As in other forms of publishing, content may be king on the World Wide Web. But doing interesting things with Web technology is emerging as chief pretender to the throne.
Microsoft’s arts and entertainment venture, code-named Cityscape, is out to show how the Web can help plan your evening, weekend or vacation, whether you’re spending it here or in another major city. With focus-group participants telling the software giant they have too little time to scan hundreds of listings for things to do, Microsoft sees electronic media as a means of sorting the fray, saving users time and making leisure-time decisions easier.
In so doing, it intends to rise above the “slap it on the Web page” mentality of many sites, which merely convert printed material to electrons. It hopes to strike a happy medium between providing rich, in-depth content and making it useful through the magic of electronic organization, indexing and delivery.
The company will launch Cityscape - whose official name will be different to avoid confusion with a similarly named service - in Seattle at the beginning of next year. The Seattle operation is moving this week from Microsoft’s campus to a Pioneer Square office building formerly occupied by desktop-publishing’s creator, Aldus. The local office will house a dozen full-time employees and hire 20 to 30 additional free-lancers and contractors.
Similar operations will be launched in San Francisco, New York and Boston by the middle of 1997. Plans call for 10 to 15 cities to be online by the end of next year. Besides domestic markets such as Chicago and San Diego, international cities are being considered. Microsoft would not name any of the latter but said “reasonable guesses” would yield likely candidates.
Cityscape is similar to efforts under way by major newspapers, America Online and a Web venture called CitySearch to provide Web surfers with go-do information. Microsoft is banking partly on its command of tech tricks to give it the edge.
Microsoft will not say how much it is spending on the effort, although it suggested that the rumored $500 million is off-base.
It has hired an eclectic group of managers from disparate media fields, including Out magazine founder Michael Goff, who will head up a national team based in Redmond, and former Seattle Times arts and entertainment editor Jan Even, Seattle Post-Intelligencer food critic Tom Sietsema and executives from Hearst, AT&T; and Rolling Stone magazine.
Cityscape also will partner with media providers in national and local markets. Deals have been made with the Seattle Weekly and Sasquatch Books, which produces the “Best Places” series and other entertainment-travel volumes. And it will sell advertising with CUC International. CUC markets discount coupon books and has affiliations with 100,000 merchants in more than 100 cities.
There had been speculation about classified advertising, but it will not be part of the mix, at least initially.
Microsoft sees huge advertiser interest in the service because clients can be targeted with information they really want, as opposed to junk e-mail, or “spamming,” which alienates potential customers and has limited success rates.