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Cyberspace Today * May 18, 1995 * Issue #3

CyberCafes Mean Business

In a city rife with self-consciously cool-looking eateries, the Icon Byte Bar & Grill, at the corner of 9th and Folsom in San Francisco, stands out. The decor, which co-owner Joegh Bullock calls a combination of "techno and tribal", is as hip as one could want. The menu selections -- "American food from around the world" -- are tasty as well. And then, there's the Web access. Take your iced tea or shot of tequila over to the centrally located computer terminal, and the world of cyberspace is at your fingertips.

by Andrew Leonard

Well, almost. The day I dropped by, I sat myself down in front of the Mac 660av and fired up Mosaic, ready to do some serious web crawling in the midst of my bar hopping. But nothing happened. There was a problem with the configuration, and the waitress didn't have a clue.

So much for Icon's cybercafe chops. I'd have been better off dropping some quarters into one of the SFNET dialup machines which are scattered through coffee shops around the Bay Area. They don't offer web access, but at least I could have logged on.

It was probably nothing a minor tweak wouldn't cure considering that the system was originally set up by Matisse Enzer's Internet Literacy Consultants, one of the best local outfits around. Not being a Mac guy myself however, I wasn't about to investigate further. [We went back last weekend and checked the setup and everything worked perfectly - editors]

The restaurant, anyway, was packed; not surprising, considering the publicity the Icon has received. A mention in the Sunday New York Times Magazine does wonders for your marketing needs.

And there's the secret to cybercafe happiness. Cybercafes aren't popping up in every city between Sweden and Hong Kong because customers are demanding the right to check their e-mail before they buy a mocha java. Getting hooked up to the Net is a cool, calculated business decision. Got a bar, coffee shop, or restaurant that needs a buzz? Put in a Net-connected terminal. In these cybermania days, the press will be along in a hurry, and the public won't be far behind.

"We could either hire a publicist," says Bullock, "or put a computer in there."

Across the U.S., cybercafe owners agree that computers mean good business. Austin Schutz, part-owner of the Habit, in Portland, Oregon, says that he and his partners started to break even on their cybercafe after just two months of operation. Being the subject of a news story by the local CBS affiliate didn't hurt either.

Low end, a cybercafe implies at least one dumb terminal at which you can participate in an IRC -style chat conference. Top of the line, there's London's Cyberia Cafe, with no less than ten 486/66 PCs running Netscape.

It all started in San Francisco five years ago, when local entrepreneur Wayne Gregori founded SFNET, a BBS-style network accessible from coin-operated public access terminals at more than 20 Bay Area cafes. Now the master list of cybercafes at http://www.easynet.co.uk/pages/cafe/ccafe.html contains 36 self-described "cybercafes" across the world -- fourteen in the United States -- with another 21 in the works. And announcements of wannabe cafes are posted to the Usenet Newsgroup alt.cybercafes every week.

Just don't spill your cappuccino on the keyboard, please.


Andrew Leonard is a freelance writer based in Berkeley. He specializes in covering cyber-Asia and may be reached at aleonard@well.com.
All contents © 1995 by CyberBiz Productions. All rights reserved.

vern@cybertoday.com