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Logging On? Take a Packed Lunch 26 February 2002 Edition
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Million $ Ideas
At last, the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook are revealed for all to see!
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We all knew it would never last so nobody can be surprised that TelstraClear has decided to axe its free ISP service ZFree as of April 30.

Even though it was expected, the closure of ZFree is still bad news for the many people who have found free Net access to be the only affordable way to surf the web and I fear it may just widen the digital divide, even if only slightly.

Of course few of us will have much sympathy for those who have been making money by selling their free accounts by auction.

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ZFree's demise, or as TelstraClear would have us believe -- its metamorphosis into a paid service, is just further evidence that the once ubiquitous free lunch is all but gone.

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    Bad news on the DSL front too, with Telecom effectively raising the price it charges ISPs for those customers who have a static IP number -- an increase that will almost certainly be passed on to users.

    I find it rather strange that, at a time when Telecom NZ keeps hiking its prices, British Telecom in the UK is about to announce that it will be slashing DSL charges.

    Further proof of the need to pack your own lunch when going online has been delivered with the axing of a free realtime sharemarket quote system Stocknessmonster.

    Meanwhile, across the ditch it was announced earlier this month that users of the NineMSN web portal will soon have to pay to use some of the services it offers -- and I suspect we'll see other sites following suit in the near future.

    Much as I hate to admit it, I suspect that unless there's a massive resurgence in online advertising, the subscription model is about to become increasingly commonplace.

    Of course there will always be free or ad-funded options to subscription sites but the reality is that, given the rising costs of production, these sites will almost certainly be "second rate" offerings. A good analogy is the difference between those free newspapers versus The NZ Herald or Dominion.

    Why is it that Net users have been willing to pay $30 a month for flat-rate dial-up Net access but unwilling to pay for content?

    Why is it that Net users have been willing to pay an annual subscription for print-media magazines such as NetGuide but unwilling to pay to read the same quality and quantity of content online?

    However, I wonder if the mindset of your average Net user is starting to change?

    The demise of free Net access might just be the final kick in the pants required to get people acknowledging that they're going to have to pay for quality online content.

    Of course there's still the issue of how people can remit payment for all this content and, as I mooted last week, ISPs could play a role here -- but that's not the only way.

    Perhaps there's huge potential for the creation of a new company which can act as a subscription clearinghouse for online content sites.

    I would envision this as a place where Net surfers could pay for all their casual or regular subscriptions in one fell swoop. This service would then track your access to pay-per-view or subscription sites and forward payment on your behalf as necessary.

    In the case of casual access, this would mean that you could have all your small purchases (perhaps as little as $0.05 per time) aggregated and pay for them in one lump sum each month.

    By virtue of having a large number of subscribers, the service would then be able to aggregate all the payments into a single remittance to each site each month.

    Any entrepreneur considering the implementation of such a system need not consider New Zealand as their only market -- this is the type of thing that could be operated globally from a local base and, just like Pay Pal, has the potential to turn into an incredibly valuable business.

    Of course timing is everything -- however, all the indicators are that NOW is exactly the right time. Any takers?

    ps: I know there are bound to be similar services already in operation -- but since I, as a content publisher, haven't been approached by any of them, I suspect that the market could be scooped by the one which gets its marketing act together.

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    Security Alerts
    MP3 Files Not Always Safe With Top Media Players (NewsBytes - 25/02/2002)

    MS server bugs open the door to hackers (ZDNet - 12/02/2002)

    IE bug allows full MSN Messenger hijack (TheRegister - 9/02/2002)

    Mac Office vulnerable, Microsoft warns (AAP - 07/02/2002)

    BlackIce Firewalls Vulnerable To DOS Attack NewsBytes - 6/02/2002)

    Virus Alerts
    German worm makes PCs kaput (The Reg - 20/02/2002)

    New MSN Messenger Worm (NewsBytes - 14/02/2002)

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    The Day's Top News
    Open in New Window = open in new window
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    Open in New Window Plug pulled on free access
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