If you happen to live in one of the regions of the United States where Knight Ridder owns a newspaper, you're in luck. You'll never run out of local Knight Ridder-owned Web sites to peruse.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, you can read SiliconValley.com for news from the technology and business sections of the San Jose Mercury News or you can go straight to the Mercury Center and get the whole newspaper. Or you could check out Hotcoco.com, the online home of the Contra Costa Times. Plus BayArea.com, which launched Wednesday and covers all of the above plus the San Francisco area, with local business directories, free e-mail addresses and e-commerce as a bonus.
You can also visit JustGo Bay Area, which contains entertainment listings and dining guides for those same regions. And to top it all off, you can check out the Digital City network (which is not owned by Knight Ridder) and read Knight Ridder content which has been licensed to this competing network of local sites. When you multiply this kind of URL frenzy across the Kinght Ridder markets you end up with 45 separate Knight Ridder-owned Web sites.
Confused yet? Knight Ridder has long had a labyrinthine set of Web sites and networks, that seems to keep growing -- and getting messier.
Knight Ridder launched its Net presence early on with online versions of many of its 31 newspapers. Then, in 1997, Knight Ridder invested in Zip2 -- a technology company creating local guides -- and launched the JustGo network, a series of arts and entertainment guides for those 31 newspapers. This week, News.com says Knight Ridder will announce yet another network of "regional portals," as part of the RealCities umbrella site, where dozens of other Knight Ridder Web sites live. The new Realcities will include four new city guides: BayArea.com, Miami.com, Broward.com, TwinCities.com.
Never mind that the online city guide market is currently suffering a major glut of competitors, or that many ambitious local portal projects are already failing. Knight Ridder's early partner, Zip2, attempted a merger with CitySearch, called it off, and was recently bought out by Compaq; Microsoft's suffering Sidewalk network, hemorrhaging money, was sold to CitySearch instead. Even guides with brand names like New York Today, produced by the Gray Lady, have failed to send off fireworks. Nevertheless, Knight Ridder is clearly enthusiastic about the future of local city guides. Who needs just one portal when you can have 10 or 20 or 31?
The RealCities relaunch comes as Knight Ridder's corporate officers settle into the Bay Area (after headquarters moved from Miami), and as Knight Ridder New Media ushers in a new president. Perhaps once Knight Ridder is firmly ensconced in Silicon Valley, someone will advise the company of the benefits of streamlining.