Gifts you can't unwrap
No objects are involved in these gifts, which can be ordered from the comfort of a keyboard.
If a holiday season free of wrapping paper and ribbons is on your wish list, there are many options for giving presents without touching anything but a computer and credit card. Services that can be ordered and received online also can be more eco-friendly than physical presents. Of course, you could always funnel funds directly into someone's PayPal account, but where's the fun (for you) in that?
eMusic ($30 for 3 months and up), Rhapsody (starting at 50 songs for $35), and iTunes ($15 and up) offer gift subscriptions for audiophiles. Want to help a friend move their music collection into this century? The mail-in service Riptopia charges about a dollar for each CD it digitizes.
People who like to go places in the real world might appreciate memberships to nearby museums or gifts in their honor to public radio and television stations. Amateur astronomers can get gift certificates between $15 and $100 to Slooh (review here), which lets you control powerful mountaintop telescopes.
Do a body good
For your touchy-feely friends, SpaFinder certificates starting at $50 can be claimed at one of more than 4,000 spas. In downtown San Francisco, $70 per month buys 60 minutes of chair massage through Zubio, whose reservations are all managed online. Of course, you can always buy gift cards through massage therapists near your gift recipient, or find low-priced package deals through their local massage school. Most yoga centers and gyms sell gift certificates just in time for New Year's resolutions.
For unlimited online storage of so many holiday snapshots, a one-year Pro subscription to Flickr costs $25, while SmugMug charges $35. For $300, Phanphare pledges to store someone's lifetime of photos and videos. Apple fans might want an annual .Mac subscription for $100, or $180 for five folks.
To bring the genetic profiles of your ancestors into the picture, DNA testing kits through Ancestry.com (more here) Genebase or the Genographic Project (more here) start around $100. The Story of My Life service invites people to upload an autobiography for free, and then charges a dollar per megabyte to safeguard that story, purportedly for the benefit of future generations into eternity.
To help somebody who can't afford to jet home for the holidays, many airlines offer gift certificates as well as the option to donate frequent-flier miles. Now that the Zipcar car rental by-the-hour service has merged with archrival Flexcar, there will be more vehicles from which to choose in some two dozen cities. Drivers who want to ditch AAA for its eco-unfriendly reputation may prefer the roadside service of the Better World Club, which even offers help for stranded bicyclists.
Cleaning up carbon
The greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere from all that driving and flying can't be taken back. At least carbon credits from Native Energy, Carbonfund and TerraPass, and LiveNeutral offer the opportunity to donate to alternative energy projects.
Each year, some 41 pounds of credit card offers, catalogs and other junk mail arrive in your mailbox, according to 41pounds. This service charges $41 for five years of slaying junk mail before it reaches your door. One-third of that price will be donated to one of 36 nonprofits of your choice. Similarly, GreenDimes' junk-mail-busting gift cards start at $15, including 10 trees planted in honor of the giftee.
News hounds and bookworms who want to save trees will find the New York Times fully free online, with the Wall Street Journal expected to follow, but you'll still need to pay Salon to read its articles without ads (its annual Premium subscription often throws in several printed magazines, like Wired).
If you prefer e-greetings to paper cards, one dollar buys your friend a MokuGift animated e-card of a furry creature planting a tree. Meanwhile, the donation supports the planting of a real-world tree through Sustainable Harvest (also see Tree Nation).
Donations for do-gooders
In the name of someone who has everything, you can make charitable contributions to people around the planet. Changing the Present offers gift registries to cover such causes as disaster relief, HIV research or minefield cleanup. Alternative Gifts International, Heifer International, Mercy Corps, and Seva are among the groups offering the chance to pay, say, $20 for a flock of chicks for a far-flung farm. Facebook also offers a bunch of gift-giving apps.
The nonprofit Kiva enables you to support a startup in another country with a loan of as little as $25.The new MicroPlace from eBay is similar, but with a $100 entry loan. ModestNeeds will hook you up with someone in the United States who seeks a hand with some painful bills.
Proceeds for the auctions at Bidding for Good, an eBay alternative, go to charities. Tickets for travel packages, as well as for sports and other shows are among the items that leave no objects behind.
Down to business
A LinkedIn membership may fit the bill for the job seeker or wedded-to-the-job type who lives and breathes social networking. Options include $20 for a Business account, $50 BusinessPlus, or $200 for Pro. For someone who could use a personal assistant, you could give a gift subscription to Ask Sunday. Whether helping to change a doctor's appointment or find an elephant for a wedding, this concierge service is priced monthly at $29 for 30 requests or $49 for 50 requests. Do My Stuff (more here) connects people with others willing to run all kinds of errands including those that must be done in person, such as picking up dry cleaning. Gift cards start at $10, with prices for services determined by bids made by potential assistants.
Any small business owner should back up their data away from the office, but you probably know some who don't. They may thank you later for your initially snoozeworthy offer to pay for online storage. Popular services include Mozy for $5 per month, Carbonite for $50 per year, or xDrive, which costs $10 monthly per 50GB.