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Skill-sharing sites

Three writers test out three skill-sharing sites to find out what’s worth the time.
Illustration: Peter and Maria Hoey

I’m hardly a Craigslist virgin: Over the past ten years, I’ve locked down long-term personal training clients, found a writers’ group and bartered for French lessons. This time, when I log on to the Chicago home page of Craigslist and click on “services,” I don’t have a particular agenda and peruse the ads to see what I might want to learn: Russian, opera, quilting, juggling…the list is endless. Then, I stumble upon the one for me: vinyasa yoga. As an avid gymnast, boxer and weight-lifter, I have been saying “I need to do yoga” with about as much enthusiasm as “I need to do my taxes” for years. I click on the link for Jenny Finkel, who offers in-home training as well as studio work. Her link takes me to, a site where anyone can advertise services for hire and easily connect with others.

A quick e-mail is all it takes to set the ball in motion. As a self-employed personal trainer and nutrition specialist, I know how important it is to make money. I see that Finkel’s rates are comparable to mine (around $70/hour) and suggest we barter. She responds a few hours later to let me know she’d love to, that she’s a vegetarian (jackpot! I specialize in plant-based nutrition) and would like to start immediately. We decide to do one or two sessions and assess things from there. We share our goals via e-mail, and I shoot her a sample meal plan and diet guidelines before we meet in person for her workout session a few days later. In return, Finkel comes to my home to teach my husband and me yoga 101. For a moment, I panic, but her quality instruction guides me to breathe easily as I contort my body into unfamiliar positions. Craigslist, I’m sold.—Rea Frey

This is dangerous. Each Dabble class is 20 bucks, a one-night commitment, and gives the satisfaction of feeding an always-ravenous mind. Can the secrets of an expert be unleashed in the time investment of an amateur? Erin Hopmann and Jessica Lybeck, cofounders of Dabble, say yes and encourage it through their addictive website launched in May. I can’t stop perusing. Which class to take? Sewing 101? Urban Composting? Probably both.

My first: Homemade Pasta. An easy click and $20 PayPal payment and I find myself in a borrowed West Loop photography studio with a small group of Web-designing, bartending twenty- and thirty-somethings all learning to make ravioli from an architect. Who needs an Italian grandma? The self-taught specialist passes along techniques so straightforward that I teach my friends how to make pasta the next weekend.

To pay it forward, I sign up to teach my own Dabble class. Drawing on my know-how as a writer and editor, I set up a creative nonfiction-writing class. The same bright-eyed types show up, mostly strangers to each other, ready to engage on a random Tuesday night. I think about the architect and follow suit: I pass along some techniques, share my passion for language, play around with in-class exercises and send the students away with full notebooks (and hopefully notions of teaching their own class).—Jessica Huhls

I’m gearing up for a trip to Montreal and my French skills are pitiful. My only hope: to acquire a decent French accent so I don’t sound like a clueless American. I join Communiteach, a year-and-a-half-old Chicago-based site that offers either “Learnits,” open workshops where you learn a skill with a group, or one-on-one “Matches,” where two people skill-swap.

The directions aren’t terribly detailed, so I stumble through creating a profile, uploading a photo and listing every skill and expertise I can share, from astrological chart reading to how to travel on the cheap. I join the site a month before my trip and contact six people who claim to be able to teach what I want to learn. Sadly, I get one response from a French ex-pat who informs me she’s too busy.

Just as I’m about to give up, Jill contacts me. She just joined the site and lived in Paris for years. She’s interested in vegetarian cooking, which I didn’t even list as a skill, but since I often cook vegetarian, I figure I can give her some tips. We meet in a café and Jill comes equipped with eight pages of French phrases and pronunciations as well as riveting tales of her time in Paris. I present her with recipes for my three go-to vegetarian meals in addition to tips on how to fortify a dish with healthy protein without using meat. Jill is an excellent teacher and in just an hour, I learn key French pronunciations. She likes my recipes and has lots of questions about my cooking techniques. We plan to meet again to follow up on our lessons.—Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

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