This item could make you feel a lot better about being stalked.

Reddit is an online community for finding new and interesting things on the Web, based on the positive and negative votes given by other members, who typically vote and comment on things under pseudonyms. But this time of year, some Reddit users give up their anonymity to participate in what is most likely the world’s largest Secret Santa gift exchange, with 36,000 members and growing. Reddit doesn’t keep track of how many people it has signed up over all, but it gets about 30 million unique visits a month.

Secret Santa is usually limited to an office or classroom, with a couple of dozen people drawing at random the name of someone for whom they buy a holiday gift. Reddit’s version asks people to participate in a global present swap. Members agree to have their pseudonym, plus real name and address, sent to someone else in the exchange, and in return they receive the same data of someone else (not the person giving their gift). The idea is to investigate this person on Reddit, and other parts of the Web like Google, Facebook and Twitter, then send a gift that would be great for them.

“A lot of people go way over the top, and spend more on their Secret Santa person than they do on their families,” said Dan McComas, who runs the program, and started the first Reddit Secret Santa two years ago. “Some people open up their Facebook profiles to the public while it is going on. Others read back through two years of comments on Reddit, where someone is pouring out their heart.”

Afterward, people post what they received. Decorated mugs and knitted scarves seem popular, but there are also guitars, expensive electronics, and what looks like a Canadian starter set, which includes a hockey puck, maple syrup, candy and dirt from the Great North. Mr. McComas said one stranger gave $1,000 to a poor student, while somebody else paid for the surgery on a woman’s beloved pet rat.

Mr. McComas started the project independent of Reddit, drawing about 4,500 participants to the 2009 Secret Santa. Last year some 17,000 people participated. This year, he figures there will be at least 40,000 participants from 107 countries signed up before Nov. 25, when the game gets going. Gifts should be in the mail by Dec. 12.

The game has been so popular that a make-believe holiday, Arbitrary Day, was established to renew the practice in June. Mr. McComas’ site, Reddit Gifts was purchased by Reddit two months ago, and Reddit appears to be cultivating the giving spirit (and attractiveness of its site) by creating specialized book exchanges, Halloween gifting, and real-world gatherings where people can meet their anonymous benefactors. Last Arbitrary Day, which drew 8,000 strangers to generosity in the spirit of nothing in particular, also led to 250 meetups worldwide.

“We do worry a lot about overkill,” Mr. McComas said, adding: “People really want to be givers. They want to see the reaction they get when they give something to a stranger they’ve learned about.” Last year some 1,500 people signed on to give more than one gift.

Naturally, there are killjoys who send nothing, about 10 percent to 15 percent of the total. One player who sent four paper clips to his secret giftee has become something of a running joke in online discussions of the Secret Santa. “Some people just don’t realize how serious this is,” Mr. McComas said.“I had to have a lot of communication with him when he did that.”

Source: NYTimes

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