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Switchboard extends free services

The veteran directory site plans a suite of free personalized services, personalized Web pages, and free email.

Many sites are starting to offer free email to lure surfers to their sites. Switchboard plans to take free services a step further.

Next month it will introduce "My Corner," a suite of free personalized services, personalized Web pages, and, of course, free email.

If the business mantra in the nonvirtual world is "location, location, location," then the virtual equivalent should be "traffic, traffic, traffic."

The idea behind free services is that Netizens visit the sites where the free stuff--such as email--is offered. When they go to retrieve mail--or, in the case of Switchboard, to check out their own or a friend's Web site--the sites get traffic and can then sell more advertising. Companies offering such services also can use them to plant advertising and information within the actual applications.

Switchboard, one of the more popular and older phone directory services on the Net, hopes that giving Netizens the templates and "easy-to-use tools" to create free pages will lure even more users.

The online directory market is one of the hottest on the Net, and Switchboard is hoping its new services will give it an edge over its competitors, which include BigBook, Four11.com, and a host of Baby Bells partnering with various Web sites.

The space is so competitive that last month, for instance, GTE (GTE) filed suit against five Baby Bells, Netscape, and Yahoo, charging the companies with trying to monopolize the directory listings business on the Internet.

The Switchboard pages, of course, will be linked to an individual's white-page listing.

Most people will be able to create sites within 15 minutes, Switchboard promises.

"Switchboard is used by millions of people each week, and many of them are eager to portray themselves online in a way that is consistent with their real-life identity," Switchboard president Doug McIntyre said. "Until now, this was a daunting task for most novice Web users. My Corner makes it easy."

The company also will be partnering with iName to create free email.

While free Web-based email offered on popular Web sites is still a relatively new concept, analysts predict that it soon will become a standard on all commercial Web sites.

Switchboard plans to roll out the services December 8.