Something For Nothing: The Free iPod Project Article

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Like many of you, I have seen countless email advertisements over the past
couple of years touting everything from a FREE $250 gift card to a
FREE laptop computer
. Generally, these ads will make promises of how one can
get something for doing essentially nothing, like by trying a product and
getting a few friends to do the same. These ads usually wind up in my Outlook
SPAM folder, but every now and then one will sneak by. When confronted by said
advertisements, my first reaction is to snort with derision, I almost can’t help
myself. I mean, we all know that you can’t get "something for nothing"
and that "if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is".

I wasn’t always this skeptical…however:

When I was a kid, I found out the hard way that great offers aren’t always
what they seem. I was one of the youngsters that sent in my money, hoping for
Sea Monkeys similar to the picture in
my Archie’s Comic. Instead, I was sorely disappointed when I got microscopic
brine shrimp eggs that never hatched. Lesson learned.

In the late 80’s, pyramid schemes were sweeping the campus of
ASU while I was attending college. One
would be amazed at how quickly a bunch of broke students could scrape together
$100 each and find a couple of friends to do the same, for the vague promise of
eventually getting thousands of dollars. People I knew were joining in
left and right; there would be these great big charts displayed at their
meetings showing where everyone was sitting in the pyramid and how much money
they would eventually stand to make. In the meantime, these students would have
nothing to show for their investment, and no one I personally knew ever
seemed to make it near the pinnacle. Just about the time that a "friend" had
almost convinced me that I was missing the gravy train, the whole pyramid
got busted. At least I didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.

As an adult, it now seems that almost everyone I know has been sucked into
some kind of multi-level marketing scheme at some point and time, usually
against their better judgment. Most of these MLMs sell overpriced "positions"
that are promised to be the holder’s key to "financial success and
independence". Sadly enough, just like the 80s pyramid scheme, it would seem
that only those that are at the "top" ever actually see this success.

So I guess you could say that over the last 37 years, I have become something
of a cynic…with reason.

On January 01, 2005, I hit the "homepage" button on my browser and as The
Gadgeteer’s screen came up, I saw one of our ad-server’s advertisements for That’s when an idea
spring into my mind and I decided that I was going to find out once and for all
if these Free! offers really work, or if they were the scam I believed
them to be.

Googleing "free iPod"
will bring up a score of right side advertisements, but I decided to stick with
the the company that was indirectly advertising through us. I felt better about
this decision after reading that
Gratis Network, the parent company, has been around for long enough to give out 8,000
iPods (as of November 2004) and had lots of other offers for "free" things out
there. Their website was professional, the testimonials looked good, and for all
the pictures of people with their received merchandise, things seemed like it
might be on the up and up. I decided to give it a try.

Entering their site, I saw a screen with the lovely
20GB 4th generation iPod, as well as
five colorful iPod minis and a $250
iTunes gift certificate. All I had to
do was enter my email address and create a password, and I could get started.

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You’ll notice that there are two check boxes under the registration area. I
did not check them, as they are opt-ins for SPAM and "special offers". More on
that in just a bit.

After registering, I was then taken to a screen where I had to choose an
offer to complete to meet my personal requirements. I would then need five more
people to complete an offer and then I would supposedly be sent a free iPod.

This is when I realized that I was going to need help. I saw a couple of
offers that I would be personally interested in, but obviously this wasn’t
something I would be able to complete on my own. The thing of the matter was, I
couldn’t think of five people that I wanted to hit up to sign on under me. I’m
not saying I couldn’t have gotten five people to do so, it was just a matter of
my not wanting to get anyone to do anything that they didn’t want to do. Add to
this the fact that I already had a digital music player. As much as I might like
to review iPod accessories, Julie has a very good handle on that end of things.
So other than to test the service and see if it was "for real", there really
wasn’t any reason for me to bother. That’s when I got the idea to write an
article about the process, so I posted the first of many related entries in my
Gear Diary:

01-02-2005 10:22am
After being assaulted by what has to be the one-thousandth "free iPod"
advertisement, I have decided to conduct a scientific experiment.
I am going to follow their process to see if I can really get a free iPod, but
I am going to need our readers’ help.

Now, before I go any further I should note that I understand that the iPod
itself is supposed to be free, but I may have to join a DVD club or fill out a
credit card application to qualify. I’ll have to take a look at the offers and
see which one I am most comfortable with. I am also aware that giving my email
address to these services may be opening a SPAM floodgate, so I will be using
one of my extra gmail accounts specifically for this experiment.

What’s in it for me? I will get to write an article about the process and
let you all know what happened: whether it was a scam, whether it was a hassle,
etc., etc.

What’s in it for you? I will give the iPod to one of the reader’s
that helps me win it!

If this process actually works, then it shouldn’t take too long to qualify. I
want to see how long it takes to actually receive the reward (assuming it’s not
all a scam) after qualifying, and I want to make sure that the reward that I
receive is a first quality item – not a refurb being recycled back into the

Do you want to help me write the article by being a part of this? Just click the
link below and it will take you to my referral page.

I then posted the referral link that people would need to use for my account
to be credited, which I got from the Refer Friends page on the site.

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Now it was time to begin the process of verifying my account and completing
an offer. An account verification link was sent to the Gmail account I had set
up to use with this experiment. I had to click on that link, at which time it
became verified as "good" with

It had been a while since I ordered CDs from a music club, so I decided to go
that route. I signed up with BMG
Music Service
, and made the promise to get twelve CDs for the price of one
plus shipping.

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After completing the offer, I checked my Status page and got a warm
fuzzy feeling when I saw that Gadgeteer readers had already begun to sign on
under me. It didn’t take long before people began to meet their requirements,
and I got a satisfying green checkmark next to the email addresses of those that
had. Interestingly enough, though I completed my BMG requirements that day, it
took until the 13th (11 days) for my requirements to be shown as met. Since the
site had said up to 15 days was normal, I had nothing to complain about.

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Since I knew that if I actually received and iPod, it was going to be given
to one of these people, and since only five completed offers were needed to
receive the iPod, I wanted to try to keep the participant list small enough that
the odds of winning were decent for those that helped. In the end, I cut the
entries off at twenty seven emails.

I had fun checking in with the site and seeing what, if anything, had changed
about my status as the days passed. Once I had completed my own requirements, it
was out of my hands, so it was just a matter of seeing if enough other people
would follow through and help me get this done.

On January 13th, all of my obligations had been met. It was now time to hit
the purple "Click here to Redeem" button…

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…which then pulled up a screen telling me that the verification process had
started. Now I had to wait as my account was checked to ensure that nothing
fraudulent had occurred – such as multiple entries by the same person or IP
address. Although the screen said I could expect to wait five business days, in
reality I had to wait until February 7th (25 days!) before I was cleared to
place the iPod order.

I have to admit that during this period of time, I was starting to think that
the process might have broken down and that it might have just been an elaborate
scam. But since I had come this far, I was hoping that they would come through
on their end.

In this thread
on the Gadgeteer Bulletin Board, I had been discussing the process with several
members. Since I did not check the two SPAM and special offer opt-in buttons, I
noticed that my Gmail account had stayed remarkably free of junk. That is not to
say that BMG didn’t send me quite a few of the electronic versions of their CD
mailers, but I received nothing that wasn’t either from or BMG.
Technically, that means I did not receive any extra SPAM as a result of this
experiment. Unfortunately, at least one other participant wasn’t as lucky. So
there’s a big heads-up: If you do one of these offers, make sure you do not
check those two opt-in buttons.

The fact that had made me verify my email made me think that I
should also do something similar for those entered in the give-away. I couldn’t
think of anything more frustrating than saying that "so and so" was the winner,
only to find out that their email bounced or they never checked their account.
If that were the case, then I would have been obligated to offer it to another
person after another drawing. Since it was now time to choose which iPod to
order, I decided it was also a good time to test the emails entered. So on
February 7th, I sent out the following:


You are getting this email because you are one of
the 27 people that participated in my


Well, it took
long enough, but today I found out that my account has finally been validated,
and I am free to order my choice of iPods. Since one of you will ultimately end
up with whatever I select, I am giving you all the opportunity to vote on what I
should request. 

The choices

250 iTunes Gift
20 GB iPod
4 GB Blue iPod Mini
4 GB Gold iPod Mini
4GB Green iPod Mini
4GB Pink iPod Mini
4GB Silver iPod Mini

If I may add
my 2 cents, I would suggest the 20GB version because of its hard drive size.
Slappa has also donated a full size iPod case which will work with this model.
If you all chose the Mini or the certificate, you will (of course) still receive
the Slappa case. 

I must get an
email reply from you stating your preference, no later than Wednesday
February 9th
in order for you to stay in the drawing.

Get back with
me as soon as possible, and I will update you all on the winning choice in my
Gear Diary. After I actually receive the iPod, the final winner will be drawn. 

Good luck and
thank you for your help with this article!

Judie :0)

In hindsight, I am very glad that I sent out that email because no less than
five of them bounced. I posted about this in my diary and on the board,
and then I quietly extended the deadline another week (to Friday the 18th).
After all of this, I had a total of eleven replies from the original 27
entrants. The vote was overwhelmingly for the 20GB iPod, so that was the device
for which I placed the order.

the free ipod project6

After entering my shipping address, I settled in to wait. Seeing that it had
taken 25 days for my account to be approved, I honestly didn’t expect to receive
the iPod anytime soon, so I promptly forgot about it.

This period of time gave me a chance to reflect on the process and what was
going on…

Had I just taken part in a pyramid scheme? No – not one person paid any money
into a fund from which I would benefit. All participants had signed up for
offers on whatever item they were most interested in and they actually received
whatever they signed up for. Some had even found offers that they could do that
were relatively painless – I believe that one person was able to order a wrinkle
serum trial for $3.15. After they received their sample, they cancelled the
subscription, but their requirement was still met. Some offers didn’t even
require a penny to complete – there were several credit card applications listed
that once completed counted as met requirements.

Had I participated in multi level marketing? I suppose I did on some level.
Since I took part in an offer and five other people also did so "under" me,
there were two "levels" working to achieve a goal. However, in order for my
"down-line" to benefit, they would have had to open up a new account, complete a
new offer and find five people to sign on under them. So in the classic sense of
a MLM resembling a never ending up-chain, this does not fit that description.

Had I ordered something that would not live up to my expectations? That
remained to be seen. As long as the iPod actually showed up, was a brand new –
not refurbished unit, and wasn’t gaudily branded or engraved with anything
pertaining to, then I would consider my expectations met.

On February 24th, I had an early morning delivery from DHL. Steve and I get
packages all of the time, so I didn’t think it was anything special…until I
opened the flap and saw…

the free ipod project7 
the free ipod project8

…a factory sealed 20GB iPod. How about that? So far so good…

Just to make sure that it hadn’t been resealed – I checked the box for
anything that might give it away as being a refurbished unit. There was nothing
that I could tell, no "R" anywhere in the Serial Number, Model Number or Part

the free ipod project9

I carefully cut the wrapping, and removed the iPod’s box, which was also

the free ipod project10

…opening the packing to reveal one brand new 4th generation iPod.

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I wanted to make sure that the back didn’t say ""
or some such advertising, which would have just figured, considering the
way I had acquired the iPod in the first place. But the back was pristine.

the free ipod project12

After a quick peek at the included goodies…

the free ipod project13

…I realized that all my conditions had been met. For once, something that
seemed to good to be true was as promised. How…refreshing. Was it
? Sort-of. I joined BMG which is something I have done before and in so
doing, I qualified for this iPod. I suppose if you look at it like that, then it
truly was free. However, five other people also had to fulfill a requirement
that they might or might not have done anyway, in order for me to receive this
item. Was it free for them? Not really, but I guess it depends on what they
ordered and whether it was something they would have done on their own or not.

Were I not giving the participants a chance to win said iPod, my chances of
getting so many qualified helpers might not have been so great. So I guess for
the average person that wants to keep the free item, getting others to
help might not be quite so easy.

There is one caveat to this story. Once I received the iPod, I found that the
Slappa case I am giving to the winner won’t
fit! It would appear that this case is for a 3rd generation iPod, whereas this
one is a 4th generation device. That’s too bad, since the Slappa is actually
very nice case. Even though it won’t fit, I’ll still send it to the iPod’s new

the free ipod project14

This morning, I sent Julie the list of eleven finalists and asked her to pick
a winner randomly. Since I have been corresponding with several of you
throughout the process, I wanted to keep the drawing’s results as impartial and
fair as possible.

I suppose that now is a good time to mention the winner…drum roll please?
The winner of the drawing for the 20GB iPod is Randal T. Murray…congratulations!
Send me an email from the account you signed on under, and give me your mailing
address. I’ll get your package right out to you. :0)

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