Back to index
Levy, Steven. Rise of the city sites. (World Wide Web sites based on 
     geographical locations). In Newsweek Sept 30 1996, v128, n14,
     p86(3). 


"The World Wide Web has a new destination--your hometown. And guess   
who's best positioned to cash in? Microsoft, of course.               
                                                                      
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO TODAY?"                                       
                                                                      
"That's the question Microsoft has been asking at the end of its      
television commercials. But now, Bill Gates and Co. are no longer     
simply asking the question. With a new online service code-named      
Cityscape, announced this week for implementation next year,          
Microsoft is going to tell you where to go today. "We will be like    
that friend you trust who knows what movies you like and what's new   
and best in town," says the service's marketing head, Richard Tait.   
If, as planned, thousands of consumers drop into Cityscape on the     
Microsoft Network or the World Wide Web to submit to its leisure-time 
recommendations, cyberspace may finally fulfill its long-hyped pitch  
to advertisers: fresh, eager customers, delivered to sellers at the   
precise moment they want to spend their dollars. No wonder Microsoft  
is investing millions of dollars and hiring teams of reviewers and    
editors in a dozen cities, including possibly some outside the United 
States. And no wonder newspapers are sweating as they figure out how  
to hold on to their local ads. The Web is moving from shotgun spray   
to rifle shot, and the switch may change both the way we get          
information about our communities and the way we spend our money      
there.                                                                
                                                                      
Microsoft is only the newest entry in the exploding category of city  
sites, where several major ventures are already on the virtual launch 
pad. It's almost as if the Internet's motto is now "Post globally,    
but rake in cash locally." Makes sense, since 70 percent of all       
purchases are made within 10 miles of home sweet home. In some        
respects the players seem to be reading from a boilerplate press      
release: all are advertiser-supported and lavishly financed, and all  
boast that they'll eventually blanket every urban area on the         
continent while re-creating a cyberspace version of each town's       
gestalt. (New York sites will supposedly feature restaurant listings  
punched out by Jimmy Breslin clones; Seattle sites will               
simultaneously drip grunge and highlight hiking trails.) But each     
claims some distinguishing characteristics.                           
                                                                      
CitySearch: Already operating in North Carolina's Research Triangle,  
Pasadena, Calif., and New York, the high-profile startup hopes to     
sprout in 30 cities by next year. Its key word is community: "We'll   
work closely with the chamber of commerce and the mayor," says CEO    
Charles Conn. CitySearch hopes to make money by maintaining Web sites 
for local businesses; a typical customer would be a restaurant        
publishing its menus online. Eventually, consumers will be able to    
choose a restaurant, make a reservation, pull up a map that shows     
them where to park--and maybe even select a prime table. Really       
ambitious food mavens might then surf over to municipal records to    
check for health-code violations.                                     
                                                                      
Digital City: Begun by America Online with participation from the     
Tribune Co., this $100 million operation aims to be "AOL on a micro   
level," says general manager Bob Smith. He wants people to log on     
several times a day--in the morning you'd check out weather, traffic  
reports and school closings. At night you'd get local news and        
participate in chats with, for instance, a city councilperson or the  
hockey team's goalie. Digital City's six sites (80 to 40 by late '97) 
are only on AOL, but will expand to the Web this fall.                
                                                                      
Yahoo] regional sites: "We think that producing our own content is    
redundant," says Chief Yahoo Jerry Yang. Instead, his company will    
aggregate all the Web sites in a given area, secure major links to    
important local sites (like The Village Voice's entertainment         
listings), offer free classifieds and sell ad space to local banks    
and department stores. Meanwhile, other Web-search companies like     
Lycos are starting their own local operations.                        
                                                                      
Then there's Microsoft, which has characteristically arrived on the   
scene with the approximate impact of the meteor that obviated the     
dinosaurs. At first, Cityscape (Microsoft is looking into a spiffier  
appellation, rumored to be Sidewalk) will focus tightly on arts and   
entertainment. Later, expect everything from real-estate listings to  
shopping guides. Lucre from the empire of Windows is luring name      
journalists. The national editor is Michael Goff, the marketing-savvy 
founder of Out magazine. Editing content at the New York site--which, 
with Seattle, Boston and San Francisco, win debut in the first part   
of 1997--is Eric Etheridge, who made his reputation at Seven Days, a  
late and lamented arts-oriented New York weekly. Microsoft will also  
soak up content from partners in various cities; in its own hometown, 
for instance, it has allied with the alternative paper Seattle        
Weekly.                                                               
                                                                      
This may well result in a fine new source for music reviews and       
dining tips, but anyone who has impatiently twiddled his thumbs in    
front of a slow-loading browser knows the ugly truth: no matter how   
many critics they hire and how up to date their traffic reports,      
Microsoft and its competitors won't succeed simply by delivering the  
same stuff you can get in freebie weeklies or drive-time radio. Their 
future lies in exploiting the interactivity inherent in the Web. To   
do this, however, the city sites must persuade consumers not to       
browse anonymously, but to reveal their identifies --not an easy      
trick in the mistrustful environment of the Web, The incentive could  
be in the form of discounts, or more unconventional carrots made      
possible only by computer technology.                                 
                                                                      
For instance, in the upcoming version of CitySearch, there is a       
feature called Performer Alert. If you love Wynonna Judd and reveal   
your obsession to CitySearch, its editors will notify you bye-mail    
the instant a Judd concert is announced. In future iterations of the  
system, it's likely that you can authorize the company to buy the     
ticket for you--perhaps at a premium that CitySearch pockets. Maybe   
at some point CitySearch will sell record companies a list of these   
fans, who will get notices of new artists who sound like the lovely   
Wynonna.                                                              
                                                                      
Of all the city-site companies, however, it is Microsoft that will    
make the most of the Web's interactivity. The Redmond, Wash., giant   
has been busily researching the implementation of electronic          
commerce, so you can bet that future generations of Cityscape are     
going to offer a number of ways for customers to spend money online.  
                                                                      
Some of these methods undoubtedly will mesh with other Microsoft      
software. (You might authorize Cityscape to buy your ticket to that   
Wynonna concert only if, after checking your Microsoft-brand          
calendar, you have no high-priority commitments that night.)          
Microsoft is also expanding its operating system in a way that may    
jibe with Cityscape technology. Just last week it announced Windows   
CE, which will allow for Web browsing in low-cost handheld computers  
of the near future. Do you think that it has escaped the notice of    
the agenda makers in Redmond that something like Cityscape--offering  
on-the-spot local information as well as maps' of where activities    
are located--might be a perfect complement to a handheld or dashboard 
information appliance?                                                
                                                                      
There are some obstacles facing this nascent genre. For one thing,    
plenty of dailies--like The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The 
New York Times--are already intoning elaborate Web sites. They are    
the undisputed experts at generating classified-ad sales, and they    
don't intend to lie clown and die at the arrival of these cyberspace  
carpetbaggers. "Yes, the newspapers are worried," says Steve Brotman, 
CEO of AdOne, a Web-based system that works with newspapers to pool   
classified ads in a single easy-to-search site. "But in every market, 
they're still the bestknown media outlet."                            
                                                                      
Perhaps the most serious question is whether the Web itself will be   
able to provide consumers with everything they need to plan their     
evenings out and access the lunch menus at Junior's school. Consider  
an example that's already here: if you're in the mood for a flick,    
you can go to... the Moviefone Web site, type in your ZIP code and    
get show times at the theaters nearest you, along with the            
opportunity to buy a seat with your credit card. Why bother with a    
Cityscape or Digital City when/you can go direct?                     
                                                                      
The city Sites, of course, believe that most people will prefer their 
guidance in navigating the intricate shoals of cyberspace. If they    
succeed in telling their visitors who's the best new band at the      
downtown clubs, what the fourth-grade math assignment is and when     
Axmani jackets go on sale, 'they may well find themselves a staple in 
people's everyday lives. All that remains, then, is to see which      
companies will reap the rewards.                                      
                                                                      
"This battle will be fought city by city/vows CitySearch's Conn. His  
problem, however, and a concern of every newspaper that's thought     
about going electronic, is that Microsoft knows where it wants to go  
every day: the winner's circle.                                       
                                                                      
COPYRIGHT 1996 Newsweek Inc.