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Ride for FreeLoader is over

Citing a "market chill," Individual discontinues the operations of its FreeLoader service and lays off about 28 employees.

Citing a "market chill," Individual (INDV), said today it has discontinued the operations of its FreeLoader service and laid off about 28 employees in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

"The market was chilled ice-cold by the announcement of both Netscape and Microsoft to include Webcasting technology [in their next Web browsers]," said Jan Bruce, a senior vice president at Individual.

Individual, which acquired FreeLoader a year ago under former CEO Yosi Amram for $2 million and $36 million in stock, will drop FreeLoader's offline browser approach in favor of using multiple Webcasting channels to distribute news to subscribers of its NewsPage and First Alert services. Those services distribute relevant, filtered news to a variety of industries.

FreeLoader has been up for sale since Individual announced in February that it was no longer a core operation, but Bruce declined to comment on reports that an unidentified buyer recently pulled out of a deal. She said talks are continuing on selling some of FreeLoader's assets.

"We think Webcasting is a much bigger opportunity than having to build and maintain our own channel ourselves," Bruce added.

Offline browsers, like ad-supported FreeLoader, automatically retrieve information from the Internet and store it on a user's hard drive for later use.

Last week, Individual announced it will provide a channel on Microsoft's Active Desktop; yesterday it announced an alliance with Lanacom's Headliner service.

The company said terminating FreeLoader will reduce Individual's expenses by about $1 million a quarter and will not adversely affect the company's financial performance because FreeLoader's assets had previously been written off.

Individual also stated it has formed an advanced technology unit, with some former FreeLoader employees plus staff and technology from Individual, to support Webcasting applications. Mark Langley, who worked on push and personalization technologies at Microsoft's MSNBC service, was hired for a key role in that unit.

FreeLoader employees who are being laid off will get severance packages, and Individual will advise FreeLoader customers on their options in the next several weeks.