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Computer Central

Bartering up to homeownership on the Internet
Scripps Howard News Service


July 11, 2006

Kyle MacDonald's story will make a great Internet movie some day. No, not a silly one like Sandra Bullock in "The Net." A real Internet story. About how something with an idea can make people smile.

MacDonald, 26, wanted a house. He didn't have any money. All he had was a blog. That, and a large red paper clip.

So he set out on a great Internet bartering adventure. Could he barter his way from a paper clip to a house?

Bartering, to those not in the know, is trading even. Your thing for my thing. No cash.

So MacDonald, from Montreal, put his red paperclip up for barter on Craigslist, one of the largest classified ad sites on the Internet, last year. He promptly traded his shiny paperclip for a fish-shaped pen.

He posted the pen back on the barter section of Craigslist. He bartered that for a ceramic doorknob. Back to Craigslist. That became a camping stove, a beer keg, a lighted beer sign, a generator, a snow globe, an afternoon with rocker "Alice Cooper", a broken snowmobile, a trip to the Rockies, an old supply truck and then a recording contract.

He hit it big eventually, scoring a year's free rent in Phoenix. Of course, his idea and story finally hit the mainstream media after some enterprising reporter finally read this blog, where he'd been chronicling his bartering adventures.

Once the story hit the "real" press, the bartering accelerated and you probably know what's happening now. MacDonald is due to close on a three-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot house in Kipling, Saskatchewan in a month or two.

This says a little something about MacDonald (a creative mind gets you far in this world) and a lot about the Internet (a creative force gets you far in commerce). Like Pierre Omidyar's Web site mythically created in 1995 to sell his girlfriend's collection of PEZ dispensers (ever heard of eBay?) to Jeff Bezos's idea to sell books online (, the lure of the Internet is whoever gets there first with a great idea often not only makes money, but makes an impact.

People have used this force for everything from the "million dollar home page" (selling pixels for a buck each) to one little girl raising $6 million for cancer research with a lemonade stand ( More than one enterprising kid has gone to college by asking people to mail him nickels or pennies. (With PayPal, you don't even need it to be mailed.)

A middle school in Whitwell, Tenn., wanted to collect one paper clip for every Jew killed in the Holocaust so children there could understand the impact of 6 million. Partially because of the impact of the viral nature of the Internet the school is at 29 million paper clips and still going.

The Internet is the great flattener in our society. Before it, in order to tell your story you had to find someone with a television network or a printing press and convince them that your story was worthy of being told. Today all you need is an Internet connection and a creative mind and your story, no matter how compelling, can be seen all over the world.

And that is a huge game-changer.

WEEKLY WEB WONDER: The Hunger Site is one such site. If you click on an icon once per day you feed a hungry person. No catch.


James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company, and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.
His e-mail address is jim(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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Ketchikan, Alaska