skinny white people, and voilĂ : a site that sates the target audience's every information and entertainment jones.

The execution, however, is so klutzy as to make one wonder if Yahoo has taken its we-done-built-the-internet preeminence for granted. I realize that any general-interest destination necessarily has to offer a broad range of content, but Shine's kitchen-sink approach serves to overwhelm and even intimidate.

The site dedicates separate sections to Food, Parenting, Love & Sex, Entertainment, Fashion & Beauty, Healthy Living, At Home, Work & Money, Astrology and Speak Up. It overloads each of these areas with material poached from, among others, Eating Well magazine (salads and such), Glamour (celebrity piffle), Marie Claire (a bit on credit-score screw-ups), WorkItMom.com (workplace niceties), Cookie (so-charming striped aprons) and Astrology.com (duh).

At the same time, Shine doesn't present a single morsel of information that could offend or provoke a reaction any more intense than "Gee, you don't say." It explores what veggie burgers are made of (not just vegetables, shockingly); identifies the traits of a sub-par fitness instructor (he/she comes armed with a taser); and, courtesy of Astrology.com, offers "Daily FoodScopes" ("You will meet a mysterious new topping at the potato bar, Leo"). As such, Shine makes Family Circle feel cutting-edge and revolutionary and makes chief online competitor iVillage look like Maxim.

Shine even muffs up on the design front. The site's home page, with its dinosaur-sized fonts and module after bricky module, scrolls down forever. Nobody said Yahoo should be emulating Google's less-is-more aesthetic, but Shine demands a severe pruning.

So how do we make this thing better? To begin with, we hire a coherent in-house writer, who would be the site's first. Take "Why Do Childfree People Need to Hate on Kids?" Never mind that the column doesn't appear to have been edited for content or grammar ("If you hate children to be where you are, you ought to move into one of those nice 55 and over parks where children are banned so you can retire from the messy business of living among the inconvenience of small smelly human beings"). It also misses the irony of attaching a "judgy non parents" tag to a piece that's every bit as shrill as the sternest urban-parent blog post.

Shine also needs someone to tighten its dippy headlines and captions ("How would you react to a male co-worker asking this question? Karen Walrond does so with inspiring cool-headed panache") and someone to wean the site off its addiction to hammy stock photography. It might also consider investing in this newfangled, experimental technology known to first-adopters as "web video." It's kind of miraculous, really. What happens is you click on a "clip" and it "plays" as if "you're" watching a "video." The near absence of sound and motion makes Shine comes across as a primitive, low-budget operation. That's not good.

Judging by the ads on the site, marketers agree. For most of the week, Skype has dominated the Shine home page, and ads for Ocean Spray, Herbal Essences, Kashi foodstuffs, PepsiStuff.com and the Soyjoy fruit/soy bar ("fortified with optimism") rotate in and around the various sections. Subway makes the peculiar choice of offering Shine readers (Shiners?) the chance to appear in one of its commercials, because most women 25 to 54 want nothing more than the opportunity to share a moment and perhaps a turkey sandwich with Jared. There's room for two in them thar pants. Hoy-o!

What bugs me most about Shine is that there's a kind of arrogance to it -- not in its tone, clearly, but in the thought and effort put into it. It's like, "We're Yahoo. We're good at the internet! That means this site rocks!" And yet, 100 or so days into its existence, Shine remains a woefully underdeveloped entity. I imagine the people at iVillage and within the Oprah and Martha Stewart media empires let out a sigh of relief when they saw that Yahoo's encroachment onto their turf posed no substantial threat -- not so far, anyway.

So yeah, Shine needs some serious help. Far be it from me to guess what women want from a general-interest website -- or, for that matter, from a mate, houseplant or ergonomic mousepad -- but it ain't this.
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