Friday, December 18, 2009

100 essential websites
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The 100 essential websites

Here we go again … our latest list of the 100 best websites sees short
attention spans, the rise of Twitter, more browser wars and celebrity
gossip sites setting the news agenda

* *Jack Schofield
<>*,* Bobbie
Johnson <>*,*
Charles Arthur
<>*,* Stuart
O'Connor <>*,*
Mercedes Bunz <>*,*
Vic Keegan*,* Keith Stuart
<>*,* Greg Howson
<>*,* Chris Salmon
<> *and more
* <>, Wednesday 9 December
2009 15.27 GMT

100 websites

Andy Warhol talked of a time when everyone would be famous for 15
minutes. With hindsight, however, he might have wanted to revise that
down to about five minutes. On today's web, phrases such as "here today,
gone tomorrow" seem to involve ridiculously long timescales.

People who moaned that blogging
<> represented a move to
shorter attention spans – 250-to-350-word posts rather than 1,000-word
stories – have now seen blog posts start to look big and, frankly,
old-fashioned. Today's trendsetters are using "microblogging" sites such
as Tumblr <>, Posterous <>
and <>, which are taking the opportunity for
creative "borrowing" to new heights.

But the smash hit of 2009 has been (apologies: I know this will cause
pain) Twitter, where 1,000-word stories are reduced to 140-character
tweets. Short attention spans R us.

Twitter's rapid growth and open programming interface have given the
site a wide impact. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of ancillary sites and
services have been launched to help Twitter users post pictures, track
followers, or – more usefully, from a commercial point of view – find
out what the "hive mind" is thinking. Twitterfall
<> is just one example. More recently, Listorious
<> stepped in to make it easier to find and
explore lists made using Twitter's new list feature, while The Twitter <> cleverly turned selected tweets into
a personalised newspaper. How many of these sites will survive is, of
course, open to question. Some are less like standalone sites than

Major web players such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft also got
involved. Both Google and Microsoft signed deals for Twitter searches,
while Facebook paid it the ultimate compliment of more or less copying
its service. Or, perhaps, copying FriendFeed <>,
which many users link to both Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook, while far from new, was another big player in 2009, reaching
more than 350 million users. And through Facebook Connect
<>, it has extended its
presence across the web. Once you have a Facebook identity – and you
must have one, mustn't you? – then you can use it to access a growing
number of sites and services. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The web might be a kinder, more polite place if people said things under
their real names, which is what Facebook's about.

Those in search of their five minutes of fame or, more likely, five
minutes of fun fun fun, headed for YouTube. Although it has been
challenged by rivals such as Vimeo <> and
Microsoft's Soapbox (RIP) <>, its
dominance has not been seriously threatened. Only the pornographers have
been able to build much of a following outside YouTube.

Which is not to say that YouTube owns the web video market.. The BBC has
made a huge impact with its iPlayer catchup service, and in the US, Hulu
has enjoyed great success with TV series and movies
Of course, both sites are showing videos that YouTube would love to
offer, at a profit, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Music has been a significant player in the growth of the web since
Napster <>, and its influence continues to
grow. Spotify <> has made the biggest impact
this year, gaining mindshare lost by <> and
Pandora <>. Meanwhile, Pitchfork
<> has expanded its role as the web's authoritative
music magazine, and The Hype Machine <> came to
prominence as a source of instant erudition by tracking the music blogs.

Almost finally, it may be that we are seeing the return not just of the
browser wars but of the search engine wars as well. Google still rules
the world, but in Bing <>, it now has a competitor
that does some things better and has, in Microsoft, an owner with deep
pockets. Alas, Bing also does many things a lot worse.

Possibly the most contentious part of this year's list is celebrity
gossip. The argument against would be summed up by a Wikipedian in two
words: "not notable". The argument for is that sites such as Perez
Hilton <> and AOL's TMZ <> are
now helping to drive the news agenda. Even if you aren't interested in
Michael Jackson's death, Tiger Woods's affairs or whatever, this stuff
has become impossible to avoid. This is one case where many people would
prefer the web's short attention span to be even shorter.


/Now easier than falling off a log./

*Tumblr* <> Multimedia microblogging plus
Twitter-style following.

*Posterous* <> Goes from instant microblogging
into lifestreaming.

*Soup* <> A "super-easy" tumblelog for scrapbook
keeping and lifestreaming.

*Blogger* <> Fast way to start blogging; training
wheels for Wordpress.

*Bloglines* <> For reading web feeds. Smart and

*Wordpress* <> Free, and most importantly
spam-free, blogging.


/Do we all need five browsers nowadays?/

*Chrome* <> Now here for Mac, and
anticipating future world domination via Chrome OS.

*Firefox* <> Everyone's favourite is
under attack from all sides.

*Maxthon* <> Based on IE code. If it stays "hip
in China" it could reach a large global audience.


/Everyone needs some relaxation. This is a visual one./

*Dilbert* <> It wouldn't be so funny if it wasn't
so true.

*XKCD* <> Stick-figure strip poking fun at geek
topics and relationships.

*Celebrity gossip*

/No one needs this stuff, but it's starting to drive world news and web

*TMZ* <> Rose to fame when it broke news of Michael
Jackson's death.

*Perez Hilton* <> Among the bitchiest of goss
sites and often involved in 'interesting' celeb baiting.

*Gawker* <> New York-based media alert and gossip
blog network, with fingers in many pies.


/With all of us now living more of our lives online, these sites just
scratch the surface./

*Netvibes* <> Your to-do lists, news, weather
and photos on one page.

*Scribd* <> Shares 35bn words online: they can't
all be wrong.

*Slideshare* <> Like YouTube for PowerPoint decks.

*Zamzar* <> Useful: converts files from one format
to another.


/Sites to see before heading for the latest blockbuster at your local

*IMDb* <>* *The most authoritative site about all
things film and TV, which is why Amazon bought it.

*Rotten Tomatoes* <>* *Collects online
film reviews, aggregates a score out of 100 and rates the film "fresh"
or "rotten".* *

*/Film* <>* *Said to be the favourite film blog
of directors Jason Reitman and Darren Aronofsky, /Film features news,
reviews, interviews and a special UK update each Friday.

*Cinematical* <>* *Terrific film blog with a
Hollywood focus.


/A field where handheld, bedroom and Flash games
<> are becoming mainstream/

*Eurogamer* <> Reportage, with breadth, if not
always depth.

*The Independent Gaming Source* <> A great
place to pick up on tomorrow's breakthrough Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare
and PSN hits.

*Pocket Gamer* <> Still by far the best
site on handheld gaming.

*Gamasutra* <> Where professional games
creators hang out, and sometimes get jobs

*Geek squad*

/Here be programmers …/

*Stack Overflow* <> Where programmers
gather to try to solve their problems.

*The Daily WTF* <> Daily dispatches from the
coding warzone.

*Joel On Software* <> Essays by a former
Microsoftie, now head of Fog Creek Software.

*Government/public services/politics*

*Recycle Now* <> Winner after a slight false
start of the government'sShow Us A Better Way competition. What can you
recycle close by?

*British and Irish Legal Information Institute*
<> A database of laws. Only survives hand-to-mouth
on voluntary donations; where's yours?

*What Do They Know?* <> Makes filing a
Freedom Of Information request as easy as sending an email. Too easy,
some in power think.

*Upmystreet* <> All the detail on your area
you could ever want..

*They Work For You* <> A site set up by
volunteers to keep tabs on our elected members of parliament – and our
unelected peers.

*Link economy*

/With millions of links on the web, we all need sites for sharing the
best ones./

*Digg* <> Still the reigning champion of where the
latest internet <> memes
are though not always polite.

*Delicious* <> The thinking person's link
aggregation site. We use it.

*Popurls* <> Aggregating the aggregators: the web in
a window.

*Metafilter* <> Living if isolated proof that
a site can be successful without pictures or video, and can also host
thoughtful conversations.

*Slashdot* <> Now looking venerable and old, but
"News for nerds" site with a jokey name (/..) still attracts a big, and
often knowledgable, audience.

*Techmeme* <> Technology news chosen by computer,
though it's now refined by human editors.

*Location, location*

/Services like these blossom with a mobile phone that can access the

*Dopplr* <> "Share your future travel plans with
friends and colleagues", then find out if others will be there too.

*Qype* <> Localised search for pubs, restaurants,
etc; also a bit of a social network.

*Loopt* <> "Transforms your mobile phone into a
social compass".

*Brightkite* <> A "location-based social network".


/The flipside of location-based services: seeing where you are./

*OpenStreetMap* <> A rights-free map
created by people like you. Remarkably detailed and precise.

*Google Maps Street View*
<> Virtual tourism with
practical applications, too.

*Money/finance/consumer fightback*

/We all need someone on our side./

*Money Saving Expert* <> Does what it
says on the tin.

*Say No to 0870* <> Direct-dial numbers, not
expensive national-rate ones.

*Consumer Direct* <> Government site for


** <> British-made, now CBS-owned, music
recommendation station.

*Amazon* <> Now has its own MP3 store in the UK
as well as the US.

*Hype Machine* <> Picks up the latest news by tracking
the music blogs.

*Pitchfork* <> The magazine of the music web, now
with video, and lots of great lists.


*The Onion* <> Still the satirical newspaper of
record. If it's not in the Onion, it's probably happened.

*B3TA* <> Beyond classification; its forum has spawned
many memes … and more than its fair share of trolls.

*Lolcats* <> respite from stress with daft
cCaptioned cats and other animals.

*News Lite* <> respite from stress with daft cGreat
source of news that's much too trivial to print.

*Oddee* <> Setting an internet standard for sets of
curious and mildly amusing pictures, not cats.

*PostSecret* <> Notes of secrets sent by
people who want them posted. So they are.

*Passive-Aggressive Notes*
<> Would it be too much trouble
for you to have a look?


*Flickr* <> The granddaddy of photo-sharing sites.

*Picnik* <> Photo editing in your browser.

*Picasa* <> Google's photo organisation and editing tool.

*DPreview* <> The web's best guide to cameras. Now
Amazon owned.


*CIA Factbook*
<> All
the data you need on pretty much anywhere.

*Wikipedia* <> the gradually
growing user-edited encyclopaedia is Still a first port of call on most

*Internet Archive/Wayback Machine* <> The web in
aspic. Useful for research into how the web used to look.

*Metacritic* <> Aggregates reviews of movies
and DVDs, TV programmes, music and games

*Wikileaks* <> Anonymous source of a huge range
ofleaked documents. If you dig, there's something important there


/Google dominates but Bing is challenging, and Yahoo and Microsoft are
left in the dust./

*Google* <> So good it's become almost synonymous
with search.

*Bing* <> Microsoft would like you to bing it, but
its "decision engine" still has a long way to go.

*Wolfram Alpha* <> An "answer engine"that
delivers when it has the data, but not that easy to use.

*Social software*

/Two years ago it was nascent; now it's embedded in our culture. Chances
are high you're a member of at least one, and perhaps all, of these sites./

*Facebook* <> Still changing and growing to
become not just your home on the web, but your ID provider.

*LinkedIn* <> Contact sports for business users.

*Ning* <> One place to start your own social network
– just as Madonna did – though it has yet to really take off.


*Expedia* <>* *Still the daddy when it comes to
travel sites, and particularly good if you can bundle a flight with a
hotel and other services.

*TripAdvisor* <>* *Essential reading for the
user reviews of hotels, but it now covers much more.

*Laterooms* <>* *Specialises in hotel discounts.

*Twitter, and associated*

/Twitter has proved itself over and over this year, from the Chinese
earthquke to the Mumbai attacks to the Madoff fraud as a vector for news./

*Twitter* <> The ur-site, where you can create an
identity (or several).

*Twitter* <> Creates your personal
newspaper based on your friend's tweets.

*Twitterfeed* <> Posts blog contents to Twitter.

*TwitterCounter* <> Graphs the growth in your

*Twitterfall* <> Tracks trending topics; enables
custom searches.

*Listorious* <> Twitter lists make it simple to
follow large groups of Twitter users, and Listorious makes it easy to
find the best lists.


*YouTube* <> Dominant provider of video content

*Vimeo* <> Better rights control than YouTube and a
cleaner interface

*BBC iPlayer* <> The king of the online
catchup services.

*Hulu* <> The networks fight back with their own
video site, which may make the UK in 2010. We hope.

*Videojug* <> The motherlode of instructional
videos, all in one place.

*Virtual worlds <>*

*Second Life* <> Continues to exist and is,
apparently, still popular, but not the media darling it was.

*Entropia Universe* <> Set in a distant
future on the untamed planet of Calypso.

*Club Penguin* <> Minigame-tastic virtual world
for youngkids.

*Moshi Monsters* <> "Educational" virtual
world for kids.

*Visual arts*

*Saatchi Gallery* <> Gallery, listings
and artworks for sale.

*Art Daily* <> The first "art newspaper" on the net.

*Culture 24* <> Everything about UK
galleries and museums.


*Information is Beautiful*
<> Creating effective
infographics is one of today's key skills, and on this site, it's also
an art.

** <> An archive of some of the
finest examples of "information aesthetics".

*DabbleDB* <> Create online databases and analyse them.

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