History of City.Net

The original idea for City.Net arose in May 1994 during a discussion between Rowland Smith and myself at a mexican restaurant here in Portland. While I sipped a margarita, Rowland complained that we had to look in too many places to find local information. The daily newspaper has movie listings, various weekly publications provide club and concert listings, tv and radio carry current weather information. Restaurant guides are only published a couple of times a year and guides to our local beers and breweries were non-existant. The local yellow pages consist of two huge volumes that are out-of-date before the first print run is completed. None of these sources provided a complete picture of Portland. What Rowland and I wanted was access to all of that information and more at any time of the day, from anywhere.

I knew we could create a guide to Portland on the Web. This would make it easy to update and usable across all computer platforms. The guide would contain all of the information that we longed to have in one place, but in addition to arts and entertainment for local people we would provide business, government, travel, and tourism information, etc. We decided to call this guide Portland City.Net. We created a prototype Portland City.Net and put it online last summer.

There was one major problem. How would anyone find Portland City.Net? Even if each local access provider has a link to their own local community information on their main menu or home page, subscribers to another online service or access provider - of which there are many - would never see that pointer. Certainly the millions of potential visitors on the Net outside the city, were unlikely to ever find the community information. So, I started City.Net to provide a place on the Net for people to find communities online.

When I say, "Communities online," I mean online versions of real geographic locations such as the city or town you live in or a place you might travel to for a vacation. In contrast, "virtual communities" which are often called "online communities" are formed by people with a common interest rather than a common location; Howard Rheingold describes The Virtual Community in his book by the same name.

It seemed to me that if we were going to put Portland on the Net, why not do the same thing in cities around the world? Maybe even other people had already started to do that. When I started looking around for other communities online, I found Palo Alto, California, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Austin, Texas, which are communities that have a large number of high-tech companies, college students, and high speed Net access. It wasn't until I discovered communities online like Blacksburg and Staunton, Virginia that I knew I was on the right track. Communities online are useful to everyone, not just twenty-somethings that sit in front of computer screens all day.

As more and more communities came online, we eventually had to abandon the original Portland City.Net to concentrate our efforts on the global guide. Obviously, we didn't end up where we originally planned, but we've created something that is much more powerful. Eventually we hope to take all that we've learned in the last year and fulfill our original vision as well.

To find out a little bit more, check out City.Net: The First Year.


Revised April 6, 1997.