I am an avowed capitalist. Not only because it is a far cry better than the alternatives, but because, just like freedom, the price is eternal vigilance. A capitalist system doesn't stand if the people get apathetic about supporting competition, keeping the producers in check with their own knowledge and actions, as well as stay active in keeping the government from over-running the market. When the people fail in the first, the producer's greed overruns everything, when we fail in the second, the government regulates business into the ground, or at least out of the country.
But my subject today is not economic systems, but one of the byproducts of them. Advertising is a fascinating product of capitalism. A producer's objective is to move product. Advertising encourages people to buy product. It has developed into a massive industry in and of itself. Polls and studies and data are all gathered, analyzed, metrics are generated, ROI (return on investment) is calculated, and various ad campaigns are launched or left on the cutting room floor. The web has seriously changed the advertising landscape in a huge number of ways, one of my favorite being making "free stuff" more available. The simple fact is that cost of the stuff given away pales in comparison to the value of moving up in the web searches and the increased value of the advertisers ad space (that ROI we mentioned earlier) Now, 99.999% of the free money, free gift cards, free computers, free iPods offers that we see are fertilizer. They typically require a long maze of filling in your data, usually several times, signing up for other free trials and newsletters, and usually just getting a larger slice of the spam pie for your trouble. At worst these offers may be harvesting your data for identity theft purposes, or downloading malware/spyware/destructive viruses onto your computer.
There are a couple of places to go on the web where you can earn free stuff legitimately. One I recently came across is swagbucks.com. After seeing them featured in a short bit on the news (in a piece that evidently wasn't good enough to archive on the website) I figured what was the worst that could happen? A little digging comes up with other positive reviews, as well as a B+ rating for the parent company Prodege LLC from the Better Business Bureau. Regular readers (both of you :-D ) will notice a new widget to your right. Feel free to use it or the link in the paragraph above. The set up is very simple. You sign up, use their search engine to look up stuff on Ye Olde Web, and random searches will earn you swagbucks, which can be redeemed for lots of nifty stuff from their catalog. Yes, getting other people to sign up earns you bucks as well, hence the link and widget here. Don't expect to earn a new blu-ray player in a week, but simple things like installing the toolbar and using it instead of your bookmarks to go to sites you frequent will slowly but surely fill your swag wallet. By what I have found thus far, swagbucks doesn't seem to be aggregating your personal data for commercial purposes any more than Google, Yahoo, and Facebook are, so why not get a little bit of that advertising budget for your time?
Another one I've been using longer is mypoints.com. Instead of actual merchandise you spend points on gift cards for various retailers. They have a search option, but I usually earn my points simply by viewing the sponsor pages from the emails that are sent on a regular basis. Because I'm not shopping online with their chosen merchants, or signing up for free trials, quotes and the like, it has been a very slow build up. But it is building, and with a bit of concentration the points would add up much more quickly. Now, the site is owned by Classmates Media Corporation, but an A+ and accreditation from the BBB overcomes that hurdle. No, I'm not including a link because Mypoints doesn't offer points for referrals, they offer points for adding people to your network. DM me on twitter or facebook or email me if you would like to sign up and score me a few points. :-D
At this time, my spam intake hasn't jumped significantly since signing up for either of these sites. I think it's safe to say I get more spam from my job hunt than both of these put together. So there you have it, some free stuff for you that is the direct result of the evolution of capitalism. Advertising dollars spent generating hits and higher search ranks flow from the producers pockets, and some marketers have figured out ways to get those dollars to the consumers for helping the producers. Now if these marketers could just teach these wonderful free market ideals and results with those silly folks in D.C........
P.S. Like the rest of the world, I see the "I made six figures sitting on the beach in Maui and so can you!" ads all over the place. Glancing at some, I've seen principles that make sense, and with a little diligence, have found a few that just may be marketable. I don't think any of them will have me retiring in a year, but for a second stream of income, there are some promising and legitimate looking affiliate marketing, ad making setups out there that work. As my research continues, expect those to pop up in here as well as the usual politics and religion. I think making money online is rapidly joining the list of things you avoid talking to people about if you don't want an argument to start, just like religion and politics so it's a logical addition.