"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 September 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

You Are Here



In the guide to early '90s

cyberkitsch, just after

teledildonics and before the

entry on VR, you'll find virtual

community. The idea was that a

certain Bay Area clique would

form the blueprint for future

communities without borders,

beyond the limitations of

geography. Disciples of Barlow

and Rheingold still get hopped

up about avatars, MOOs and

parenting conferences, about the

inevitable obsolescence of

place, about the new country of

cyberspace. But with few

exceptions, it just hasn't

clicked - we don't count

ourselves as members of global

virtual communities, and we bet

you don't either. We get up in

the morning, read the paper, and

go to work.



There was always one problem with

the virtual community - nobody

lived there. And, by extension,

nobody shopped there, either.

You just can't sell to a global

netizen unless you're one of a

handful of truly borderless

brands - Pepsi, Coke,

McDonald's, FedEx. All the rest

want to think narrow, and local -

and unless they're into mail

order, that means regional buys,

retail ads, and city




To appeal to this fat, largely

untapped market, your content

needs context - a sense of place

and local relevance - which is

why so many directories and

dressed-up databases are

"GeoEnabling the World Wide

Web." We've met more than one

greasy-pawed pimp at Internet

World schmoozefests, ex-con

look-alikes who have bought up an

old phone directory, licensed a

ZIP code database, cut a deal

with the map guys, and tried to

build an empire on DIY



[Absolute Brooklyn]

Mr. Pimp has as good a chance as

the kids from Yahoo (who are

wisely toying with both city

directories and classifieds), or any

of the others. Like vodka, this stuff's

all the same - you just go for

the one least likely to give you

a headache. So too with maps

where, just like the search

engines, the business model will

inevitably turn out to be highly

targeted bait-and-switch. Catch

people out looking for something -

the location of their hotel,

or a rental apartment - and sell

them something else. Drop

on-the-fly logos into the

256-color real estate. Lo,

there's the 7-11, and the Mickey

D's, and the HoJo. Another click

and presto: driving directions

from here to the nearest order

pickup window. Want fries with



The real dollars may finally

surface when the web abandons

its pretentions of globalism

and gets down to the mom-and-

pops. In the old days this was

called the newspaper business -

but so much more can be done

when there's no newsprint to

hold you back. To this end,

Microsoft is sniffing around

SoMa, preparing to pump hundreds

of millions into CityScape,

Bill's ploy to annex the U.S.

newspaper industry - where some

35 percent of revenue comes from

classified ads. Watch for the

first wave in San Francisco, San

Diego and New York in 1997.

AOL's Digital Cities

has a head start on

them, but the effort is so weak

that it barely warrants

attention, much less a link.


[At Hand]

Proximity drives profit, and this

trick is reaching you where you

are, whether you're @Home -

busily making deals with

community papers - or, in Pac

Bell's California site, closer At

Hand. Will it take a journey of

a thousand clicks for us to hang

out right in our neighborhood?


If you're going to do content, at

least make it useful to people's

everyday lives - don't bother

trying to build the next

interactive entertainment

experience, asshole. Give 'em

movie tickets and pizza, give

them goddamn groceries. The

threshold is still low - grab

some templates and get to work.

You have at least as much of a

chance as Bill.

courtesy of James URL Jones