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How a paper clip landed a house

In 14 trades, Kyle MacDonald bartered his way into a two-story dwelling by exploring the "funtential" of each transaction.

Over the last year, the utility of a red paper clip has taken on a whole new meaning for a lot of Web denizens.

That's because of Kyle MacDonald, a friendly, regular guy from Montreal who on July 12, 2005, posted the first blog entry in what would become a worldwide phenomenon: His quest to trade up, step by step by step, .

It might sound absurd, but over the course of a year, and through 14 trades, . His adventure culminated on Wednesday with his arrival in Kipling, Saskatchewan, where the town offered him a modest, two-story house for a role , the penultimate item in MacDonald's progression of trades.

Along the way, he traded up through pens, doorknobs, a generator, a panel truck, a year's rent in a Phoenix apartment, an afternoon with and even, at one point, as he was closing in on the house, a strange trade for a Kiss-themed snow globe.

Now, as Kipling declares MacDonald honorary mayor for a day and welcomes him into its unassuming community, MacDonald has become a celebrity of sorts. His 15 minutes stretched on indefinitely as media from around the world took an interest in the story of the man who used a blog and a lot of perseverance to do something most people would have thought impossible.

But odd as it may seem, MacDonald completed his quest and, astoundingly, cemented the deal for the house on the first anniversary of that first blog post. CNET caught up with him over the phone and asked him what life is like now that his is officially a success story.

Q: Congratulations for completing the task. How do you feel?
MacDonald: To be honest, I'm kind of frantic because almost a million people have been to the Web site in the last few days and the phone is ringing off the hook. So it feels really good and I'm totally relieved. There is a point, a few months ago, when I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to pull this off and I was afraid I'd look like kind of an idiot, the guy who didn't trade a red paper clip for a house. It was kind of nice to have that behind me.
This was always about the journey. The house was just a marketing hook, really, to see if it was possible.

I have to admit that when you made the trade for the snow globe, it seemed like a step in the wrong direction.
MacDonald: I had the trade with Corbin Bernsen lined up, so it was an ace up my sleeve. I didn't tell anyone that, though. I just wanted to see the reaction.

What did you think your chances were of being able to trade up from a red paper clip to a house?
MacDonald: I was always afraid to admit it at the beginning--like, I'm going to try and trade this because if you say something like that everyone goes, "You're nuts." So, it was sort of like when you get into a pool slowly, and suddenly a lot of people were going, "Jump on in, jump on in." Finally, I just jumped in and said I'm going for the house and that made it easier because then people knew I had a specific goal in mind.

Do you think maybe if you hadn't had this worldwide audience you might have let it go along the way?
MacDonald: If you look at the trades closely, there were times when I wasn't convinced.

I wasn't depressed, but I was kind of tired of this: I've been working at this so hard and it doesn't seem to be working. So if no one had known about it, I could have just walked away and it would have been nothing. But I would have looked like an idiot if I'd walked away, so the audience helped in that respect.

It sort of felt like with the progression of individual trades that the whole was greater than the parts.
MacDonald: This was always about the journey. The house was just a marketing hook, really, to see if it was possible. I made 14 trades and it's like collaborating with 14 different people, with everyone bringing something different to the table. It was never about a paper clip or a house or me. It was about the entire package. I kind of chose who I was going to work with and why. It was about people. It wasn't about making trades, it was about working together on and combining elements to make something good. I combined an Internet site with Alice Cooper, with me, with a red paper clip and with fans and it turned into this crazy video. When you start with a paper clip you have to kind of be crafty.

Now that you've made it, if you could go back to the beginning, what kind of advice might you give yourself?
MacDonald: If I was going to do this all over again I might approach it a bit differently because I've learned a bit. The advice would be to start small, think big and have fun. And I really think that if something works on a small scale, it theoretically could work on a larger scale. I traded a red paper clip for a pen. Why not trade a house for an apartment building? People do this stuff all the time. Craigslist, I'm sure, has stories that are better than this that have happened over time, it's just that they weren't communicated so broadly.

I talked to some of the people you traded with, and they all said they wanted to be involved because of you. What do you think it is about you that attracted these people?
MacDonald: It's kind of a tough question. Maybe it's because I approached it like a kid's game and kept things simple. I created a word called "funtential," which is the potential for fun, and I really made trades based on the funtential of them. I really made trades that had the most funtential. For instance, an afternoon with Alice Cooper has a lot more funtential than an envelope full of money.

Can you just talk about the role of the Internet here and how that really made it possible?
MacDonald: I think the Internet was the medium here. It sort of hit that MySpace element, in that there were pictures, text, interaction, videos and really the whole "Choose Your Own Adventure" element where literally you never knew what was going to happen. But I think the key here was that it was a project in real life, and communicated through the Internet. There are a lot of Internet projects where someone just does something and it spreads virally, through like things like Digg.

But I think this touched people from 8 to 88 because I went and met these people. I know them. I shook hands with everyone that I traded with, even Alice Cooper, and I think actually doing that struck a cord because it wasn't just something on a computer.

People have copied my idea and they just simply put a picture of a blue paper clip or a yellow paper clip on the Web and go, someone offer me something. They don't realize you have to market the idea. You actually have to walk out the front door and shake hands with someone, and I think that's what separates the real stories from the schemes of the Web ideas.

Over the course of the year, how has your understanding of technology and communications tools changed?
MacDonald: I just got a Writely account (a Web-based word processor), and if I'd had that at the beginning it would have been easier because I could have collaborated on ideas with people. In 18 months, I'm sure there'll be all kinds of tools that are better.

You'll be completing this project on the one-year anniversary of your first blog posting. That's amazing.
MacDonald: Yeah. It's not one of these things that just randomly happened. The offer came in last Thursday and we could have flown there last Friday. But the ticket prices to get to Kipling were cheapest for Wednesday, so it worked out. I aimed at that date and said I'm going to try and make all this stuff happen by then and it lined up and here we are.

What is the town going to do with the movie role?
MacDonald: The town is going to hold like an "American Idol"-style audition over the Labor Day long weekend. So anybody in the entire world can go to Kipling on Labor Day. I'm going to have my housewarming party then and I'm going to bill it as Saskatchewan's biggest housewarming party ever, and Corbin Bernsen will be there. He'll be judging the auditions, and the rumor has it that he might open it up to a few more roles. He has potentially up to 10 roles that might need to be cast right there in Kipling. So, it's going to be a good draw for the town and a good opportunity for someone who didn't have anything that they could offer for a trade but really wanted to be in the movie.

And I read that the town is planning to put up the world's largest red paper clip. What's that going to be like for you?
MacDonald: It's going to be cool. It's going to literally put the red paper clip on the map. Hopefully it's big enough and Google Earth images get it so we could actually see it from space. And they said they want to unveil it on July 12, 2007. So one year from Wednesday.

So you're going to work on a book. What will be the title?
MacDonald: I'm pretty sure it'll be "One Red Paper Clip."

What is next for you? Movies? Hollywood?
MacDonald: Yeah, I've gotten a lot of interest. I guess you could say we are well into talks with entities about the film and TV rights and stuff.