Call me cynical, but I reckon very few of us make it through the festive season without acquiring one or two well-meant but unwanted gifts.
For me, it's usually socks -- I've got enough to kit out a team of millipede footballers.
Thank goodness, then, for eBay, which offers a means to discreetly offload presents without hurting anyone's feelings. At this time of year the world's most famous auction website attracts two kinds of people: buyers with Christmas money to spend, and sellers of unwanted gifts.
Of course, eBay isn't just for the January sales. With spring around the corner, now is a good time to plan a good household clear-out and flog your excess gear.
Great though the site is, there are a few things to consider before getting involved. Dodgy practices -- items being misdescribed or lost, for example, or payments disappearing -- aren't unknown. Exercise caution, and expect others to do the same.
One way to protect yourself is to keep tabs on feedback ratings, which allow buyers and sellers to comment on the standard of service received. You can also use feedback to warn or reassure others.
As feedback is permanent, however, it's only reasonable to allow a transgressor an opportunity to correct the problem before blasting with both barrels. It's also wise to treat feedback as an indicator and not the gospel truth, as the ratings system is open to exploitation.
Lastly, it pays to be aware that eBay is a global trading community, which carries certain implications. Think twice about buying electrical goods long-distance.
When buying outside the E.U., you're not covered by European trading regulations. You may also have trouble with warranties on products bought abroad. Manufacturers tend to regionalize them, meaning that if an item breaks down it could mean dipping into your own pocket for repairs.
Pitfalls aside, eBay can be an excellent way to make quick cash. We'll show you how...
Sell an item on eBay
1. Register your contact details at www.ebay.co.uk. Choose an eBay User ID and password so you've got a trading identity on the site. Once you've found a name that's available, complete the process, confirming your registration by copying the link eBay emailed to you into your web browser.
2. You'll now be signed in. Click Sell at the top of the screen, enter your debit or credit card details and click Continue.
At this stage we recommend registering with PayPal, as it offers secure payments. Go to My eBay and click Related Links, PayPal.
We've chosen the basic Personal Account.
3. We're ready to start selling. Click the Sell tab, choose a relevant category and sub-category for your item, then click Save and Continue. Enter details of your item on the 'Create your listing' page. Include words likely to be used by buyers searching eBay. We've included 'Apple iPod' in the title of the speaker dock we're selling.
4. The next step is to add a photo. You can include one image per sale item for free, and further snaps for a fee. Use an image editor to crop the pic to eBay's standard 300x400 pixels, rather than let eBay automatically resize it. Save it as a Jpeg or GIF, then click Add Pictures to upload your photo.
5. Specify the item's condition and enter a detailed description in the appropriate field. Now proceed to the Selling Format box and enter a Starting Price for bids. You can also set a Reserve price -- a useful fallback if bidding is slow. If the reserve price option isn't visible, click Show/Hide Options at the top of the page.
6. Further down the page you can state accepted payment methods and postage -- visit RoyalMail.com if you need guidance. Finally, pick any additional options such as bold type.
A preview screen shows you how everything will look. Make any final changes, then click 'List your item' to get it on to eBay.
Make your buyer feel comfortable
There are certain things aside from feedback which make buyers feel more comfortable spending their money with you. The length of time which you have been a member of eBay goes a long way in sizing you up, as does clearly stating a reasonable returns policy. Offering reasonably priced postage is another way, as it shows you aren't taking liberties.
Always try to stick to the packaging and posting timescales you mention, and keep buyers well informed of progress via email.
If in need of further assistance, consult eBay's help section. It's stuffed full of useful information and tips on how to get the most out of your listing.
In an attempt to bring the warring factions of Yahoo and Microsoft messenger together, Windows Live Messenger Beta can let you chat with either. It also allows users to plumb in a webcam and make calls to other PCs and phones, as well as enhanced file sharing with your contacts.
Keep track of network activity
Bandwidth Reporter is a nifty utility that helps keep track of network and internet usage with a constantly updating chart that lists packet movement in both directions. This could be handy for people on restricted ISP tariffs, where stepping over download allowances is met with additional charges.
Student alternative to eBay
Okay it's not a download, as Boso.com is similar to eBay, but aimed at students looking to flog stuff. Items up for auction range from computer hardware, books, CDs, DVDs and events tickets. We didn't notice any crates of Stella or traffic cones listed, but it could have been a slow day.