Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Small, but Occasionally Effective, Ways to Get Free Stuff

In all this so-called financial mess, at least there are some things that you can do if you want free stuff. There are also some things that say you can earn rewards with them, but really, your return for the time spent makes a lot of these programs not worth it. So, let's discuss the good and the bad:

Bad: Pay to Read e-mail programs

There was a time, say, around 2000, when you could get paid just to have a bar of advertisements running at the bottom of your screen. I myself made a fair amount of money doing it. Around that time (and even a little before, in some cases), programs started to pop up promising to pay money for every e-mail they sent in which you, the recipient, clicked a link. And many programs did, in fact, pay. So far, so good. Unfortunately, most mainstream advertisers realized that they were getting a raw deal, and for the most part, the programs which paid the most have dried up. Now the only programs left pay virtually nothing per e-mail, so if you want to get paid, you have to sit at your computer all day, clicking e-mails. This is not my idea of a good time.

With that said, there may still be a silver lining to this rather large cloud. Hopefully I'll be able to revisit this shortly.

Potentially Good: Pay to Search

Along with the get-paid-to-surf and get-paid-to-read-email programs in the early 2000s, there were also a few get-paid-to-search programs. And, like the others, these didn't work, and most are gone and forgotten. (The ones that are remembered are not remembered for good reasons.)

With that said, there are a couple of choices available if you want to give this type of program another shot. A new site called MySearchBonus gives a point for each valid search (with certain time limits and per-day limits) and offers for redemption, once you have enough points, items ranging from gasoline cards all the way to LCD HDTVs. The issue I have with them is the quality of their search results. They used to use Google to route their searches; I believe they now use Alexa. As far as I can tell, this has led to a marked dropoff in their results. They also don't recognize quotes in search terms; this isn't great if you are searching for a phrase.

The other option these days is Microsoft's Live Search cashback, which offers users the chance to find great deals on online items for sale. If you buy something through a qualifying deal (marked with a special icon), money is added to your cashback account.

Live Search cashback, I suppose, could be a good thing for people who buy a lot online; however, I'm not a big fan of the spend-money-to-get-money paradigm, so I'll stick with MySearchBonus.

Good: Free Music

I think I'm the last person left who hasn't subscribed to Napster or Rhapsody or any of the other sites that offer unlimited MP3 listening for a monthly fee. But just in case I'm not the only one, I have found a site called MPFree that, for things as easy as entering your e-mail address or zip code, will give you free music. (Obviously, I recommend a throwaway Gmail-type address for this type of program.)

Now, this site isn't perfect. They're not always good at crediting songs earned, and the songs credited are redeemable not as MP3 files but as DRM-infected WMA files from buy.com. (There are ways around this, of course, not that I'd know anything about them.) But, I have earned 66 free songs so far, so I'm not going to complain about that.

This site has sister sites that offer chances to get more music or even iPods through sweepstakes or through earning enough points, but you can get MPFree credits by signing up for those programs, so there are some free songs for you already.

Of course, with all these programs, your mileage may vary, but these are ones that have worked well for me.


pylorns said...

Newsgroups are your friend... wait, I didn't say that.