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Yahoo builds more fees into GeoCities

The Web portal is slowly weeding the freeloaders from its home page community, emphasizing that its basic free service is designed for hobbyists and beginners.

Yahoo is slowly weeding the freeloaders from its home page community, GeoCities.

Last week, the Web portal quietly introduced a paid option for home-page builders, another attempt to convert free subscribers by limiting some features and promoting others. At the same time, the company told its free customers that by early April they would no longer be able to use "remote loading" or file transfer protocol (FTP), the oldest and most prevalent way to deliver content onto a Web page.

If customers want those options, however, they can become paid subscribers.

"Within our free user base there's a certain amount of abuse around FTP and remote loading," which describes using servers only to deliver images to remote pages, said Mark Hull, director of community services at Yahoo. "There's a lot of cost for us to be sure the service is used in the way it's intended."

The move plays into Yahoo's campaign to shave overhead from many of its free features while building revenue with new subscription services. Since a severe decrease in ad spending, the company has been hard-pressed to diversify revenue. In recent months, it's tacked fees onto a range of services, including personal classified ads and fantasy sports.

The changes also give Yahoo more leverage in its push to turn people using free features into paying customers. Last fall, Yahoo pressed GeoCities members to limit their bandwidth use or risk losing their Web sites.

In a roundabout way, that September notice promoted additional bandwidth offered in two new subscription services, which were introduced the previous month. Yahoo launched GeoCities Pro and GeoCities Webmaster for roughly $9 and $12 a month, respectively. They give customers an ad-free site, a personal domain name, more storage space and advanced Web-building tools, among other amenities. Still, Yahoo continued a basic service for free.

Now the company is introducing a $4.95 service that lets customers use FTP and remote loading, features once free. The new option also comes with extra storage and ad-free pages.

Mainbar: Classifieds a cash cow Yahoo said it plans to cut off remote loading from free customers because the service is often abused. For example, people auctioning goods on eBay may sign up for a free GeoCities page only to use Yahoo's server to display photos of for-sale items.

"It's kind of like a free ride," Hull said. "We pay for storage and bandwidth, but the user is using that picture somewhere else...for commercial services that don't have anything to do with Yahoo. (GeoCities) is designed for people to publish and have a community experience."

Similarly, he said the company is placing restrictions on FTP because it can be misused and because it's not a tool often employed by beginning site builders, Yahoo's main audience. FTP, software used to transfer files from one computer to another, is one of the oldest ways to deliver a Web page onto the Internet. Hull said Yahoo offers more rudimentary tools to upload files online.

Yahoo would not say how many people may be affected by the changes.

Jason Price, who uses GeoCities and FTP for his personal Web page, said he is disappointed by constant moves by big companies such as Yahoo to charge for services they said would always remain free.

"I remember Yahoo in the early years of the Internet. They promised free e-mail forever, but I'm not sure about FTP," Price said in an e-mail interview. "I'm very disappointed in GeoCities. I think consumers are smart, and I hope they don't give in."