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August 1, 2006

Get What You Want Without Spending A Dime

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Even the web is now a two-way street. Its newest branches-which some techies call "Web 2.0"-are about letting you connect and contribute as much as they are about serving up info. You've probably already paid a visit to this "new" net without even knowing it: You participate every time you upload a photo to Flickr or Snapfish, tweak your profile on MySpace, or comment on a friend's blog. And each time you download a song, you've got company. At any given moment, almost 10 million people worldwide are trading songs, videos, photos, and software online, according to Big Champagne Online Media Measurement. Now, "swarms" of users- defined as computer users linked solely by the fact that they're all downloading the same video or game at the same time-can pool their bandwidth and use sites like torrentspy.com to download files faster than ever.

Picking up where legally embattled Napster left off are file-sharing sites like:
Morpheus, eDonkey, and Gnu tella, to name just a few. Currently, about 1.6 billion song files are up for grabs simultaneously. And podcasts-sort of like DIY radio shows-are a big part of the mix now, too. They can include anything and everything from political talk radio to Mandarin Chinese lessons.

While audio downloads make up the bulk of file swaps, YouTube and Google Video (video.google.com) let users swap their favorite video clips now, too. In fact, it's not hard to imagine a day when you could watch an episode of Lost on your cell phone, then zap it to a friend on your way home.

But bartering isn't just the newest way to get a monitor tan. It can be a more economical way to vacation, too. Sites like Holi-Swaps.com and ExchangeHomes.com, in addition to apartment-swap boards on Craigslist.org, are changing even the way we travel. Think you can't afford to go abroad? Rather than shell out for a pricey hotel room, some pleasure-seekers swap

apartments to pare down costs. Lauren Ragland, 30, and her husband, from Brooklyn, NY, traded spaces with a Parisian named Philip. The $1500 they saved in hotel costs bankrolled a side jaunt to Barcelona- but the rewards weren't just monetary: Swapping let them "explore the city less like a tourist," says Ragland. Sure, she worried about giving a stranger her house keys carte blanche, but Philip provided references-and was an ideal houseguest. "The apartment looked better than we left it. My husband still talks about how perfectly our bed was made," she says. Maureen Dempsey, 31, saved $700 in dog-boarding expenses when she and her husband went away for two weeks and found an Irish student to stay in their home-in exchange for free pet-sitting. The unexpected upshot? Their house sitter was, conveniently, a veterinary student. And if you don't have a swanky pad to offer up, sites like Sabbaticalhomes.com and Caretaker.org let you register as a house sitter for people who want someone to keep an eye on their places.

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