From the September 12, 1997 ComputorEdge (Issue 1537)
By Jim Trageser
With Microsoft's Sidewalk San Diego operation gearing up for a public debut in the near future, let's visit Microsoft's other, already operating Sidewalk outfits to see how the concept measures up. (Conflict of interest statement (and aren't these fun?): I'm building the Web site for the North County Times, which will, at least indirectly, compete with Sidewalk San Diego. So there.)
As of the Labor Day weekend, there were four Sidewalk sites linked from the main Sidewak page: Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Boston, New York and Seattle (San Francisco was listed but not yet activated).
Seattle is probably closest to San Diego in demographics and nightlife -- which, given that Sidewalk is touted as an online entertaiment guide, seemed to make Seattle the best comparison for San Diegans.
The Seattle site can be accessed directly at http://seattle.sidewalk.com. It is, in a word, busy. Especially visually; on the main page alone there are animated ads, buttons, tables, search engine forms, contests, a link for Microsoft Internet Explorer, and touts for other Microsoft ventures. The overall look and feel seem to be aimed at the Generation X crowd -- not a bad move, given that the younger folks are, on average, more computer-friendly, more apt to use an online resource as opposed to the newspaper or telephone directory.
The menu on the upper lefthand side was hard to distinguish from the rest of the page, but once found was the easiest way to find your way around the site. The Sidewalk folks seem to have a fixation on using a search engine to navigate your way around the site, but sometimes you just want a straight list you can read something that's hard to find here.
In fact, the site is too smart for itself. For instance, while Sidewalk Seattle will plan your evening for you (combining dinner and a movie), if you just want a list of all the restaurants in Seattle which would only be a few hundred long, not unmanageable you're out of luck (or at least headed back to the Yellow Pages). The movie listings also had a prominent search engine form, but pleasant surprise in addition had a straight listing of movies with capsulated reviews that, when you clicked on the movie title, took you to another list of where that movie was playing, with times.
But the overall theme of built-in complexity gives the impression that Sidewalk is designed more to assure regular exposure for advertisers than ease of use for visitors.
Nor was Seattle Sidewalk updated in a timely fashion; late afternoon on a Sunday the main page was still touting Saturday's UCLA-Washington football game.
There is a lot of good information on Sidewak Seattle; getting to it isn't always as easy as it should be. But if you're planning a trip up to the Northwest, I'd definitely recommend a visit to Sidewalk first.
My prediction for San Diego? Microsoft is going to find it tougher going in San Diego than in other cities. San Diego has either the first or second highest per capita ownership of personal computers, we have a well-established online community, and we have a slew of existing resources (San Diego Source, SignOn San Diego, San Diego Online, RoadRunner, Digital City, North County Times any day now) that already provide what Microsoft promises to bring to town. Sidewalk San Diego will undoubtedly have its fans, but I think the odds against it dominating the way Chairman Bill wants are about the same as the odds against the Chargers playing at Qualcomm Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday.
The above direct URL for AOL's Digital City San Diego site was provided by reader Bill Godwin-Austen. It saves first-time visitors from having to go to www.digitalcity.com before going to the San Diego site.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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