It started with blogs and a few people willing to reveal all about their financial lives.
Now, however, several Web sites, including Geezeo.com, Wesabe.com and Mint.com, are making it easier to discuss personal finances online. They're also providing tools, a la Quicken and Microsoft Money, to help you manage your money--with one major difference.
The service is free.
"Personal finance is a huge matter of concern in people's minds, and it's been an unmet need in the Web 2.0 movement," said Jim Bruene, publisher of the Online Banking Report newsletter.
Do you stand to benefit from this next wave of virtual connectivity?
-- Managing your cash
While you can vent frustration at bank fees or talk up hot stocks, these sites also let you aggregate your financial information to help manage your money.
And your transactions are updated automatically; you don't have to key in data or download statements from your bank.How do the sites access your information?
Mint and Geezeo log into your accounts using your user names and passwords, which you must provide when registering. With Wesabe.com, you download a program to your computer, which automatically logs into your accounts and uploads your transaction data online.
Each site emphasizes security, claiming to use bank-level safety standards. But it may take some trust on your part: Although your login information isn't stored online, it is kept either on your computer or with a third party.
Your personal information isn't shared with members of the online community. The Web sites may highlight trends among users--such as the average overdraft fee that people pay in checking accounts--but not specifics about your accounts.
You can, however, see your financial picture organized in several ways: from the amount of cash you are spending on movie tickets each month to the total fees your bank is charging you. And if you customize a transaction once--changing a "restaurant" category, say, to "sushi"--the sites often will remember the preference going forward.
"I discovered that sushi, which is expensive, was one thing causing me to spend too much money," said Marc Hedlund, co-founder and chief product officer for Wesabe. "So I know I don't have to eat out less--just less sushi."
-- Sharing war stories
If you want tips on cheap restaurants--or just about any other financial advice--these sites oblige.
Geezeo and Wesabe have taken a cue from social networking sites and allow members to swap tips online. You can form or join groups and discuss ways to wipe out debt, buy a new car or scrape together a down payment for a house."These are tips from people like you," Hedlund said.
Mint takes a different approach. Members don't socialize with one another. Instead, advice comes directly from the Web site, which scours thousands of product offers. (Mint has relationships with certain vendors, such as Capital One and HSBC, but lists deals based on the greatest savings, the site claims.)
"There's no way a consumer can keep up with the thousands of offers out there," said Aaron Patzer, the site's founder and chief executive. "Mint's algorithms will go out and find the best rate for you."
-- Obtaining advice
No matter the source, you can receive specific answers to your questions and remain anonymous.
"Instead of a reading a general prescription for how to manage your money, these tips are unique to you," Hedlund said.Of course, the quality of that advice can vary. But you will find plenty of sources ready to weigh in.
E-mail Carolyn Bigda at firstname.lastname@example.org.