The World Wide Web Takes a Local Approach

Article excerpt

Forget the global electronic village. The latest World Wide Web mantra is local, local, local.

The race is on to build Web sites with strictly local or regional appeal, and some of the biggest names in the online industry are leading the charge.

Since the beginning of the year, America Online has launched the Digital City series of regional guides on its commercial online service, and Yahoo and Excite have created localized versions of their respective Web search engines. Microsoft is formulating city guides under the code name Cityscape, the first of which is expected in the first quarter of 1997. AT&T and others have similar projects in the works. The latest player in the regional content game is Pacific Telesis Interactive Media, which launched its At Hand (http://www.athand.com/) guide to California on Aug. 30 after a year of development and a month-long test. The guide includes 1.2 million merchant listings in three categories - home, entertainment and sports - plus articles on related topics from 43 magazines and newspapers, and ads from 65 sponsors. Major players join dozens, if not hundreds, of small enterprises that have built niches for themselves providing local business listings, events calendars, TV and movie guides, restaurant reviews, and other community information. Joining them are newspapers that have begun publishing Web-based editions, some of them with local listings. Everyone is after the same thing: ad revenue from local businesses. "People think that local content is a gold mine because it's an entry into local advertising dollars," said Bill Bass, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. Though the goal is the same, approaches are different. For example, Yahoo and Excite provide directory style, hypertext listings of Web sites in a given city or region. Among the services At Hand offers is a "proximity finder" that lets registered users search for a plumber, florist or other business within approximately five miles of their home. …