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Closing time at AOL's Web Diner

America Online is closing the doors on one of the online service's last remaining areas to get Web design tips.

    America Online (AOL) is closing the doors on one of the online service's last remaining areas to get Web design tips.

    Today, negotiations between AOL executives and the people who run Web Diner broke down. "We couldn't come to an agreement on the business plan and we decided we needed to move on," said Tim McCanna, who runs Web Diner with his wife Laurie. McCanna did not elaborate and AOL could not be reached for comment.

    Web Diner is the latest casualty on the online service. Since AOL went to flat-rate pricing in December, it has dramatically cut back on the number of content partners and demanded that those who stay on offer services and information that can't be had elsewhere to customers.

    The service is also looking for ways to make money and for partners who can bring in bucks through online ads and sales. All partner deals are structured differently and AOL will not discuss how most contracts work. But several partners have pointed out that where AOL used to regularly pay partners to join the service, it is now asking partners to pay it for the privilege of broadcasting to AOL's membership.

    In fact, in recent weeks, several large companies have done just that: They've promised to pay AOL millions of dollars to reach its 8 million subscribers.

    In this new paradigm, online partners that offer services but don't offer a way to make big bucks are a dwindling lot. Ironically, the loss of Web Diner comes at a time when the area had been at the peak of its popularity. Last month, AOL's Web Diner area received a million hits, according to McCanna.

    AOL and Web Diner had been in and out of negotiations for a few weeks. Members sent letters and petitions to AOL, but ultimately the two sides could not come to an agreement on the site.

    Web Diner had formed a loyal following of Netizens seeking help and advice on building Web pages. Letters detail how they were helped by both the staff and volunteers at the site.

    Founded in November 1995, Web Diner originally was designed to give support to small businesses that wanted a Web presence. The area evolved into an area that became popular with all categories of membership.

    When AOL went to flat-rate pricing in December, the area's popularity skyrocketed, McCanna said.

    Under the old hourly rate system, Web Diner would have gotten a percentage of the per-hour fees paid for by members. But under the new system where members pay $19.95 a month regardless of how much time they spend online (unless they are in premium areas), there is no guarantee of increased funding.

    Members who had come to depend on Web Diner, including a core of 20 are now worried that with the demise of Web Diner there will be little, if any, support for people seeking help with HTML on AOL.

    "I believe AOL is trying to decide how much technical support it can afford for Web members," McCanna said earlier this month.