Since you're getting junk mail, try to get free stuff too

I'm not usually one to steal ideas for a column, but this one was too good to pass up. Macworld had a story in its April edition about free stuff on the Internet. I wouldn't consider myself one of those people who go to different fairs with the sole intention of seeing how many magnets and pencils I can collect in a plastic Go Army bag, but if something's cool and free, I'll give it a try.

The article lists free things from games to reference material, but I figured you had better things to do than read a novella entitled "Ben visits every free Web site and celebrates his 70th birthday." So I decided to focus on finding samples -- like mouthwash or pancakes or fabric softener. The first site I found was TheFreeSite.com

. Before finding any free stuff, though, I ended up in some horoscope area, which told me my biorhythm was really low, and then after giving me a short quiz, it told me I'm a conflicted romantic. Not only could I not find any bona fide samples on this site, but in Netscape, the secondary navigation (on the left side after choosing an option) was too small to read.

For some reason, everywhere I clicked, I ended up back at the horoscope area, so I went to Free Stuff Central's Health and Beauty section. Supposedly, I signed up to get a free T-shirt, but I passed on the free pantyhose, at least for the time being. There were plenty of links for free catalogs, books, coupons, etc., but I still couldn't find free samples for Eggos or Pledge or cough syrup.

Then I found FreeSamples.com . At first glance, this appeared to be a mailman's worst nightmare, with sample categories of food and beverages, household and large mammals. After registering, I perused the site to find nothing in stock. I thought this was strange considering they had all sorts of products on the site ... just no samples to request. How can your site be called FreeSamples.com and not have any free samples? Again, I was left in the lurch.

I tried the old standby -- searching for free samples on Google. Immediately, I found the Jelly Belly jellybean Web site, which informed me I was too late to fill out a survey to get free samples. I filled out a form on NatureMerchant.com, in hopes of getting a protein drink, a Marine Therapy SpaPac and a few other things. But the site said it was last updated May 10, 1999, so I'm not going to sit next to the mailbox waiting. There's probably a better chance of someone randomly sending me a hippopotamus.

Finally I found reliable samples. At StartSampling , I registered to receive Baskin Robbins Candy, Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash and Relaxing Bath & Shower Essence. Luckily I continued to keep my identity secret by registering under the assumed name Bennie Woods.

That's enough free stuff for one day. I just wasted an hour completing form after form for free samples. Was it worth it? Once I get these products and try them out, I'll let you know.

This is what I learned from my day of trying to obtain free samples:

1. Everyone on the Web now has my mailing address, date of birth and shoe size.

2. I'm sure to receive 453,010,560,451 junk e-mails, which is just about eight more than I normally receive.

3. They are potentially coming out with a caramel apple jellybean.

Some of these free sample sites look worthwhile, but then again, I could have just filled out that information for no reason. At the very least, I'll get plenty of new e-mails! I'm calling now to warn the mailman; the free stuff should start rolling in, and I want to warn him about my assumed name, Bennie. He better not try to pocket the Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash.