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A Simple Site Solves a Holiday Dilemma

By Phil Charron on November 29, 2008

Years ago, I was awarded the honor of generating a pollyanna list of gift givers and receivers between me, my siblings and our spouses. The rules were simple: you are assigned one person to buy a gift for, you won’t get your spouse’s name, you won’t get the name of the person you bought for last year. I was still too lazy to think every year, so a friend and I wrote a pollyanna generator that stored lists from previous years and generated random lists to ensure absolute pollyanna integrity.

Sadly, I lost the source code. As more siblings got married the software grew confused with too many names. When my wife and I married I inherited the same responsibility with my new in-laws. Now I rely on a sophisticated system of spreadsheets, scratch paper and email. Every year I say to myself, “I should create a web site that does this for everyone. It could be a free service – linked to online shopping services. It’s not that complicated… I should do that before someone else gets the idea…” It’s no surprise that someone figured this out:

great idea, great name, great slogan... wish it was mine...

great idea, great name, great slogan... wish it was mine...

This is not sour grapes – an unfulfilled idea isn’t worth the brain cells it’s written on. Our friends at Elfster have done what I never bothered to do and they did it better than I ever would have. I played with the site this evening. It’s well designed, simple and free. A few highlights:

  • The organizer sets up a list of names & email addresses
  • It waits for all invitees to accept the invitations or waits for a deadline to pass before starting the gift exchange
  • All participants are anonymous – even the organizer
  • Participants are notified of their pollyanna through email
  • Participants create wish lists, but cannot view the status of gifts
  • All other participants can change the status of gifts (in case Santa bought you that tie and doesn’t want someone to duplicate it)
  • You can communicate anonymously with your pollyanna

There’s more, but you should play with it. Set up your office gift exchange on it. And the next time you hear me talk about an idea I have, give me a kick in the pants and tell me to do something about it…