Entertainment Section

Cool Pick Hotel

Absolutely Free

Cool Pick Hotel Written by Amanda Cohen

Sometimes it seems as though every business on the Internet is giving away something for free. Every animated advertisement blinks "FREE STUFF," but then when you go to check it out, it turns out to be free downloads of software too simplistic to be of any real use, or applications that only work with the mega-program you haven't bought yet, or worse, fantastic software that you can only use for fifteen days before you're obligated to shell out real money.

So how about some real free stuff from the Internet, no downloading required? Something you can get in the snail mail and hold in your hand and treasure forever, if not eat or spend or play on the stereo or give to your dog? It's all out there for the taking, if you don't mind filling out a few online forms, trusting some companies with your email address and experimenting with a few unknown brands.

Because so many companies are taking advantage of the Internet to give out goodies, a few enterprising webmasters have compiled lists of links to those companies' pages to facilitate cybermooching.

Games & Giveaways

The Samples & Freebies page of the Games & Giveaways site lists about 60 products of varying quality available for online seekers. The range of products is limitless and the values depend on your needs. Standouts include Jelly Belly jellybean samples given away daily, several pre-paid phone card services, Earth Observing System posters from NASA and pasta dog food for you and a friend, presumably a human friend who also has email and a pasta-eating dog.

The list goes on with free offers for tea, laundry pre-treaters, refrigerator magnets, tampons, disposable diapers (for adults and infants), pepper spray, herbal ginseng, frisbees, rolling papers, suntan lotion, dental floss and more.

Additional Games & Giveaways pages list 1-800- numbers to call to get even more free stuff, as well as web sites with free games and online contests with real prizes. Don't feel any pressure to compete blindly in those contests, though, because G & G also has a page of answers to online contest questions.

One such contest is the AmeriNet Scavenger Hunt, a contest that challenges net surfers to answer four questions based on information available on their home pages. Users who submit correct answers are entered in a drawing for a neat mouse pad with a built-in solar calculator. Don't sweat the competition because the G & G page already has done the work, so instead of poring over every page of AmeriNet, you can just click on the answers.

Virtual Free Stuff

Though not as colorful as the Games & Giveaways page, the Virtual Free Stuff page breaks down the goodies into 56 categories, each with at least a couple dozen links. Naturally you'll find pointers to all the usual shareware applications, games and free web graphics and clip-art from design companies. The wallpaper list alone has more than 30 samples of professional backgrounds, most of which seem to promote Disney films.

After the usual software parade, the assemblage of goodies goes on to list plenty of actual physical products to send for, but a little research shows that not everything is a guaranteed giveaway. The Virtual Free Stuff page is inflated with links to pages where you merely register to win things amid links where you can actually collect what you want.

Still, I'm an optimist, so I'm already watching my mailbox for my Andre Cosmetics sample, my Fertile Farms Beef Jerky and my Wonky Records yogi music cassette. Hope I win a T-shirt, too.

Bubba's Bazaar

No frames or product categories here. Just a simple list of 50 things for free, most of which are not listed on the Games & Giveaways page. If you really want a mailbox full of promotional samples, it pays to check out lots of "free stuff" pages because there is little overlap of products posted.

Bubba's design follows a cute Aladdin-type motif with magic lamps designating each listing. Bubba seems to favor personal items such as soaps, vitamins, foods and for some strange reason, mystical objects like Tarot cards.

As with most of the free stuff links, Bubba's links take you to the actual pages of the companies offering the free stuff. Moreover, they take you directly to the page that has the form fields to fill in with you address, so you don't have to search around strange pages looking for the bargain. That is to say, you don't actually have to read the carefully-prepared pitch designed to make you want the product, you just go and grab the product itself.

The Free Outlet

Billing itself as "your cutting edge Information and Shopping Source," The Free Outlet page organizes its links by category and also allows shoppers to view all links or view only the updates. The top page features a sidebar with specials like free books and film, based on current advertisers.

A quick look at the categories suggests a good selection of merchandise, though the list looks suspiciously like a marketing division breakdown rather than simply types of freebies. The "Night Life" category offers only one item and it's not even merchandise, and anyway I'm not sure whether the Dolly Parton Wig Catalog qualifies as "Night Life."

Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that the only free stuff available here is catalogs for stuff that is definitely not free. The Free Outlet is a compromise between online shopping and catalog shopping. You don't get to touch the items but you can touch the catalogs if you want them. Either way you get to avoid the mall.

Supersilly's Free Stuff

Despite the title, this page is a seriously maintained source for freebies. The top page shows a list of giveaways no more than a couple of days old, which is pretty important when you have to contend with the phrase "while supplies last." Another list gives links that are four days old at most, but most of them are still viable offers.

The only silly thing about the page is the lack of explanations of what the giveaways might be. You just have to click and see. I clicked and saw that all I had to do to get a free NetAddress T-shirt was put a button for their page on my page.

Some of the freebies available by Internet come with small prices like that. In many cases, you have to send a self-addressed stamped envelope, or the ubiquitous two dollars for shipping and handling. Besides the occasional T-shirt or gift certificate, most free samples give you just enough product to decide if you would actually spend money on the stuff in the real world, not enough to actually stock your pantry or your medicine cabinet.

What do you want for nothing?

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