March 20, 2000-- Newsletter #72

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go (tm)
March 20, 2000--Newsletter #72
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear -

Heads up you thumb jockeys. Soon Sega and Sony will have new competition from the people you love to love. Microsoft is getting into the gaming industry with their X-Box. There's a seven billion dollar market out there and darned if Sony's going to have it all.

I want to work at Intel. The company announced last Tuesday that it will give all of its employees free computers and free Internet access. So, now you're thinking the computers must be cruddy, right? Nope - these are Pentium III machines. The company is trying to create a more Web-savvy team. Gosh.

If you vote on Web site speed - Bush wins. George W. Bush's Web site posted in less than two seconds. Gore was in second place with just under four seconds. The results are from Keynote Systems Inc. who apparently have way too much time on their hands.

Finally, because it wouldn't be a newsletter without a story of someone hacking, Microsoft's new site in Israel ( was hit with a denial-of-service-like attack that slowed traffic for about an hour. Apparently the problem has been repaired and all is well again.

Now onto today's topic...

Let me ask you a personal question. Do you use a free Internet service provider?

If so - why?

Are you cheap?

Do you have a lower income than most people or refuse to spend money even on the simplest things in life? You use a free Internet service provider? Ugh! I'll bet you don't even pay for your Web space. You probably use that Geocities or that other Homestead thing. How could you?

Hopefully you've read this far. Did I offend any of you? Well, if you disliked that, you're going to hate this.

The Disney-owned has bucked the trend of offering free Internet service. They said no even though major corporations like Yahoo! and Excite and NBCi have begun offering free service.

The thinking for offering free service is to get more and more people on the Web so they can see more banner ads and buy more stuff. It's kind of like giving a free pair of sunglasses away with every test drive. They have to get you in the door before they can sell you anything. That seems logical, plus you have the ability to say "no thank you" at any point.

Keep that thinking going. If you're going to offer access to sell things, then you need to make a point of giving access to those who actually CAN buy something, right? believes so. The company has decided to not give free access because those who want free stuff, only want free stuff. If they get access for free, then they will be less inclined to buy online. Furthermore, if they take free access, they most likely can't buy on line. They're poor. They're says

Oh, I can just hear some of your blood pressures rising out there.

You may find this offensive, but there's actually some data to back up the thinking. Juniper Communications found free access users to be less affluent than those who pay. In addition, free access users use the Web less than those who pay, 15 to 20 hours a week as compared to 28 to 30 hours per week.

Now let's flip the coin. I'll tell you why I never used a free service. It had nothing to do with social status. It also had nothing to do with free access through a university. I always paid for my service. The reason was simple. The free sites simply bombarded me with advertising.

You know I have nothing against advertising on the Web, but that Geocities ad that pops up every time I go to a new page gets old fast.

Free isn't free. You may not pay out of pocket for your free access, but the company that offers the service certainly does. They pay for it through an avalanche of advertising.

I'll tell you another reason why I always paid for access to the Web - freedom. Anytime a company gives you access or Web space for free, you have to play by their rules. Free service means little access to the server. I wanted to upload CGI's and install server software. I thought it was part of being on the Web.

No matter what your thinking is regarding free access to the Web, people are jumping on it. Yahoo! & say the service is driving traffic to their sites. Excite and have close to a half million users, and is also pleased.

Here's my question: "Why aren't people upset over this?"

With all of the talk now about banner ads, and cookies, and tracking, why are free service providers seen as so wonderful? I get letters all the time telling me I should promote these sites because it would be good for the Web.

It is?

Yes, I get it that free access will allow others onto the Web who might not usually be able to get to the Web. I understand that the services might help to close the "digital divide", but as I understand it, the digital divide is not hinging as much upon access to the Web as it's hinging on people having access to computers themselves. I can give you free access all day long, but if you haven't a computer, so what?

Besides, does a free access provider want you if you can't afford a computer? Remember that the purpose of the free access is not so companies can be nice guys, it's so companies can show you ads and sell you stuff.

Am I alone in thinking this is a high tech version of bait and switch? What if I send you a letter saying I'll give you a free dinner and a night of dancing at a new resort I just opened? Then, once you arrive, I require you to sit through an hour-long presentation and then hard sell you to buy a timeshare at the resort. Only after you sit through the presentation and say no to my pitch can you enjoy dinner and dancing.

I'll bet that would simply infuriate some of you.

Well, isn't that basically what's happening here? decided not to offer free access because they didn't believe the clientele would be at a high enough level of income. What if I only sent out invitations to people I felt would buy my timeshares? Same thing? Yes? No?

Now, allow me to come full circle. I am not posing this argument because I am against free stuff. On the contrary, I like free stuff. I like free stuff that doesn't have strings attached.

I get letters all the time from people who tell me that profit over the Web is bad and that it should all be free to the public. Often, sites that offer free access are cited as the "good guys" in the argument.

Free sites are not free. You're not somehow beating the system. Yes, I know you have every right to ignore the banner ads (if you can). I understand you have every right to not buy anything on line. If the hassle is worth it to you, then use the free access sites. I would never tell people to spend money.

Just understand what's behind the free access.

Sure you can dine and dance for free. You're just going to have to give me my due first.


That's That. Thanks for reading. I understand that this newsletter's subscribers now total over 150,000. Gosh. I should really think about what I write now, huh?

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Multiply 37037 by any single number (1 through 9). Then multiply that answer by 3 and you'll get your original number.

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