Every hyperlink tells a story: A tale of one would-be 'Web Samaritan'

Are there Good Samaritans lurking on the Web waiting for that next opportunity to do a good deed? And, if you're one of the lucky ones to be the beneficiary of that Samaritan's good deed, what should you do next?
Written by David Berlind, Inactive

Are there Good Samaritans lurking on the Web waiting for that next opportunity to do a good deed? And, if you're one of the lucky ones to be the beneficiary of that Samaritan's good deed, what should you do next? At the very least, pay it forward, right?

For at least a couple of years, my wife and I have been talking about buying a piano. We feel very strongly about having music in our home. In fact, one of our first investments into our house was the wiring for whole home audio and video, the idea being that we wanted the ability to fill the entire house with music from a central source (or video, if we wanted). Digital rights management technology has in some ways interfered with this dream (see DRM nightmare: Why $20,000 worth of gear won't play my 99 cent songs), but that's a whole 'nother story. As values go however, my wife and I think the arts are pretty important too. Not just to appreciate (be it through an exhibit, our "systems", or a live performance), but also to participate.

This value has taken on a different dimension now that the local school systems are responding to budgetary issues by favoring core subject matter like math, science, and English over cultural subject matter like music, art, and foreign languages by weeding out programs directed at the latter. I know it's not meant this way, but it's almost as if the administrators are saying the only contribution our kids can make to the world is related to commerce instead of culture. Imagine the world with no more art?

Neither my wife nor I know how to play piano but we had a hunch that if we put a real piano in our house, that our kids would do something with it. Maybe they'd bang on it. Maybe they'd tap on it. Maybe, just maybe, they'd get inspired by it. One thing we knew for sure. Our kids weren't going to be inspired into random acts of playing the piano unless we put one in front of them. Now that its here, it's clear to us that we made the right move. Not a day goes by where the kids don't sidle up to the piano three or four times to see what happens when they strike a few keys. Eventually, we'll try piano lessons on them. But we'd rather the desire to learn more come from them, rather than us. We've found that their natural curiosity in things they don't know about leads them to ask for more help when they're ready.

In the meantime, our own curiosity in playing the piano is now piqued and so too is my curiosity in the various tools that can help us learn to play. Of particular interest to me is the current crop of electronic keyboards from companies like Yamaha and Casio that come with sophisticated learning tools like the Yamaha Education Suite (YES). I don't see these tools as being substitutes for real instruction. But, between features such as YES and the keyboards' ability to show you what their doing as they play MIDI-formatted music files that can be downloaded from the Internet and their portability, I see these keyboards as supplemental tools that can make learning fun. For what they can do, they're also ridiculously inexpensive. Particularly if you buy one used which is what I'm currently looking to do.

One thing I learned in my search is that Yamaha has a screwy naming system for its products. I guess there's precedent in other industries (eg: the GMC Yukon and Chevy Suburban are the same vehicle), but Yamaha offers the same product under two different names. To a newcomer to the electric keyboard business, these differences in model number can really throw you for a loop. For at least a week, I was trying to figure out what the differences were between Yamaha's PSR models and their YPT models when I eventually learned from Yamaha technical support that they're the same thing. For example, the YPT-200 keyboard is the same as the PSR-E203. On Yamaha's product page for all its YPT and PSR models, just add 3 to the YPT model number to figure out what the corresponding PSR-E model is.

With a better idea of what I was looking for, I posted a wanted listing on CraigsList. The first message I received said the following:


Found some deals on these for you in your price range. Hope this helps.

Click here to see YPT's

Click here to see PSR's

I've redacted the person's name (something I promised him I'd do). The links point to all current YPT and PSR keyboard listings on eBay. The truth be told, I was already scouring eBay for listings that might be of interest. So, the links were actually of limited value to me. But, what was more interesting to me was how, out of the blue, someone would send me such seemingly helpful links. Was this some sort of Boy Scout waiting for the proverbial old lady who needed help crossing the street? I wrote back and asked if he was doing this out of the goodness of his heart and here's what he wrote in response:

Yes basically. I do this a few hours a day just to kill some time, that is hunt up items in response to classified ads. It's satisfying to help connect people with items they're looking for. Hopefully you'll get one in your price range. Take care.

But as it turns out, there was more to his links than meets the eye. At first, this was a blog about how you may have a chance encounter with a "Web Samaritan" like I did and what to do next (pay it forward, of course). But as I was close to finishing the post, my spider senses were tingling I thought to take a closer look at the links he sent me. Sure enough, embedded in those links were certain codes that guaranteed that he'd get a cut of the action if I ended up buying something on eBay as a result of clicking through them. According to eBay's Affiliate Program page:

How much you earn depends on how much traffic you drive to eBay every month! Whether it is your hobby, or a profession.

In hindsight, I feel pretty gullible that I almost fell for his story hook, line, and sinker. I guess a part of me wanted to believe I encountered someone special. But every hyperlink tells a story and, in the end, my gut instincts got the best of me and, as it turns out, the best of this story. Had he disclosed in his first e-mail that he's trying to be helpful but that he profits from providing such links, I might have thought differently. But that, unfortunately, wasn't the case.

We all have a responsibility to make the Net a better place. Perhaps a chance encounter with someone looking to profit from your searches will leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Perhaps not. If you haven't encountered a genuine "Web Samaritan," then now is your opportunity to befriend someone else. From Craigslist to many of the technical computing forums and beyond, there are plenty of people who need help and I'm sure they'd greatly appreciate any helping hand they can get from those of us who are more technically inclined. And maybe they'll pay it forward, helping to make the Net a better place than it already is.

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