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Best free stuff online: It pays to play

PC World

March 30, 2000
Web posted at: 9:09 a.m. EST (1409 GMT)

(IDG) -- Spanning the Web to bring you the finest in freebies, PC World lists the best sites for the resourceful, penny-pinching and downright cheap.

Today: The top games and entertainment sites, as well as one site that pays you to surf the Web.

Best games and entertainment sites

Play nice, now: Sandbox

Remember playing in the sandbox when you were a kid? Well, you don't have to give up everything as you get older. This Sandbox, however, is decidedly for grown-ups -- with more than 30 interactive sports and financial games to choose from. You can take a crack at stock market simulations to experience the heady thrill of day trading without worrying about all those tiresome Chapter 11 repercussions. Or you can go to the free fantasy sports area to walk a few exciting miles in the sneakers of an apoplectic sideline coach.

  ALSO
Monday: Best freeware and communications freebies

Tuesday: Best health, reference and advice sites

Wednesday: Best sites for consumers

Thursday: Best entertainment sites & sites that pay you

Friday: Top 10 most popular downloads

 
  MESSAGE BOARD
 

Fantasia 2000: ESPN Fantasy Games

ESPN has long been a frontrunner in putting the wide world of sports on the World Wide Web. Case in point: The sprawling ESPN Fantasy Games network, which offers an array of free and fee-based games that are powerfully appealing (or appalling, depending on how you like to spend your time). Free games include a betting pool sweepstakes for in-season sports and "virtual GM," in which you become the general manager and put together your own basketball team. There's also a handful of free arcade-style games, like Home Run Rally, Slapshot, and the oddly compelling Ultimate Bobsled.

Goodonya, mate: QuokkaSports

Anchored by the Australian-owned Quokka.com hub, this site successfully exploits the interactivity of the online medium. It provides plenty of lively content (some in real-time) through interactive games, Web cams, and streaming audio and video of international and adventure sports -- such as the Whitbread around-the-world sailing race and the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara. Quokka will also partner with NBC to cover the Olympic Games in Sydney this September.

Coming soon to a PC near you: TrailerVision

Tired of watching film trailers that are better than the movies they advertise? The Canadian director who launched this site uses all the clichŽd techniques in the bombastic school of filmmaking -- quick strobe-light cuts, fast-action special effects, and throbbing soundtracks -- to create hilarious trailers for films that don't exist but that you'll swear you've actually seen. A fresh trailer debuts each Monday. Warning: This site may be addictive.

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The oldest wallet on the Internet: What's Inside Jeremy's Wallet?

Once in a great while, the endless proliferation of weird ideas online produces a Web site that borders on true genius. What's Inside Jeremy's Wallet? is candidly pointless, yet somehow deeply intriguing. Jeremy's wallet, designed by another resident of the Great White North with too much time on his hands, has been online since 1995 and is billed as "Quite Possibly The Oldest Wallet On The Internet." The B-movieĞinspired design is superb. You can click your way through each item in Jeremy's wallet, such as his video rental cards and driver's license, and read the amusing commentary on his so-called life. Contents are updated every week or so. Be sure to check out the photo of Jeremy with his "platonic" friend Johanna, and the heartfelt fan mail that it inspired.

All trivia, all the time: AbsoluteTrivia

The Disneyland of trivia sites, AbsoluteTrivia boasts a database of more than 10,000 infobites, which are sortable by keyword or category. Dedicated trivia enthusiasts will enjoy the random trivia generator, which pitches a factual fastball with each click of the mouse, such as "Badminton is the world's fastest racket sport: a shuttle can leave the racket at a speed of almost 200 mph." Furthermore, you'll find a ton of links to additional trivia resources -- so your quest for dubiously useful knowledge to impress your friends need never end.

Power surfing: Getting paid to go online

Here's an enticing concept: Get paid to surf the Web. That's what AllAdvantage, and other companies like ValuePay.com, promises members who sign up with them. But predictably, the reward does not come quite so easily.

By paying consumers to view ads, AllAdvantage turns the rules of marketing on their ears. Other services, such as Cybergold, pay only when you actually visit an advertiser's Web site. But AllAdvantage works through a viewbar -- an always-on-top window that monitors the sites you surf, then delivers targeted ads. If you visit an auction site, for example, you'll likely see ads for auction sites the next time you go online. The payoff for your browsing is 50 cents for every hour you surf -- up to a maximum of 25 hours per month. A little quick math reveals that you'll top out at $12.50/month. Big whoop.

But you also earn money on referrals. For every hour that someone you refer spends online, you get 10 cents. Referrals of referrals earn you 5 cents. Earnings are paid out monthly. The result? Well, according to AllAdvantage, one subscriber earned $5500 in November, and 44 members racked up more than $1000 each that month.

Too good to be true?

While getting paid to surf sounds good, there are privacy concerns. AllAdvantage tracks your every move on the Web and can match your name and e-mail address to the sites you visit. That's sensitive (and valuable) data. AllAdvantage says it does not pass this information on to advertisers and it conducts all targeted marketing internally. Members can also turn off the viewbar to protect their surfing privacy (but, of course, they don't earn money while the viewbar is off).

Still, the bottom line is that you have to amass an empire of referrals to really cash in. And, the amount of time you earn for referrals is linked to the time you actually surf. If you surf 10 hours a month and your referrals each surf 25, you earn only 10 hours for each referral.

I tested AllAdvantage for a month and was amazed at how little I accrued. I spent at least 40 hours surfing during that time but received credit for just over eight. My earnings were an underwhelming $4.23--not even enough to cover my ISP bill.

Why so little? The company only credits you for "active surfing," which means you must scroll or click on a Web page "every few minutes" to accrue time. You can't just leave your unattended browser on all day. A green button in the Viewbar turns red when you're no longer "active."

Friends and family

If solo surfing earned me little, I figured I could sign up ten friends at 10 cents an hour and really rake in the bucks. At 40 hours, I could earn a whopping... $40. If my ten friends signed up ten of their friends, who signed up ten more friends, I'd have $260 a month. Not enough to quit my day job, but we're getting there. Problem is, I tried to hook friends and family on the deal, but no one was biting.

According to Ron Streeter, I wasn't seeing the business potential in the plan. Streeter, one of AllAdvantage's higher earners, has some 13,000 referrals. As owner of a T-shirt printing business, he set up a banner on his Web site to attract referrals: Anyone who links to the AllAdvantage site and signs up under Streeter's account earns surfing dollars for him. The first check arrived in September for $229. In December, he earned more than $2500.

So what's the advantage? If you don't mind the viewbar tracking your moves, you could earn pocket change. But to get the big payoff, you must put serious effort into building referrals -- or have your own Web site to lure them in.



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March 28, 2000
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