Firstly, the referrals work best if they become active users, and are restricted to 1000 per referral. In a way, it's a pyramid because as more people sign up, people further down the chain are going to find it harder and harder to get referrals.
Secondly, the surveys. I wasted quite a lot of time trying to get surveys to work and kept getting thrown out after answering a few questions, with it telling me they had enough people or I didn't fulfill the criteria. Also, some of the surveys wanted you to sign up to them and I have to say that a lot of them had a very spammy feel to them in terms of the sites they were from and how they looked. I got burned by this a few years ago when I started comping and a lot of them just looked to me that they would generate a lot of spam. I therefore found it very time consuming for little reward.
Thirdly, the swagbucks you can earn for searching are not awarded for every search you make. They are assigned at random, a bit like a raffle, and sometimes, you could do tons of searches and not win any swagbucks. Interestingly, searching for "give me some flipping swagbucks" generated some. And it's no Google. I wouldn't mind using it if it actually gave me the results I wanted but sadly, I had to revert to Google a number of times. Potentially getting a few swagbucks - I don't think I won more than a few - doesn't make up for the time wasted entering your search on two different search engines.
My biggest problem, however, is with the special offers. OK, now I know that they would require you to do something, but by far the biggest earners all required you to join gaming or gambling sites, and usually deposit money. In other words, you have to spend money to get Swagbucks. And whilst you could say you have a chance of winning more money, we all know that the chances of that are pretty small or the sites wouldn't exist. It is this that leaves me feeling most uncomfortable about the whole thing. People don't have a lot of money and may get carried away without thinking it through.
I rapidly came to the conclusion that to make your Swagbucks balance really work for you, you need to have a lot of friends who become equally active, and you need to be prepared to spend a lot of time chasing down the various ways of earning more. (I haven't even covered the tasks which require you to check results on Google, which is effectively working for Swagbucks, or the videos to watch, all of which have an ad at the start, and you need to watch 10 before you earn 3 swagbucks). You need to be savvy about which offers you sign up for and decide if they are indeed worth it and exercise a certain amount of caution. If you are a super savvy shopper, you might want to consider whether you are getting the best return from shopping via Swagbucks, or via cashback sites, as the rate of return vary considerably and a cashback site might give a better rate, especially when you consider that Swagbucks are a virtual currency and when you convert to freebies, you'll get substantially less as you need 849 points to get a £5 gift card.
I have to be honest with you, I'm not sure if I can recommend my Swagbucks experience to you. It feels like, to me anyway, that it's great for those who are into extreme money-saving and have the time to devote to it. I am neither of those things, I like to see results faster than Swagbucks offered me and a little less effort, and so it's not for me.You also need to be super-careful that some of the fastest ways to earn Swagbucks are not costing you more than you would gain in converting your Swagbucks to stuff. So, that free stuff might turn out to be not quite so free after all.