The 100 essential websites

The 100 essential websites

The 100 essential 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 Twitter, where 1,000-word stories are reduced to 140-character tweets.

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 parasites.

Facebook, Google

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 was another big player in 2009, reaching more than 350 mn users. And through Facebook Connect, it has extended its presence across the web.

Those in search of their five minutes of fame or, more likely, five minutes of 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.

Music, the big player

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 many things a lot worse.

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 clean.

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

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 MJ’s death, Tiger Woods’s affairs or whatever, this stuff has become impossible to avoid.

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.


Netvibes: Your to-do lists, news, weather and photos on one page.

Scribd: Shares 35bn words online: they can’t all be wrong.

Slideshare: 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 multiplex.
IMDb: The most authoritative site about all things film and TV, now owned by Amazon.

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.

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

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’s Show 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.

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

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 its now refined by human editors.


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”.


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

Money Saving Expert: Does what it says on the tin. British-made, now CBS-owned, music recommendation station.

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 captioned cats and other animals.

News Lite: Great source of news that’s much too trivial to print.

Oddee: Setting an internet standard for sets of curious and amusing pictures, not

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: User-edited encyclopaedia is still a first port of call on most topics.
Internet Archive/Wayback Machine: The web in aspic. Useful for research into how
the web used to look.

Metacritic: Aggregates reviews of movies, TV programmes, music and games

Wikileaks: Anonymous source of a huge range of leaked documents.

Social software

Two years ago it was nascent; now it’s embedded in our culture.

Facebook: Growing to become not just your home on the web, but your ID provider.

LinkedIn: Contact for business users.

Ning: One place to start your own social network, though it has yet to really take off.


Google: Almost synonymous with search.

Bing: Its “decision engine” still has a long way to go.

Wolfram Alpha: Delivers when it has the data, but not that easy to use.

Expedia: Still the daddy of 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

From the Chinese earthquke to the Mumbai attacks, Twitter has proved itself 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 followers.

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 online.

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.

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

Art Daily: The first online “art newspaper”.

Culture 24: Everything about UK galleries and museums.

Visualisation An archive of some of the finest examples of “information aesthetics”.

DabbleDB: Create online databases and analyse them.