'); //-->

Latest News

Related Coverage
Tenor of the times: Domingo goes on line

Prior coverage
Geeks go for guffaws

Film downloads nothing to stay home for

A safe place to sound off about race

Ultima indulges the yen for prime real estate

Web site + rock stars + activism = ?

'Home Page' documents on-line search for self

Web-site parody gets Bush reaction

OK, eBay, make way for Sotheby's

Filmmakers take on cyberspace

An on-line Louvre of the art of web design

Filmmaker goes Hollywood on Internet

When parents need answers, they turn to NetMom

Internet is a new road to rock stardom

To stop the violence, the play's the thing

Decordova exhibit plugs in to interactive computer art

Cybersmith logs off for the last time

Webbies promise awards, 'The Ultimate Bookmark

New cartoon series are truly interactive

Making a score in video games

At this site, everyone's a poet; cool things

'Star Wars' prequel brings fanboys out in full force

When friends become source of e-mail clutter

Related Links

Technology on Boston.com

Technology news

"Plugged In" section

Latest News
Latest arts & entertainment news

Boston Globe Online: Page One
Nation | World
Metro | Region
Living | Arts

Health | Science (Tue.)
Food (Wed.)
Calendar (Thu.)
Life at Home (Thu.)

Real Estate

Local news
City Weekly
South Weekly
Globe West
North Weekly
NorthWest Weekly
NH Weekly

Globe archives
Book Reviews
Book Swap
Death Notices
Movie Reviews
Music Reviews
NetWatch weblog
Special Reports
Today's stories A-Z
TV & Radio

Real Estate
Place an Ad

Buy a Globe photo

E-mail addresses
Send us feedback

Alternative views
Low-graphics version
Acrobat version (.pdf)

The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Living | Arts / Cyberlinks
Cybersmith logs off for the last time

By Patti Hartigan, Globe Staff, 03/19/99

It opened with fanfare and hype. The media genuflected in admiration, tossing out descriptives like elite and cyberchic. Crowds lined up around the block, eager to part with fistfuls of cash to experience the Latest New Thing. We're talking about Cybersmith, the cafe cum computer center that opened in Harvard Square in February 1995.

The story that began with hellzapoppin' hoopla ended quietly two weeks ago -- in Chapter 11. The Church Street cafe closed with nary a whisper; it's shuttered with a metal gate, another short-lived craze doomed to the fate of the pet rock, the pogo stick, and, that bane of the '70s, Studio 54.

Guess what? Nobody even noticed.

After all, in a world where millions of people have free Web access at work, school, or the local library, who would pay $10 an hour to surf the Net or shell out $5 for five minutes of virtual reality? We took that question to the Someday Cafe, a funky coffeehouse in Davis Square. It's listed as one of 338 cybercafes in the United States at the Web site, http://www.netcafeguide.com. Despite the listing, Someday is simply a bustling cafe with a dusty computer in a corner.

Pay to surf? ''Never,'' said Emily Gasoi, a teacher at the Mission Hill School in Roxbury who was sitting in a corner reading files on her own laptop the other day at the cafe. ''No, no, no,'' echoed Tufts University graduate student Karina Assiter, who was typing away on her portable Toshiba. The Somerville coffeehouse provides free electrical outlets for patrons who want to blend bits and bytes with their java, and Assiter won't patronize cafes that don't offer free electrical juice.

Four years ago, the concept of a cybercafe made sense: Almost no one had even heard of an Internet stock, and a browser was someone who liked to look. Everyone was buzzing about this mysterious new medium, and digerati wannabes were eager to experience the strange world of cyberspace in the presence of other newbies. But there's something inherently incompatible about designer coffee and computers.

''Using a computer is a personal thing,'' said Mark Hardie, senior analyst at the Cambridge-based Forrester Research. ''My kids at home want their own computer, and they're 4 and 1. So it becomes a problem when the computer is your draw for entertainment, because it really isn't a multiperson entertainment vehicle.''

Here's what people do at cafes. They gossip, they argue, they linger, and listen to music. At Someday Cafe, for instance, you're more likely to hear Dylan on the sound system than to spot someone searching his discography on the Internet.

The times, after all, are a-changin'; four years is an eon in the computer industry. The number of households using the Web has jumped from 10 million in 1996 to 26 million today, according to the Framingham-based technology research firm, International Data Corp. Decent personal computers, which cost about $2,000 four years ago, now retail for as low as $400.

Cybersmith tried and tried, long after the fair was over. It held on-line wine tastings, sponsored book readings, and on-line chats with such folks as Laurie Anderson and Kevin Meaney. But the last waltz is over. That's all too clear to Marshall Smith, the entrepreneur (and founder of Booksmith, Videosmith, and Learningsmith) who launched Cybersmith.

''It's always sad when stores close,'' Smith said, adding that he sold most of his interest in the operation a few years ago and would rather not say anything more.

James Burnham, Cybersmith's chief financial officer, allowed that the ''economic model'' no longer worked and that the company had filed for bankruptcy protection. The Faneuil Hall Marketplace cafe closed a year ago, and two out-of-state franchises are also shut. The new model, he said, would aim to establish computer centers that serve as trade shows for the public at shopping malls, where folks can try the latest products for nominal fees.

''The boom in the business seems to be over in the richest countries, where home and office use of Internet has become more normal than not having Internet,'' said Ernst Larsen, the Norwegian Web master who started the Net cafe guide site in 1996.

''Cafes with a little extra touch seem to be able to stay in business, though.'' Not to mention cheap access and good coffee.

The trend is fading here, but alive elsewhere. ''In underdeveloped countries, they seem to be very important for the common man's use of the Net,'' Larson said. His site lists 22 cafes in China and 22 in Indonesia (none in Java, though.)

But the party is over for Cyber-smith, where ''chic'' and ''elite'' always seemed like odd descriptions for a place that catered to the chaotic, democratic Internet. The place that trumpeted high technology announced its closing in the most low-tech way: a handwritten notice posted on the door.

(Burnham said consumers with prepaid Cybersmith cards can send a letter, along with contact information, to Cybersmith, Inc., 90 Williams St., Suite 1500, New York, NY 10038. It's not clear if, or when, refunds will be issued.)

Speaking of the chic and the elite (as well as the talented and the talent-free, the glamorous and the tacky), it's time for the Academy Awards, which will be more interactive than ever this year. The official site, http://www.oscar.com, is offering the kind of gushing self-promotion you might expect, with some of it in real time. The site is offering simultaneous Net coverage that complements the broadcast, which is set for Sunday night. Watch the red carpet arrivals in streaming video! Peek at the backstage interviews! Take the ''Know-It-All Challenge!''

Better yet, for those who have been at home playing on their computers and missed all the nominated films, the site offers streaming video clips (limited, but better than nothing) of the top performances. It also features fashion photos from years past, but for more cutting commentary, check out the photo gallery at http://www.mrshowbiz.go.com; there's a distinct difference between the descriptions of the getups, er, gowns.

Click here for advertiser information

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
Boston Globe Extranet
Extending our newspaper services to the web
Return to the home page
of The Globe Online