Virtual Gift Ideas

These days, virtual goods are a part of everyday life. As the world moves to a digital model for delivery and consumption of products, so does the appetite and ability for virtual gifts. And why not? They’re easy to purchase, can be delivered instantaneously and are every bit as good as physical gifts (unless you’re expecting Santa Claus to bring you a new car for Christmas.) Here are some virtual gift ideas that will do the trick this holiday season.

Video rental stores? A thing of the past. And while services such as Redbox offer cheap movie rentals, nothing can replace the convenience of streaming a movie on-demand. Netflix offers users the opportunity to stream movies and TV shows, receive DVDs by mail or both. And of course, they offer gift subscriptions. Netflix is a great gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

For the person who loves to shop by mail, a gift from Amazon.com is high on the wish list. They offer gift certificates that can be printed or e-mailed. Gifting specific items and having them delivered (either physically or virtually) is an easy process from beginning to end. iTunes gift cards are also a great way to give the gift of digital products including music, movies, television, ringtones and even books. What will Apple think of next?!

Online discount websites such as Groupon and Living Social can help you gift any number of great deals at 50% or more off retail price. Just sign up, buy and designate that the purchase is being sent as a gift. The recipient will be pleased to see your gift in their inbox and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

If the person on your holiday shopping list loves to stay in touch through cards, an annual subscription to Hallmark’s e-card service allows users to send as many e-cards as they want for the low price of $12.00. While it might seem like a novelty to old-school folks, the convenience and ease of e-cards can’t be matched and sending as little as three e-cards will match the money you’d be plunking down in stores.

If you’ve got a specific store, brand or service in mind, check the business’ website. Chances are they will offer a way to give a gift digitally. And you can sit back from the comfort of your computer or mobile device and cross another person off your holiday shopping list.

Celebrating the holidays remotely and online

Just because you’re separated geographically doesn’t mean you can’t connect with family and friends for the holidays. Online technology makes it possible to reach out via voice, video, text and pictures to share memories and holiday wishes.

Facebook is the predominant social network for staying connected. Service members and their families use Facebook to share pictures and stories and for messaging while their loved ones are away serving our country. Skype is another immensely popular tool that allows you to make free phone calls to anyone with a Skype account (which is free) and supports video and instant messaging as well. Skype recently announced video calling through Facebook, which is a perfect integration of these two services that will make it feel like you’re there in person for the holidays.

New to Skype? No worries. Here’s what Skype is in a nutshell, according to the Skype folks themselves: “You can use Skype on whatever works best for you – on your phone or computer or a TV with Skype on it. It is free to start using Skype – to speak, see and instant message other people on Skype for example. You can even try out group video, with the latest version of Skype.”

See the Skype tutorial for beginners if you haven’t already created a Skype account.

Apple’s iPhone offers several different features for staying in touch. And Apple’s iMessage service now allows free text messaging to anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. And the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s support FaceTime, which allows for video phone calls directly through your iPhone to another iPhone user.

You can also use free apps and your mobile phone’s camera to live broadcast using Ustream  or Livestream. And YouTube and Vimeo both allow for easy upload and free hosting for your video. As long as people have an Internet connection, they’ll be able to see/hear your holiday message. Technology. Don’t you love it?!

Twitter is a good option for getting short bursts of information out to people. Google offers a chat function and Facebook also supports chat. If you’ve got photos you want to share, Flickr offers a way to easily upload and share photos and even group them into albums and collections. You can always send an e-card, which is delivered instantly and will save you the trip out to the card store and postage.

Of course there is the good old-fashioned phone call to say, “Hi!,” to your loved ones on the holidays. Chances are your grandparents will find this medium the preferred way to reach out, although online technologies continue to be adopted en masse by people of all ages.