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US West rolls out city guides

The DiveIn city directory service will launch in ten cities, marking the biggest foray by a Baby Bell into the city directory market.

Watch out Yahoo, Digital City, and CitySearch. Here comes another city directory--this one backed by a Baby Bell.

US West Interactive Services tomorrow is expected to launch its DiveIn city directory in ten cities: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The ten-city launch, previously reported by CNET, marks the most aggressive foray by a telephone carrier into the city directory market, where tens of billions of dollars are spent on local advertising every year.

Despite analyst predictions of fierce competition, DiveIn executives are undaunted. They previewed the product at the Sprint Internet World show in a nondescript room well away from the bustle of the show floor.

Unlike some city directories, DiveIn is geared toward residents, not tourists, said Thomas Cullen, vice president of business development for US West Interactive. It has selected cities where the average number of households online exceeds the national average, both in and out of US West's territory.

DiveIn includes event calendars, reviews of local Web sites, and community bulletin boards. One feature lets users post a write-up of their favorite place for others to see.

The service is divided into eight categories: business district, health center, living, on the town, getaways, learning center, news room, and sports complex.

The company prefers not to be in the business of generating original content; rather, it has partnered with well-known local and national brands to deliver information. They include MovieLink, Preview Travel, golf.com, US West Yellow Pages on the Internet, and rent.net, among others. It also has signed up popular local media columnists in some markets.

DiveIn also can be customized according to individual preferences.

The service is launching tomorrow without any local or national advertisers, but Cullen is confident they will be signed up soon. He said he prefers the "If we build it, they will come" approach. "We're in this for the long haul," he added.

That strategy contrasts with Microsoft's Sidewalk, which has yet launch but says it has lined up advertisers such as United Airlines, BMW of North America, and Bank of America for its Seattle rollout later this month or next. Sidewalk did not disclose the terms of those advertising deals, so it is difficult to assess their longevity or moneymaking potential.

As with Sidewalk, DiveIn does not plan to sell classified ads, at least right away. It does hope to leverage deals with other US West properties, such as cable television, in many markets. That could be significant, given US West's recent buyout of Continental Cablevision.