When university researcher Alaina Kanfer did a recent survey of American communities on the Internet's World Wide Web, she was impressed by how many had staked a claim in cyberspace. There were about 600 online by the time she'd completed her landmark, two-month study late last year, compared to just a handful in 1994.
Today, marvels Kanfer, the Web directory she used as the basis for her research--USA CityLink Project (http://www.neosoft.com/citylink)--includes more than 1,600 wired towns. Now, as then, the information those communities provide varies widely.
Nearly half the city sites surveyed by Kanfer and her colleagues at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications supply such tourist-oriented basics as accommodations or attractions listings. But the best, says Kanfer, use links to local newspapers and magazines, minutes of city council meetings, up-to-date event listings, and other insider background to give travelers "a real feel for what the community is like."
"Cities in cyberspace are very similar to their real world counterparts," she says. "The Florida sites tend to use pastel colors, with a lot of graphics and not as many words" while New England towns favor darker hues and more historical information. And California, with the greatest number of cities in the survey, tends to feature flashy sites that are "sprawling and weblike, just like the major metropolitan areas in the physical state."
Kanfer's study ranked "@LA--the guide to Internet sites relating to greater Los Angeles" (http://emporium.turnpike.net/A/atLA/index.htm) best of the nearly 600 community sites surveyed. Its strengths: a well-organized, easy-to-navigate format with more than 4,500 links to everything from tour information at movie studios to a real-time map of current Los Angeles area freeway speeds.
Other favorites among the top 25 included St. Louis, for its broad coverage of the city's arts community (http://www.st-louis.mo.us), and Daytona Beach (http://www.charm.net 7/8ibc/daytona/), which encompasses schedule and ticket information for the Daytona International Speedway and an exhibition celebrating 150 years of Florida statehood.
While the USA CityLink Project emphasizes cities and states within the United States, another extensive Web directory, City.Net (http://www.city.net/), includes links to more international destinations.
Small bytes: This week marks the World Wide Web launch of Travelocity (http://www.travelocity.com), a booking and information service that's being hyped as "the most powerful one-stop travel site on the Net." It's a joint venture between Worldview Systems Corp., which supplies destination and event information for several online services, and Sabre Interactive, which allows computer users to buy airline tickets through the Sabre reservation system. The new service will cover more than 15,000 destinations worldwide and give Sabre a more user-friendly look. . . .
Disney's new graphics-rich Web site (http://www.disney.com) encompasses much more than travel information, including games, cartoon character photos and video clips from favorite films. But it also offers park visitors an interactive travel planner, excerpts from Birnbaum's Official Guide to Disneyland and Disney World, and the ability to make e-mail hotel reservations at Disney World properties. . . . America Online's Cruise Critic (keyword CRUISE) offers reviews of more than 100 ships, nationwide cruise specials updated several times a week, and advice on everything from tipping to avoiding college-age rowdies during spring break. The forum is run by Anne Campbell, author of "Fielding's Guide to Worldwide Cruises" and includes 50 message areas in which AOL subscribers field their own comments and reviews.
Bly welcomes feedback; her e-mail address is Laura.Blylatimes.com. Electronic Explorer appears monthly.