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Internet

End of a free era for Web surfing site

Netsurfer Digest, a site that's been pointing Web browsers to notable sites since before the Internet was big business, puts an annual fee on its formerly free newsletters.

Netsurfer Digest, a site that's been pointing Web browsers to notable sites since before the Internet was big business, has started charging an annual subscription fee.

Netsurfer Communications began the free newsletter in 1994, the year before Netscape Communications held its initial public offering and helped ignite the Internet wildfire that burned out in 2000. Plunging ad rates and intrusive ad methods are now forcing the company to revise is financial strategy.

In a note to subscribers Sunday, Netsurfer Digest said it has started charging $20 a year for its three weekly lists of links: Netsurfer Digest, Netsurfer Science and Netsurfer Education. The move marks the end of a more sharing era for the modest site, which strove to give readers a guide to the Web with "more signal, less noise."

Ad rates have plunged for Internet sites, the company said. Netsurfer Communications received only $200 a month for its ads, about a million of which it delivered each month.

The subscription plan is typical of Web sites' efforts to cope with a dismal Internet ad market. Yahoo, long dependent on ads, has been trying to emphasize premium services, while advertisers have been moving to more aggressive ad formats.

But Netsurfer Communications, mirroring the decision of search site Google, wanted no part of these new in-your-face ads.

"Online ad technology had become so annoying that we no longer wished to be associated with this industry," the company said on its site. "Having seen the direction in which all these new ad-delivery technologies are heading, it is painfully obvious that the ultimate destination is that special circle of hell which has heretofore been reserved exclusively for dinnertime telemarketers."