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SOME ADVERTISERS OUT OF BOUNDS, USERS SAY

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The Internet has gone commercial, and no one can stop it.

Until a month ago, advertisers on the global electronic computer network put their messages in areas designated for commercial use. They stayed clear of more general areas where people send messages about everything from Barney the dinosaur to the strife in Bosnia."It's been a very self-policed thing," said Kim Patch, a senior editor at PC Week magazine who covers the Internet and other on-line services.

But that's changing.

Two companies have erased the electronic border, looking to reach all 10 million to 20 million people believed to use the Internet worldwide.

"It's not that there's not room. Real estate in cyberspace is infinite," Patch said. "But if you're an advertiser, you want to be where the action is."

But the posting of commercial messages across many discussion areas, known as bulletin boards and news groups, has angered people who believe the ads violate the Internet's rules of etiquette.

They have revolted by sending electronic messages in protest, the sheer number of which has tripped up computers that the ads passed through to reach the Internet.

In Miami, a person identified as U.S. Health Inc. posted an ad for a $29.95 thigh-thinning cream on 2,397 news groups and 850 mailing lists. The person has not been identified, but the message was traced to the University of Miami.

The company that provided the gateway onto the Internet for the person, Shadow Information Services, received 2 million responses, chiefly protests. The volume crashed its system, said Dan Hafe, the company's marketing director.

Last month, the Canter & Siegel law firm in Phoenix sent 6,000 news groups an ad offering legal advice to non-U.S. citizens who may be seeking green card status. The nearly 36,000 responses that arrived within days at Internet Direct in Phoenix shut its computer down.

Husband-and-wife immigration lawyers Martha S. Siegel and Laurence A. Canter were knocked off the system.

"We weren't particularly selective," Siegel said. "We ran our posting. They were overwhelmed, and their system crashed. Not because of what we did but because of the responses."

Some of the messages were legitimate responses to the solicitation. Most were so-called "flame mail."

Siegel said about 600 people have applied through them for the green card lottery. Because of the success, the law firm has created Cybersell, a company designed to help others get their ads on the Net.

Marshall Rose, who heads Dover Beach Consulting Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., computer consulting company, said people were upset because both ads went against the etiquette on Internet.

"Had they spent more time understanding the culture, figured out the appropriate distribution systems, they could have posted their message and everyone would have been happy," Rose said.