The Priceline Is Right
If you're in the mood to shop, the Net is a buyer's market. Place your bid on eBay. Name your fee on Priceline. Or, better yet, simply ask a shopping site to search the Web for the lowest price offered by an online store. The best even offer Consumer Reports-style data and product reviews to save you frustration along with money.
The state fair of shopping sites, R U Sure can be overwhelming, but it's also comprehensive, with features that search online classifieds and find factory-outlet sales. There's even a section devoted to "Obscure Patents" that lets you shop for "hard-to-find inventions" like the Amazing Stereo Hat.
Recently redesigned from an opinion-based bulletin board into a fancy "precision buying service," deja.com posts product reviews, ratings, and even detailed specifications. To narrow down your search, its "Product Wizard" will highlight the top items in any category.
The warmest and fuzziest of the shopping sites, Epinions lets you build a "Web of Trust" out of users whose thoughts you'd like to hear. Nor is it limited to products: The site offers a "media" section, with reviews of TV shows, films, and even magazines.
With a glistening grin and fifties-soda-jerk T-shirt, this site's Smiling Simon mascot puts a friendly face on Internet bargain-hunting. It also lets you track the price history of each and every product on the site -- from clothing to kitchenware.
If you don't want to limit your search to traditional virtual vendors, DealTime searches for bargains in online classifieds, auctions, and just about anything else posted on the Net. But the best part may be the staggering statistics it serves up with your search results. For example, the Internet offers 13,771 different kinds of dog supplies, from 35 separate sellers. Presumably because pets can't drive.
The Internet has more than its share of sites for job-searchers, but it hasn't offered much help to job-quitters. Enter www.kissmyfreckledassbye.com, an online research project that invites disgruntled employees to post their dream resignations. (Most aren't the kind the begin with "After long and careful consideration . . .") If you're thinking of making the big leap, the "Kiss-Off Quiz" can help you decide whether you'll regret it later. Even if you're just bored at work, there's always amusement value in letters that begin like this: "I would like to let you know that there is a 'surprise' audit scheduled for two days after I leave. I have left 36 separate mistakes in the paperwork."
Clear some closet space next to those eight-tracks: Your floppy disks are officially obsolete. Which is especially good news if you haven't been able to find them in months. The Net now offers the online equivalent of Manhattan Mini Storage, without space limitations, storage fees, or hassles with hand trucks. On www.idrive.com (and similar sites), your documents, MP3 files, and digital photos can be stored on a password-protected Web server and retrieved from any computer with Internet access. Best of all, records in virtual storage are immune to coffee spills.