Don't Toss It -- Trade It

SAN FRANCISCO (05/10/2000) - I have trouble throwing anything away. No matter what it is--a book I'll never reread or a CD I don't even like--I can't seem to part with it. My overflowing shelves testify to the problem; but I found a solution on the Web.

The tag line of reads "Swapping is Sweet." Exactly, I thought, as I entered my name, e-mail address, and mailing address (so I could get my trade by mail). Unlike barter sites that use their own currency, Switchouse helps you strike deals to swap goods for goods. The site also lets you make deals with cash. The goods you send go directly to the person with whom you've arranged a swap, and vice versa. So--unless you agree to send money--your only costs are shipping fees.

Everyone gets a "my list" space, where you list what you have and what you want. You also have a swapping cart, to see the trades you've proposed, those pitched to you, and the status of deals.

I quickly filled out my have list with books and CDs, and easily filled in the blanks on my want list. Browsing through the site gave me plenty of ideas for things I just knew I had to have.

Switchouse is arranged in sections for movies, books, games, and music. Each section lists the items that are most wanted and most available. Reading these, I got the impression that the average Switchouse visitor is a 17-year-old girl, because Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys ranked high on the lists of both the most wanted and most available CDs.

Still, I found a wide selection. People were willing to swap hundreds of items, from opera music to an Austin Powers movie.

Let's Make a Deal

So I went to work proposing swaps. You can find potential trades by entering an item (to get or give) and clicking "find swap." You can browse through the resulting lists to find an item to trade, and click "propose swap." The other party gets an e-mail detailing your offer, and can accept or refuse it. If you're turned down, you can negotiate further. Switchouse rates participants through a feedback system: You are either positive, neutral, or negative after you have made your first swap; before that you're listed simply as new.

I thought all of my first six proposals were very fair, as they were goods for goods. (I stayed away from anything involving money.) All were declined.

I was just getting ready to hold that yard sale after all. But then an e-mail arrived with those magic words: proposal accepted. The message said where to send my goods and how much I could expect to pay for shipping. Four days later, I received in the mail a package with a book inside that looked almost as good as new. And in these days of e-mail, getting an actual package was exciting in itself.

So, swapping goods online might be slower going than I'd hoped, but it's enjoyable. And getting new stuff in return makes parting with all that old good stuff a lot more bearable.

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