Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Five Most Interesting Sites on teh Interwebz

I spend a ridiculous time trolling around the Internet. Most of it, however, is spent in a fairly small pool of sites. My most visited sites, according to my web browser, are: Facebook, CNN, YouTube, Slate Magazine, Yahoo Mail, icanhascheezburger.com, the Drudge Report, Project Playlist, and the web-comic XKCD, which lately replaced TIME Magazine. This reveals some interesting things about me: I read Slate more than I check my email. I think some of this is due to the fact that I really don't get that many emails, and another part is due to the fact that Yahoo Mail refuses to remain logged in for me; every time I close the tab, it logs out. Not to mention that Slate is almost infinitely interesting despite the obtuse leftward slant. I am, apparently, a news junkie. 


But the sites I visit most are not necessarily the most interesting. So, without further ado, Sola Gratia's Five Most Interesting Websites. Disclaimer: these all have little or no user-generated content. Thus, YouTube and Facebook are ruled out.

 5. The Gawker family of sites. 

Gawker itself is actually rather dull: a collection of wacky and sometimes idiotic artists and their workings. Jezebel is a mere celeb-gossip site, Kotaku is a geeky, quirky, video game site, and Deadspin is a lame sports site. So, half of these eight related sites are boring. However, the other four make up for them with interest. i09 is a science-fiction blog, more devoted to movies than books, but still interesting and probably the best place to check out endless galleries of promo pics from the upcoming, awesome-looking Star Trek movie.  Jalopnik is a unique site in my experience: a red-blooded car enthusiast site, but written from a techie, 21st century, Gen X perspective that I  find quite refreshing. Most car mags are written by middle-aged people who love high-buck performance cars and minivans and SUVs and crossovers. Jalopnik is written by impoverished twenty-somethings who like sporty subcompacts and smaller, more efficient cars. Nothing against Motor Trend, but I sympathize with the latter group. Gizmodo is a gadget website, full of the latest computers and hardware. The best place on the web to explore the netbook craze, or a huge new windmill being put up outside Hanover. Lifehacker, however, is the best. Everything from Windows 7 screenshots to reviews of the latest Ubuntu distro to Star Trek desktop icons. I love it. 


4. The Drudge Report. 

Matt Drudge's one-man-show is very bare and nineties, but conversely very slick. It has, I must admit, more news than CNN--and often scoops the larger organizations. This is the ultimate news junkie site, and the best place on the web to learn disturbing things like the rise of Conficker, the world's most sophisticated botnet (Windows users: check your Windows automatic update settings. If it's turned off and you didn't turn it off, you have this virus) or the disturbing story of a man who greeted President Obama in Mexico City and died a week later of swine flu. Icky, yeah, but also interesting and not on CNN yet. Thanks, Matt Drudge. 


3. Wikipedia

I'm fudging a little bit. Wikipedia is, in fact, somewhat user-generated. However, a vast majority of the content is written by dedicated Wikipedians and not ordinary joes like you or I. Sure, I have contributed a few small articles and removed some glaring faults, but I am largely an observer. An observer to what? Web history 1.0, Lesson 1. Along with profit-based giants like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, eBay, and etc., there are people on the web who have a more idealistic approach. The "open-source" phenomenon--freely accessible code, editable content, and few or no fees, began almost as soon as the web did, with Linus Torvalds' Linux program--which now has almost infinite varieties (like the rather cool but flawed Ubuntu linux OS I tried to install a few weeks ago.) Wikipedia is part of this phenomenon. Some people have serious fears about Wikipedia and its mob-rule approach to the encyclopedia, but I have found it to be staggeringly informative on subjects that people aren't very divided about. There is an absolute wealth of information on Wikipedia, and when taken with a grain of salt it can be infinitely interesting and--dare I say it--educational. It is so wickedly interesting and multifarious that I find myself drawn by those innocent little blue links from Hurricane Ismael to the Zimmerwald Conference in seven clicks of the mouse. Each article in between was vast, informative, and probably hotly contested in the backstage "talk" page where members fight it out about what should be included in a page about shipping containers, Vladimir Lenin, or a socialist conference in 1915. 


2. Free Rice

Donate rice to charity by testing your vocabulary: only in the web 2.0 world would such a thing be possible. Find the right definition of impecunious from four choices, and ten grains of rice will be donated to feed impoverished people around the world, supported by ad revenue. And not just vocabulary: FreeRice has English grammar, foreign language, famous art, chemistry, and mathematics sections. It's an infinite time-waster. Why? Because it's interesting.


1. Slate Magazine. 

Less liberal than the odious Daily Kos and Hufington Post, Slate is also much more interesting, fair-minded, and idealistic. Think of it as the New York Times, except with real journalism, big-name writers, and honest coverage. Sure, many of the articles are way too quirky for it to be a 100% serious web journal like Credenda/Agenda, but it is quite informative and relevant. For example, right now I could learn why Glenn Beck is the "hot new mob leader of 2009" in a shockingly biased but surprisingly affectionate article, or read an article about the widespread indignation after agents of a British tabloid offered $400,000 to buy the 8-year-old star of Slumdog Millionaire--and then made it into a huge news story when her parents didn't immediately say no, or read about the liberal hand-wringing item du jour--the Bush torture memos that Obama released. All in all, my favorite source for web editorials--and quite interesting too. 


Honorable mentionXKCD for being the best webcomic--and narrative on web culture--in existence. 

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