December has been a big month for premium -- that is, paid -- Internet services, with new ones debuting weekly. One of the most hyped online subscription offerings, a multi-player game called the Sims Online (www.thesimsonline.com), went live Tuesday. Gamers who enjoy exercising godlike control over animated, simulated people can now do so in competition with other humans in this sequel to the best-selling computer game of all time. The game itself, from Electronic Arts subsidiary Maxis, costs $50 in stores, plus $10 a month in subscription fees.
Here's a look at three other services trying to pry open the wallets of notoriously tightfisted Web users.
Ante Up, News Junkies
Yahoo launched a paid news archive with the Associated Press last week, selling AP articles dating to 1998 for $1.50 apiece. You can still read current AP stories free for 15 days after publication on Yahoo; this extra-cost content is made available when a search in Yahoo's news section brings up relevant older stories.
The AP, a wire service created by member news organizations, also sells articles on its own Web site (www.ap.org) at $2.95 apiece or in package deals, such as six stories for $4.95.
AP spokesman Fernando Ferre said the wire service plans to launch paid archives at other Web portals.
The Gallup Organization's new service offers the first direct public access to current and archived polls. Dubbed "Tuesday Briefing," the $95-a-year subscription includes a weekly electronic newsletter summarizing the latest Gallup findings, plus access to decades of Gallup polling data. A shorter, free version of the briefing omits the archive access.
More Music for the Pound?
BT Group, Britain's dominant telephone company, launched a paid music site last week, Dotmusic on Demand. The Windows Media-based service (available to users anywhere with a Windows PC) offers access to a catalog of about 120,000 titles from such labels as Universal, EMI and Warner Music. Prices start at about $8 a month for 500 streams of music or 50 downloads -- a discount over such competing major-label sites as MusicNet or Pressplay.
Lycos Beefs Up HotBot
Another faded search engine got a makeover last week. Terra Lycos revised its HotBot search tool to offer results from four different search engines: Inktomi (the company at the heart of the old HotBot), Fast Search & Transfer, Google and Ask Jeeves's Teoma. Searchers must choose one of the four but can toggle between them without retyping queries. They can also customize and save search filters, such as limiting a query to a particular Web address.
Go NORAD, Get Santa
It's the closest thing the Internet has to a Christmas tradition: the official webcast of Santa's sleigh flying around the world, courtesy of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. NORAD's Santa site will feature live video clips of Santa's sleigh in action from 5 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday until 3:30 a.m. Christmas Day. The site will post a map of the world Tuesday with live "SantaCam" views from dozens of points. NORAD's Web site has been broadcasting images of Santa's sleigh since 1997.
E-mail Leslie Walker at email@example.com.