Three weeks later, the porcelain frog your cousin gave you for Christmas doesn't look so fun. Instead of hiding it away to regift next Christmas, barter it on the Internet for something you want.

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You can barter it on Craigslist and possibly spend an hour or so searching for something you want, then e-mailing the other party to see if they want your frog for their unopened hard liquor left over from a holiday party.

Or try BarterQuest.com, a site that matches people who want something with others who have it. Posting is free, and although the site says that a fee is charged when a trade is confirmed, CEO Michael Satz told me in a telephone interview today that it is no longer charging trading fees as a way to remain a "free" site and attract more people.

To attract traders, BarterQuest has put up some items -- an iPod Touch, Prada bag and Nintendo Wii -- that will be traded for the best offers through Jan. 15. Offers for the iPod Touch, for example, include a pink Apple laptop, camera, Sidekick Slide and 8G iPod.

Every kid who traded baseball cards in their neighborhood knows the advantage of trading and how to weigh the marketplace, and Satz said his Web site is an "extension of that natural instinct to trade."

The site was launched in December, but in that short time the most popular trades are for technical items such as computers for iPods, and for services such as computer consulting and babysitting. Even a chaplain is offering his services for barter.

BarterQuest has heard from so many farmers that it is looking into creating a farming community online for farmers to trade their grain, equipment and harvesting, Satz said. "Farmers are used to trading, it's part of their culture," he said. Students are also big users of the site, used to trying to save money and eager to trade something that doesn't have much value to them to someone who wants it, Satz said.

The more items users post and the more things they "want" in a trade, the better the site's technology can find a match, he said. But beyond getting what you want, trading is a way to reduce resources by not throwing things away, helping mitigate the disposable economy, Satz said.

As with much online commerce, a level of trust between buyer and seller, or traders, is required with BarterQuest. Performance evaluations are made on the site, giving a "street cred" rating to fellow traders. If something arrives broken, the parties are urged to reverse the trade, and BarterQuest will step in to try to resolve the conflict if necessary, such as denying access to the site to the offending trader. But Satz said there is less incentive to cheat when no money is involved.

To lower mailing costs, traders can also sort by geography to find someone locally to trade with, kind of like a local Craigslist does. You might feel more at ease making sure those unopened bottles of liquor don't break by driving across town than depending on the mailman to not drop them.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com


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