Loyalty matters

A new portal site hopes to entice members by offering free stock for frequent visits.

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This ad increases shareholder value.” These were the first words I saw — they appear just below a banner ad — on Myownempire.com, a new portal site launched over the weekend. The next phrase to catch my eye: “Qualify for Stock.”

It seems a little odd that these messages are more prominent than the portal’s services, which include news, chat, metasearches of auction sites and other search engines and an option to call in and listen to a dictation of your e-mail messages. But Myownempire.com has a plan to give free Internet stock to its customers — and the company is more interested in telling that story.

On Monday, founder Bob Haya spoke at length about how portal members might benefit from his company’s growth — explaining, for example, that Wall Street calculates users of Yahoo to be worth around $1,300 a person. Haya is excited about a complicated stock issuing plan that would allow “qualified users” to receive one share of stock in exchange for making the portal their start page and visiting it for 10 days out of every 30 days for three months. They can receive up to four more shares for referring other people to the site. Haya wouldn’t say what it takes to qualify, because, he says, he’s concerned that some people would misrepresent themselves to get in on the offering.

Myownempire.com is not the first Internet company to offer free shares in
exchange for traffic to its site, but Haya says that unlike his
predecessors, he has found a way to do it legally. The Securities and
Exchange Commission has href="http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,39617,00.html?pt.salon">cracked
down
on several companies whose free offerings violate government
regulations. Haya says it took a year to work out a legal free stock offer — and the company has filed a patent on the business plan.

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“We were told by the government and attorneys that free stock offerings are illegal, but we found a way to offer stock and be exempt from certain SEC rules,” he said. There are state laws that allow for some kind of public offering that don’t require the same stringent SEC regulation, added Haya, saying that the company will offer its members 5 million shares — equivalent to about 45 percent of the company as of December 1998.

“DON’T PAY MONEY FOR STOCK — you should earn a portfolio of legally issued stock by using sites you like,” the site commands. “We have agreements with more than 70 great companies like Snap/NBC, Amazon.com, Travelocity, Insweb, Beyond.com, etc. and plan to change the way business operates.” Those agreements, however, are merely e-commerce partnerships.

So far, Myownempire.com has no actual agreements to offer stock in any of those companies — although Haya says that “we hope that licensees will use our patent-pending system to offer stock to their members.” Meanwhile, Myownempire.com has yet to go public itself — so it’s still unclear just how much those loyal portal users will earn for their fealty.

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

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