As a sort of follow-up to my Postcrossing post, today I will be talking about Swap-Bot.


I discovered Swap-Bot in 2007, shortly afterward GhostSister and Mother Dearest joined after hearing me talk about it.

Swap-Bot is similar-yet-different from Postcrossing; both sites are free to sign up for, require a physical address, promote contact through the mail, and connect you to people you would normally never meet. The difference is that Swap-Bot is largely moderated by its users – users set up swaps and run groups with surprisingly little intervention from the site’s moderators – and things larger than a postcard are normally swapped.

There are actually two kinds of swaps on Swap-Bot – the registered swaps and forum swaps.

Registered swaps are just like they sound; a user will create a swap through the site and post it in the swap listings, they will choose a sign-up period, how many partners each person will have, what the rules of the swap will be. Like Postcrossing there is a ratings system; when a package is received the recipient rates it on a five point system depending on how closely it followed the swap guidelines. If it was a dog-themed swap and someone sent fish flakes instead of a dog bone, they would get a lower rating. You can also add extras to the swap that go beyond the swap guidelines – sending four items instead of five, for example, or including a profile surprise. If the recipient feels the package was extra-special, they can give you a heart. Each user has a rating, displayed on their profile page, showing how many hearts they have earned and how high their score is. Many swappers will refuse to swap with other swappers who have low scores or no score, since it takes a lot of time and effort to put together a swap package. There are usually a few that are newbie-friendly swaps, they are normally small things like postcards or ATCs rather than large complicated swaps, and there is a forum thread of swappers willing to do one-on-one swaps to help a newbie increase their ratings.   Newbies can only have five swaps at the time, as your ratings increase you are allowed to swap more often.

Decorating the envie (envelope) is a good way to get hearts.

Let’s say I want to start a swap that’s cat-themed. I’d pick the dates people could sign up and the date the packages have to be sent by. I would also specify the theme, (cats)  the minimum number of items or amount to be spent, (typically $5-$10 depending on the swap) how many partners each person would get, if it was international, (some people avoid international swaps because of the high postage) and if there was a minimum rating for those who wanted to join. Anyone who looked at my swap could sign up for it, it would be my responsibility to check each person’s ratings and decide if they should stay in the swap. Once I decide who stays and who is banned, I click on the “Assign Partners” button. The site randomly assigns partners based on who has signed up, you might get someone who lives across town or across the world. I was in an Alien Dotee Doll swap and as it happened, Mother Dearest was in the same swap and got me as one of her partners. You don’t necessarily get the same partners who are sending things to you, in the same swap I had two totally different people that I sent dolls to. I would also be responsible for angeling (sending a replacement swap package)  if the swapper’s partner flakes (doesn’t send anything. ) It would also be my job to babysit the swappers, sending messages to remind them to send out their swap, finding out if something was sent but not received, that sort of thing. If everyone in the swap enjoyed themselves they could rate me, as the swap creator, with a star.

I currently have five stars for swaps I have started and a perfect 5.00 rating after four years of swapping. :pats self on back:

Forum swaps are much less formal and quicker, but they don’t count towards your rating. Forum swaps rely on the honor system and there are threads regarding flakers (bad swappers who never complete swaps.)

Among the different fora at Swap-Bot, there is the One-On-One Trades board. There are three categories – Tags, Trades, and Random Acts of Kindness.

The Trades are an excellent example of a barter economy – I might have ten sheets of vintage sheet music and three people may want to trade chocolate bars, or stickers, or a jar of salsa for them. (Yes, I have traded vintage sheet music for a jar of salsa – homemade salsa verde to be specific. It was delicious.) You simply post that you have X and would like Y, Z, or W – someone who has Y would send you a private message to get your info so you could trade.

Then there are the RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) postings – someone who is feeling generous will post that they have X and the first (or tenth or whatever) person to reply will get it. To use the same sheet music example, I could post that the first five people to post an original limerick will get two sheets. I would expect nothing in return, the receivers are under no obligation to send me anything.  Most people who receive a RAK will hold on to the sender’s info and send them a profile surprise at a later time, or they might do an angel for them if they get flaked in a swap.

In Tags a swapper will post a list of items, either by name (an eraser, a chocolate bar, a cat toy, etc…) or by description if it’s mystery tag (something red, something fluffy, something sharp, etc…) and someone will post claiming the desired item and post their own list. A  person will list several items to trade and someone will claim one (or two, or however many the tag is for) and post their own items. If no one claims any of  the items after a certain time period (usually a few hours or a day) then the original poster will add something else to the original list. They will usually continue adding items until someone claims something. This is called a Pay It Forward – you help the person under you. There are also Pay It Backs, where you post a list of things you would like. Someone agrees to send one of the items to you and then posts a list of their own.

The astute person will have noticed that there is a tremendous opportunity for a less-than-honest individual to commit various types of fraud.  There is nothing to stop a person from setting up a Swap-Bot account, signing up for a handful of swaps or claiming a few tags, and then vanishing without sending anything. That’s why swappers are leery of doing big swaps with newbies. Swap-Bot also encourages regulars to use a non-home address, preferably a P.O. Box, to prevent some crazed person from showing up and chopping you to bits with a fire ax. I have been flaked on a couple of times, posting a message in the fora and the flaker’s profile and/or giving them a zero rating is the most you can do. Surprisingly there are very few trolls in the fora, I guess it’s hard to stir up trouble when people are discussing the best glue to use on collages. For the most part the posters are polite and don’t use any bad language – a nice change from the penis jokes I’m used to seeing on the Internet.

By and large the items swapped are not terribly valuable – it’s not like swappers are trading uncut diamonds and Picasso sketches – and most are crafting supplies of some type. Ephemera, ribbons, fabric – typical crafting things or artist’s supplies. Food is also big – teas and candy especially. I have a large box of teas I have received from all over the world and a jar of candies that are equally exotic.

I have no idea what half of these are, but most are quite tasty.

It’s a barter economy – what’s valuable to one person is common to another. I once received a stack of British magazines in return for a couple of Jiffy Pops – I enjoyed some reading material I would not have had access to otherwise and my partner got something she enjoyed but had not been able to get in her country.

Many of the swaps are for original artwork of some sort, the most popular being dotee dolls, ATCs, inchies, matchboxes, and postcards.

Postcards are pretty self-explanatory – they are handmade postcards.

An ATC is an Artist’s Trading Card – a 3.5 X 2.5 original work of art. An ATC can be a drawing, a painting, a collage, anything. Some are quite beautiful.

Inchies are one-inch squares that, like ATCs, are original works of art done in any media.

Dotee dolls are art dolls, usually oval, that do not have any arms or legs and are anywhere from three to seven inches long with a face, a “tail” that dangles down, and a loop for hanging. Most dotees are heavily embellished, either with beads, paint, lace, or other materials. I’m on the fence as far as dotees go, I’ve gotten some cute ones and some not-so-cute ones.

Some of the dotee dolls I have received. I couldn't find one. The alien in the spaceship is, of course, my favorite. It's the one Mother Dearest made for me.

Matchboxes are boxes of matches, usually the smaller 32 count ones, that have been emptied and decorated before being filled with small objects. Mostly stickers, beads, and scrapbooking supplies, but anything small enough to fit in a matchbox is fair game.

All that stuff fit in the matchbox. It was a "Favorite Color" swap and my partner liked black, gold, and brown.

Forum swaps are usually small, most are things that can be mailed very cheaply. The bulk of the registered swaps are small things, but not as small as a forum swap. A forum swap might be a single fat quarter or one ATC, a registered swap would be four fat quarters and a few notions or three ATCs done in the same theme. Then there are the big swaps, the ones that take several weeks to put together and can contain quite a few items. I don’t do a lot of big swaps, but I do like to do small ones.

A typical batch of outgoing mail. I like to make my own envelopes out of wrapping paper or wallpaper. I think it makes getting mail even more exciting.

I haven’t swapped recently, but I just signed up for a Macro Photograph Postcard swap that looks like fun. I’ll do a post about that later.