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City Guides

A look at six online city guides.

“It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” What if you changed jobs and suddenly you did live there? How would you find the hottest clubs, the best restaurants? We’ve spent time on six of the top online city guides. Here’s where we’d move to on the Web.

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site citysearch www.citysearch.com infospace city guides www.infospace.com/index_cty.htm sidewalk www.sidewalk.com world city guide http://cityguide.lycos.com digital city www.digitalcity.com yahoo! get local http://local.yahoo.com
scope 12 urban centers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia Local resources for thousands of cities 11 cities in the U.S. and Australia Local resources, from Africa to Oceania 42 cities in the U.S., with an emphasis on the East Coast Directories of Web resources in nearly 200 countries
strength CitySearch’s original content is comparable with good regional magazines and alternative weeklies. For example, Clint Smith’s slice-of-life journalism captures the spirit of Nashville. The place to start if you’re moving to a smaller city. Its zip-code-based searches let you organize resources down to the neighborhood level. Local business directories include maps and directions. Sidewalk’s street-smart content is aimed at active city slickers. Its “find”-oriented search tools (“Find a movie theater,” “Find a bar or club”) help users narrow searches by region, neighborhood, and type. Its remarkable breadth. The guides tap a vast collection of local resources, from newspapers and magazines to the GTE Yellow Pages. You’ll find information on everything from child care to camera shops. Smart links. The larger Digital Cities use the service’s partnership with America Online to draw on AOL’s extensive links and rich content budget. Broad and deep. Like InfoSpace, zip-code-based searches focus Yahoo!’s Web directories right down to the neighborhood. But Yahoo! also offers more robust sites for major cities.
slack When the content isn’t original, CitySearch isn’t nearly as good. Why read New York CitySearch, which draws heavily on Time Out New York, when you can just read the magazine? InfoSpace is a directory of other Web sites. There is no original content or context. Look and feel. Many pages are slow to load. The text is always tiny, and ad-heavy pages make for boring design. See “Strength” above. By casting their nets so far and wide, many of the guides lack depth. Pesky “Please Try Again” messages are too common. Some of the smaller Digital Cities are glorified job listings and not-so-smart links to other sites. The guide to Hartford (“the Insurance City”) makes it seem even less interesting than its nickname suggests. Even the major sites don’t offer tons of original content. Other than their news and community-oriented features, they’re basically regional subdirectories of Yahoo!’s enormous Web directory.
secret weapon The Scout function establishes customized searches and email updates, and offers weekly newsletters on the site’s picks of events and activities. You can search for lectures and classes in specific neighborhoods. InfoSpace has cut sponsorship deals that are the basis of all kinds of useful Web services – from buying antiques for your new house to locating long-lost friends. Sidewalk’s email updates and newsletters allow you to request updates by city and neighborhood, not just by topic. And some of its city guides go beyond offering information to providing services. The site’s search and mapping functions (for people, companies, and addresses) make it a powerful tool for finding places, and for seeing where things are in relation to one another. The Virtual Neighborhood areas help you explore communities almost block-by-block, join special-interest clubs, and even chat with people who live there. Each local directory offers a pointer, called “More Cities,” that highlights other communities in the area. It’s an easy way to expand your horizons.