Internet service provider EarthLink Network today is launching a service that will give its members access to rooms of their own on the Net.
The move is being made to lure new members to EarthLink, which has been especially aggressive in the last few months, trying to lure members away from online giant America Online. Sprint also recently bought a 30 percent interest in EarthLink, an ISP that analysts say is on the move. Currently it has 450,000 members, most of whom come from AOL, according to executives.
EarthLink is creating a $29.95 per year service in which users can create "rooms" using templates. The rooms allow users to display pictures, share access to private computer files, chat, and talk on Net phones.
The idea is to capture the mainstream market of users who don't know HTML and want a Web page but don't want to design it.
"You don't have to know HTML or CGI," said Howard Lefkowitz, vice president of business development for EarthLink. "We consider this to be an acronym-free zone. You can type your name and get these things to work. The reason we picked a room metaphor is everyone had a room."
The metaphor extends to being able to "decorate" the room with one of the available templates, such as ones focusing on cartoons like "Dilbert" or "Peanuts" and being able to "knock" on the door to see of the person who "owns" the room is in.
The room owner also has the ability to allow guests to download files.
Lefkowitz said the pages are password protected. There are no specific notices on the pages warning new users that downloading files from computers could spread viruses. But Lefkowitz said no specific message is necessary as EarthLink keeps its members informed about viruses and many have their own antivirus software.
"Most people want some sort of Web presence," Lefkowitz said. "But after a tremendous amount of research, we've determined that most people are not HTML programmers. It's simplicity. It's ease of use. It's functionality. It's tremendous service. And it's additional incremental revenue for us as a company."