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Browsing for dollars

Start-ups reward browser potatoes with cash, frequent flyer points.

As if the Web weren't commercial enough already, more ventures are getting under way that pay Netizens to surf.

Today a start-up called CyberGold officially launched such a service--slightly revamped from its original plan. Also, a company called Yoyodyne said it is licensing a technology that allows sites to reward users--in frequent flyer points, for example--for surfing the Web.

Both announcements show how marketers are making use of the Web's interactive capabilities to make money and, some critics say, poison a community that was built to escape the commercialism found in print, television, and radio. Analysts say the online ventures still face an uphill battle, largely because the Net is not yet a mass-market medium like TV. Some Netizens also loathe such commercial efforts and shy away from them.

CyberGold's launch has been expected. The company offers cash rewards, typically starting at 50 cents, for reading ads and answering some questions about a product. Rewards can be transferred to your checking account or donated to nonprofit groups.

CyberGold makes money based on the number of people who view the ad. The company also collects valuable demographic information (users must fill out a personal profile with address and phone number), but it vows not to release any of it to advertisers without the user's permission.

The company's founders include Nat Goldhaber, former chief executive of Kaleida Labs (the multimedia venture between Apple Computer and IBM), and veteran advertising and marketing executives Regis McKenna and Jay Chiat. Goldhaber is CyberGold's CEO.

Also today, CyberGold said it would launch a membership drive in June to invite members to list the email addresses of friends who might want to sign up for the service. The reward: $1 for each recruit. It also said the company has expanded the ways that marketers can use its service, such as offering incentives for taking surveys, downloading software, and buying products--not just for viewing ads.

"The feedback we got during early testing convinced us that marketers want to use CyberGold for more than just interactive ads, and members want more ways and places to earn money," Goldhaber said in a statement. "Paying for performance is clearly the next wave in Internet advertising." In an interview, he added that the site may later include some entertainment, such as games.

Meanwhile, Yoyodyne said it was licensing a technology dubbed Click Me that records user ID, compiles rewards totals for surfing the Web, and gives users access to records. Users can trade points for prizes.