WITH ONLINE REGISTRIES, ASK AWAY

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Many of us, even the gift-entitled, would have a hard time looking someone in the eye and telling him that we want, say, the $125 zircon-encrusted tweezers. Writing it on a list with other items seems to make it less embarrassing, which is one reason gift registries are so popular.

It could be that the impersonality of the Internet eases the shame even more. How else to explain greenwish.com, "the new wave in online gift registries," according to its home page. "Instead of registering for traditional gifts, greenwish.com allows you to focus on financial security and well-being by registering for cash and stock."

Greenwish makes it all easy: Submit a gift between $10 and $800, and they'll forward it to the recipient's account for transaction fees ranging, generally, from 4 percent to 7 percent, although particularly cheap and stupid givers could pay as much as 50 percent. (The $10 gift carries a $5 charge.)

What does your money buy? "Registrants will receive a list of givers and a description of each gift, including the amount and date," which leaves one to wonder what else would be "included" in the description - the color of the check? Also, if you're sending a check, why not just pay the cost of a stamp, instead of 7 percent?

One's first reaction to gradfree.com might be a little more charitable, since its purpose is to help graduates bound into life with a bit more bounce by helping them reduce their student debt. That reaction, however, is tempered by fees that top out at about 12 percent; though, to be fair, the $25 flat rate for gifts over $200 means you pay less, by percentage, when you give more.

Gradfree's home page patter is a bit off-putting. "Let's be honest," says the come-on to students and givers. "Despite the sentiment, crystal clocks, briefcases, and fancy pens don't really cut it." Imagine saying that to Uncle Oscar when he presents you with a beautiful Cross ballpoint.

These sites make their money, of course, by setting themselves up as conduits to receivers and then taking a bit extra for themselves from the givers. Others seek to profit by taking a cut from partnering merchants. The admirable one of this type is idofoundation.org, which has devised several ways for couples who are marrying to divert some or all of the spending for their gifts and the event itself to charities of their choosing.

Idofoundation's merchants are quite mainstream: Target, JC Penney,
and mikasa.com among them. Each merchant turns over at least 3 percent; Kitchen Etc. is the king, at 8 percent. If couples plan their honeymoon through the travel agent Carlson Wagonlit, 5 percent will be donated. If they choose, couples can register for donations instead of gifts. "Our goal is to help couples have their wedding cake and share it, too," said Bethany Robertson, executive director.

The selection among other online registries varies vastly, from weddingchannel.com, which links with the registries of Tiffany & Co., Crate & Barrel, and several other monsters of matrimony, to giftregistry21.com, whose sole provider is something called International Crew.

Wishlist.com has more choices, including Abt Electronics, MySimon.com, and Dover Saddlery. That they're not household names is not terribly significant because the site has devised a browser-toolbar button that makes it easy to add whatever product is on screen, no matter the vendor, to the wish list maintained by wishlist.com. Findgift.com offers the same sort of button.

Considering that practically their only function is to keep lists, one would think that any online listkeeper would have plenty of computer backup, but a visit to organizedregistry.com proves that's not so. A link on the page brings up an explanation for how the information in "hundreds of currently active accounts" is no longer there: The Web host's servers crashed and lost everything. To his customers, owner Larry Gibson is sympathetic and regretful: "This is indeed a sad day. You have lost a registry, and I have lost a business."

Beyond a certain rubbernecking appeal, the site reinforces a reminder that all online repositories of your information are not within your control, and you shouldn't rely solely on them to keep anything you hold dear.