Au Revoir, AOL CityGuide (aka AOL Local, Digitalcity, etc.)

AOL Running Man, aka "Runny"
We all could sense the ship taking on water even as early as last year. One by one, the employees departed, and their empty cubes (valued at about $10k a pop) remained ominously unfilled.

Then last week, the iceberg hit. I broke the news to a colleague, who was on vacation at the time and who had called me to boast he had an interview lined up elsewhere for the next morning. “Good,” I told him, “because tomorrow you’ll be unemployed.” So much for breaking the news softly.

I could expound on this subject for hours — and, in fact, I have — but I’ll refrain here since my name is clearly on the page, and I’m not in the mood these days for subpoenas and libel charges.

To sum it up, my friends and former co-workers are now out of work, but at least they have a decent severance package.

What I find most amusing is the dearth of news on the subject. Local is only getting bigger in the Internet business, and the demise of one of its most prominent players has warranted nary a news inquiry. The only article of note to be found was a poorly researched bit that reads more like a PR cover-up than actual reporting.

Although I haven’t worked at AOL for several months (I’m quite happy at my current job, thank you), the news still saddens me. Even though we could all clearly see the glint of the iceberg in the distance, we all refused to believe it would hit. I can’t think of a single person I worked with who didn’t enjoy the content they worked on. Even when management and morale were at their lowest, we steamed ahead, commisserating among ourselves in steerage and having a helluva lot more fun.

Now all our hard, “evergreen” work will flounder. It’ll stagnate, but users will still be able to find it. Long after your favorite neighborhood bistro has shut down, you’ll be able to find the listing alive and well on CityGuide, like an ant preserved in amber, with some poor freelancer’s name attached to this ancient piece of Internet detritus and no sympathetic editor to help remove the shame from the database.

And so, as the guard rails sink below the icy surface, I bid a final adieu to the “granddaddy of local guides.” Perhaps if the company had paid a little less on cubes and a little more on foresight, we’d still be enjoying the journey. Instead, enjoy this final news retrospective (don’t miss #5, a long-time in-house favorite).

Rave Review for the Nascent Digital City (August 1997)

Digital City Becomes AOL Local (June 2002)

AOL CityGuide closes San Jose office (July 2003)

Austin Freelance Job Posting With Mark Gozonsky (!) as Contact (2003)

Elegy for a Temp Job (May 2004 — My personal fave. Don’t miss the part about the jheri-curl mullet.)

Blogger Mourning the Loss of Digitalcity (scroll down) (January 2007)

http://www.infoworld.com/article/07/03/13/HNaollocalsearch_1.html (March 2007)

I realize this post interests only a handful of people, most of whom lived the above events, but I wanted to put it in writing. For posterity, people.

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