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Charity begins at home page

A new company will announce on Aug. 21 that Web surfers can generate money while using the Web. But, this time, the plan may actually succeed.

    A new company will announce Aug. 21 that Web surfers can generate money while using the Web. But this time, the plan may actually succeed.

    ForMyCause.com has worked without publicity for months. When it launches, it promises to become a significant revenue source for charities by donating 50 percent of its advertising dollars to causes selected by Internet users.

    Software that will display advertisements on the edge of surfers' screens will first become available for downloading Aug. 21 exclusively at ZDNet's download page. Various sites will feature the software thereafter.

    Other companies, of course, have tried paying surfers to view ads. The results, to put it charitably, have not broken any records.

    One of the best-known companies, AllAdvantage.com, announced last month that it was laying off almost 10 percent of its staff. The company paid $32.7 million to surfers from December to March while generating only $9.1 million in ad revenue.

    But ForMyCause gives every appearance of being different.

    Chief executive Peter Allen, who was a senior investment banker at the company now known as Morgan Stanley Dean Witter for 15 years, has assembled a veritable Who's Who of major investors for his cause-oriented company. A first round of more than $3 million in financing has come from executives of more than a dozen investment banking and venture capital firms.

    Among the backers are Alan Horn, chief operating officer of Warner Brothers; Hartley Rogers and Michael Schmertzler, co-chairmen of the Private Equity Group of Credit Suisse First Boston; Tom Steyer, senior managing member of Farallon Capital; and Frank Biondi, managing partner of WaterView Partners.

    ForMyCause has 60 employees in Los Angeles, New York and London and has already signed up many well-known charities. The first few to announce they would be involved include the March of Dimes, Easter Seals, Ronald McDonald House, Head Start and others.

    The nonprofit groups aligning with ForMyCause, Allen says, have approximately 100 million paying members. He estimates there is a 20 percent overlap, leaving a base of 80 million people interested in supporting their favorite charities.

    Sara Brewster, a spokeswoman for Easter Seals, confirmed in an interview that the group has an agreement with ForMyCause.

    "We're in the process of beginning a program," Brewster said, to encourage Easter Seals supporters to download and use ForMyCause's software.

    ForMyCause's business model is much different than those of other pay-to-surf firms. This may make it succeed where others have failed.

    Unlike AllAdvantage, ForMyCause does not plan to pay surfers a fixed dollar amount per hour. Nor will the company provide free Internet access--an expensive service.

    Instead, ForMyCause will simply pay the charities 50 percent of the revenue from the ads surfers view. The company is working with the aggregator 24/7 Media, which will feed the ads to surfers' browsers.

    Because surfers have not even started using the software yet, it is impossible to say how much money charities will receive. But Allen estimates that "if a person spent only 20 minutes a day (on the Web), they would generate over $100 a year for a charity."

    Allen said his for-profit company will support any legitimate charity with as few as 1,000 members, regardless of how many of them actually use the service.

    ForMyCause has all the signs of a successful e-business that actually gives something back to worthy nonprofit groups. With ForMyCause, charity begins at the home page.

    A Wired Watchdog update
    In my June 16 column, I reported on Cogit.com, a Web tracking service. I wrote that if Web surfers had JavaScript turned off in their browsers, Cogit's "opt-out" procedure informed them that their PCs had been opted out, when in fact they were not.

    Cogit chief executive Peter Corrao confirms that the company has corrected its opt-out procedure, which no longer relies on JavaScript.

    Consumer advocate Brian Livingston appears at CNET News.com every Friday. Do you know of a problem affecting consumers? Send info to tips@BrianLivingston.com. He'll send you a book of high-tech secrets free if you're the first to submit a tip he prints.