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No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
by Michael Marquette (rev 6/2/00)

You can't miss all the ads for free services on the Net these days. Free e-mail, web pages, fax, voice-mail, dial-up access, and now even free DSL access, but are these services really free? All of these services are supported by advertising in some way, but this isn't the only "cost".

E-mail was the first to appear, in the form of web-based mail. Web-based e-mail can be used by anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection. This feature is both its strength and its weakness. For the frequent traveler web based e-mail can be an invaluable tool, allowing them to retrieve their e-mail wherever they can they can get Internet access. For the heavy e-mail user, free services leave much to be desire. Most notably missing is the ability read and compose mail offline, and standard file attachment capabilities. Yes, some services handle file attachments, but it's almost always cumbersome when compared to traditional e-mail programs. Other downsides include message format compatibility issues and all those advertisements that appear with each message.

Although free web pages have been around for some time, like free e-mail, sites have been appearing all over the Net. Originally, these pages offered only the most basic features and usually required a link to the providers main site. This main site would carry some of the advertising used to help support the site, plus information to recruit new users. Now these free page sites offer more capabilities, like easier page uploading and enough space to store files for download. Along with these extra features has come more methods of supporting and promoting the site, like watermarks that always appear and the worst, in my opinion, pop up browser windows.

Other services often offer "basic" freebies, and then try to convince you to upgrade to more complete packages. If the basic services are all you need, then it can definitely be a good deal. For example, I use a free fax receiving service that allows me to have a fax number in a different area code. All faxes are then e-mailed to me without ads of any kind.
Another service worth staring at ads for is (see the link on the left), which offers free PC-to-Phone calls anywhere in the U.S.

Many different free services, some potentially useful, with two different ways of supporting these services. With most services, the user actually "pays" by viewing, and sometimes clicking on, the ads that accompany it. With web pages though, it's the viewers that ultimately pay for the site. They are the ones who are expected click on the ads and put up with those annoying pop ups. Consider this carefully if you are trying to attract viewers to your site. If your visitors are annoyed too much, they won't stay long enough to see what you have to offer, and that can definitely cost you.

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