It's amazing how far a batch of Rice Krispies Treats will go to help break the ice with teenage girls. I learned this and more when I visited two Manhattan high schools last week and gave the snacks to everyone who agreed to test out a new website called kibu.com I liked the site, which launched May 1, because it covered not just the usual girly topics like fashion and hairstyles, but finance, college, films and sports. I also knew that it really didn't matter what a Generation X-er like me thought: it's the girls that count. So to put Kibu in perspective, I had these high- schoolers check out competing sites as well, including alloy.com bolt.com and gurl.com This was asking a lot from kids who had just suffered through a gruesome geometry lesson, a dreary discourse on The Scarlet Letter and a chem lab from hell. But as soon as I unwrapped the snacks and told my subjects to dig in, they became a model focus group, full of opinions and Krispy criticisms.
I quickly learned that Kibu was not quite as cool as I thought. On the up side, the girls loved the name, loosely translated as foundation from Japanese. Articles on how to write an essay, turn down a date and weigh the pros and cons of dorm life went over well too. "I'm going though some of these same things," said Layra, 17. On the downside, they found the overall format and design dull. Unlike Alloy and Bolt, which pulsate with colors, animations and links, Kibu's haiku look--which features nothing but a series of faces on the opening page--got old fast. "It's too flat," said Aurin, 17. Others scoffed at topics like how to write a love letter ("If you need help writing a love letter, you're not in love," said Sheresa, 16) and got bored with lengthy text interviews.
So what did the girls like? Anything interactive, especially the quizzes and polls in which you get to see how everyone else answered the same questions. More creative types of interactivity included the friend finder on Bolt, the reader poetry on Gurl and digital snapshots of Alloy members posing with celebrities. The teens also loved Alloy and Bolt's celeb news and gossip, something the more highbrow Kibu eschews. Extras like Alloy's free voice mail and extensive online clothes shopping also got a thumbs-up. Renata, 17, who had already ordered clothes from Alloy, was impressed that they had arrived in just three days.
But the girls got frustrated on all the sites whenever they'd click on a broad topic, like sports, and find nothing they were interested in. Then there were the lengthy sections on obscure topics, like Alloy's strangely elaborate list of magical spells, which got the big thumbs-down. "That is so stupid," said Alexis, 16, to nods all around. And they didn't like anything that slows you down, like the mandatory registration on Kibu or the jumbled look of Gurl, which made the site feel like "everything is cluttered and thrown together," said Rabiyah, 16.
When the final ratings came in, Alloy and Bolt were the clear winners, with Kibu in the middle of the pack and Gurl running last. The interesting thing is that Alloy and Bolt are aimed at both boys and girls. So does that mean that girls don't really want a site of their own? Tough question. Let me bake another batch of Rice Krispies Treats and check with my focus group.