Sunday, March 8, 1998
Cincinnati regarded as surfin' city

BY CHARLES BREWER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Is Cincinnati really "10 years behind the times?"

That quote is attributed to 19th-century humorist Mark Twain, but I've also heard it used to describe our fair city's Internet prowess.

I've always had the feeling that Cincinnati was doing quite well in the technology arena but never had any real proof until I saw the March issue of Yahoo! Internet Life.

In an article titled "100 Most Wired Cities and Towns," Cincinnati is rated 25th. We're rated No. 1 in Ohio, ahead of Cleveland and Columbus (both tied at 34).

The article doesn't get specific about why we're 25th, only mentioning "sports and active ISPs" (Internet service providers). A chart gives more clues. The magazine's survey rated each of the top 25 cities in eight categories: Internet user density, hosts per capita, domain density, backbone traffic, directory density, government and media, culture and high-speed access. Each city was rated 1-10 (with 10 best) in each area.

City's best scores

Cincinnati's highest scores were in government and media, and culture, each with a 6. According to Ben Greenman, the contributing editor who wrote the article, the survey found Cincinnati strong in sites promoting cultural activities - such as the Art Museum (http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.com) and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (http://www.cincyplay.com) - and media sites, including the Enquirer's own GoCincinnati (http://www.cincinnati.com).

"Large wired cities have these (sites), but not every city has started to organize them as well" as Cincinnati, Mr. Greenman said.

We rated a 5 in Internet user density - the percent of population who surf the Net. While the article didn't give a percent (the data came from market research firm Find - SVP), we were rated the same in user density as Minneapolis, a very wired town that ranked 6th overall.

Where Cincinnati falls behind is in hosts and domains. Hosts are computers wired into the Internet, and domains are places in cyberspace (designated by a domain name, such as Enquirer.com). Again, no specific numbers, but only a 2 rating in each category. And we got a 0 - zip, zilch, zero - rating in backbone traffic, which is a measure of how much raw digital data flows through the Queen City. Not surprising, since Cincinnati is not a major Internet hub, with no big data providers are here.

So what does all this tech talk mean?

Wired town

Well, Cincinnati is an up-and-coming wired town. A good number of us are online. We have many universities and public organizations that have respectable Web presences. And thanks to informative sites from WCPO, Cincinnati Bell and the Enquirer, among others, there's lots of interesting content. But we lag in creating new sites on the Web. And since most site creation these days involves some sort of commerce, this could be interpreted as a shortage of Internet entrepreneurs in Cincinnati. In the short run, this could be good news, since the cyberbusiness world is extremely competitive. As a conservative business town, we apparently choose not to gamble our gold in cyberspace.

"No one has figured out a flawless way to do online commerce," Mr. Greenman said. "Businesses will have to rethink what they're doing online because they're not making money."

He noted that even successful cybercompanies such as bookseller Amazon.com might be claiming success today but face stiff competition from established names such as Barnes & Noble.

And the future? Like many wired cities, Cincinnati will probably see growth in government services going online. "Cities are going to find ways to put their public services online. It's more efficient," Mr. Greenman said.

"If you look at the difference for people between going downtown to city hall and standing in line, vs. using the telephone to call city hall, the same thing will be true about using the Internet." The survey found cities using Web sites to collect parking fines, notify residents of events and construction plans - even to take pothole reports.

Send e-mail to Charles Brewer at CBrewer@enquirer.com.

BREWER ARCHIVE