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25 Sites To Have Bookmarked.

Amazon.com

The uber-e-tailer that never forgets its bookstore roots. The new print-on-demand service means customers can now order out-of-print, backlist and large-print books from several big publishers. Soon it will start selling DRM-free MP3s (meaning you can copy the songs for personal use and download them to any device) from EMI and other labels out of its new music store (iTunes already does). And, if the rumors are true — that Amazon is in talks to buy Netflix — before long it could own the market on movies, both digital downloads (through its Unbox service) and rent-by-mail. From handbags to hand vacs, Amazon really is a great place to shop for virtually anything, even shoes, though Zappos.com still has the edge there. And before you check out, it doesn't hurt to see whether Overstock.com has any of the same items on special.

 

BBC.co.uk

World News. Sports. Radio. Articles and audio in 33 languages. PBS.org is content rich too; episodes of the series Expose: America's Investigative Reports can be viewed here even before they air on TV.

 

Citysearch.com

Helps steer you to the right restaurants, bars, nightclubs, hotels and spas in dozens of cities, with editors' picks and user reviews, and a Yellow Pages directory that includes shops and other services. A mobile version lets you access listing info from your cell phone. Other local search services worth consulting: Yelp!, which relies on reviews by its members (a.k.a. "yelpers"), who now chime in from more than two dozen cities, and Attendio, which clues you in to events happening in your area.

 

Craigslist.org

Free classified ads in every category, organized by locale. To access ads that are posted elsewhere online, go to Oodle , which searches online versions of local, regional and national newspapers and other Web listings, such as iHomefinder, Local.com and PennySaverUSA.com — 75,000 sources in all — to help you find that next roommate/ motorcycle/ vacation home.

 

Del.icio.us

An immensely popular place to share your favorite Web links and see what other people are bookmarking. Search the site by keyword (each link is tagged with descriptors both general and specific), create your own list of favorites to share with everybody else, or add to an existing collection. It's all about the tags. To see the most popular ones, click here.

 

 

Digg.com

The leader in social news, where users determine what's important and interesting by submitting it, "digging" it and posting a comment. Click "Top in 24 Hours" to see the most popular articles, blog posts and other Web pages of the day. In recent months the site has expanded beyond tech news, adding separate sections for Science, World & Business, Sports, Entertainment and Gaming. Digg Labs continues to roll out new and visually interesting ways to view the links and find out immediately what's hot (and what's not). On BigSpy, stories pop up at the top each time they get another digg, the moment they get it. The bigger and bolder the headline, the higher the digg count. Arc, meanwhile, arranges stories in a circle; mouse over a piece of the pie to preview the link.

 

Ebay.com

The online auction powerhouse sells one car every minute on eBay Motors; at StubHub, which eBay acquired in February, you can buy tickets baseball games, Broadway shows, concerts and other events. And the charity auctions at eBay Giving Works have helped buyers and sellers raise $100 million for more than 10,000 nonprofit organizations since the program started in November 2003. Also, check out the eBay Wiki to read about —or chime in on — all things eBay.

 

ESPN.com

The ads are way too aggressive, but this site's got everything a sports fanatic needs. Speedy Net connection a must.

 

Facebook.com

This social network is not as popular as MySpace, but it also hasn't been corrupted by marketers and fake friends. Once available to students only, Facebook has opened its doors everyone and has made dozens of third-party applications available for members to use on their pages, from iLike (music sharing) to Graffiti (lets you draw on your friends' profiles) to Flixster (movie reviews) to Wis.dm (poll your friends!).

 

FactCheck.org

The Annenberg Political Fact Check, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, is an independent, nonpartisan effort to cut through the routine spin and dissembling of politicians and other public figures. Staff writers check speeches, TV ads, news releases and other public statements for accuracy, and provide clarification and context.

 

 

Flickr.com

More than half a billion images are now posted on Flickr, a superbly designed sharing platform and social network for photo enthusiasts that, since June, also offers French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese and Korean language options. (Next up: video.) Upload and tag your images and make them available for community consumption, and see how they rate on "interestingness" and "gorgeousity;" join a group (there are more than 300,000 of them, and each one has its own theme); comment on other people's images or subscribe to a photo stream. The cool Maps feature shows where photos were taken. For more private sharing and straightforward printing services, use Shutterfly or Kodak EasyShare Gallery. Or try the new, no-frills Picupine; it doesn't offer printing or long-term storage, but it allows you to share your photos quickly and easily, without forcing you to create an account first. Once you've submitted your photos, the site creates a Web link you can then send to friends and family.

 

Google.com

The world's leading Web search engine has helpfully gathered together a complete list of its ever-growing range of special features, tips and tricks. It also offers a wide range of useful Web tools and services, including Gmail, the free Web-based email you can now port to your cell phone port to your cell phone; Picasa, a great way to organize and edit your photos on your desktop (and share them online using the Web-album publishing tool); and the stellar Google Maps, which recently introduced Street Maps, 360-degree street-level photographic views that allow virtual movement through a location. The images were shot over several months by camera-equipped vans that simply drove up and down the streets of Denver, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami (some of the results have raised protests from privacy advocates ). Google's maps now mark public transit stops too. (As an alternative, HopStop does an excellent job providing door-to-door directions by subway or bus from any two points in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington and San Francisco.)

 

HowStuffWorks.com

Easy-to-read explanations of how things work, from plasma converters to antibiotics to E-Z Pass. Now the site lets you upload photos and video to help supplement its written content. UNICEF sent in a video clip about land mines; NASA on sonic booms; and GE on photovoltaics.

 

The Internet Movie Database

The Internet Movie Database is not just the Net's more extensive directory of films and TV shows of the past, present and future —it is also a stomping ground for film buffs who like to quote dialogue, share trivia and recommend favorite flicks to their friends. Or, before you head to the theater or pop in that DVD, go to Rotten Tomatoes to see what all the critics have to say.

 

YouTube

It's amateur hour! And we love it. This monster video-sharing hub has more visitors than all of its many competitors combined. Upload your own footage or just watch and enjoy the weirdness. There is some truly good stuff here, if you can find it. Browse by channel or category, or click to view the clips that are Top Rated or Most Discussed or Most Linked. Copyrighted material tends to come down just as fast as it goes up, so don't be surprised if that link your friend emailed to you doesn't work anymore.

 

 

Kayak.com

When planning your next trip, make this your first stop. The search engine works fast, scouring hundreds of travel sites to find the best airfares. You can compare rates on different travel dates, or check prices to several destinations at once. Create a profile so you don't have to enter certain data every time you use it. When it comes time to choose a hotel, read the reviews on TripAdvisor.

 

National Geographic.com

There's a ton of great content here — about animals, world adventures, the environment, the sciences, space — plus educational stuff too. Also check out National Geographic's My Wonderful World, which aims to boost your geographic literacy, offering daily quizzes to test your global IQ — and be sure to see the special section for Kids & Teens.

 

Netflix.com

Digital movie downloads are getting easier, but most consumers still prefer their movies on DVD, and those slim red sleeves (with return postage prepaid) are still the best way to get 'em. But, the question now, is whether Amazon.com will acquire the company, and if so, will it keep the website and the system intact?

 

Technorati.com

This blog search engine now searches for social media too —photos, video and music posted on online sharing sites — and a tag cloud on the home page shows you the hot topics of the day. Blogs are given an authority rating, based on how many other blogs currently link to it. The new BlogStorm also tracks blog love; register your site to receive free statistics. Another honorable mention goes to Sphere, where you can select a topic (Sports, Politics, Entertainment) and the site will generate links to the most popular blog posts, news stories and other related content.

 

TMZ.com

The best for celebrity and entertainment news. Recent scoops include a May 18 post about Andy Roddick's buffed-up bod on the cover of the June/July issue of Men's Fitness (the site's crack team of reporters even scooped Roddick, who blogged about the seemingly doctored photo four days later: "little did I know I had 22-inch guns...") Check out the latest paparazzi shots, browse the video galleries or click for an archive by name. (Full disclosure: TMZ is a joint venture between Telepictures Productions and AOL, which, like TIME and Time.com, is owned by Time Warner.) Can't get enough? Check out Yahoo's splashy new omg!, which is big on photos. (Brangelina with the kids! Kate Bosworth at the beach! Paris jogging — before being jailed!)

 

 

USA.gov

The official Web portal for the U.S. government, with links to every branch, agency and organization involved in federal business, plus reports, guides, reference material and other resources to help you navigate the system, and, whenever possible, get things done online. Each Web page of links is more specific than the last, so you can quickly drill down to the matter at hand. It took three clicks (and three seconds) to find NASA's bank of images and animations of our home planet (select Science & Tech, then Physical Sciences, then Visible Earth), learn how to file for bankruptcy (Money and Taxes/Personal Finance) and read up on Medicare prescription drug coverage (Health). Also: FedStats.

 

Television WithoutPity.com

Bitingly funny recaps of dozens of popular TV shows, plus forums for further discussion.

 

WebMD.com

A big portal packed with information about health and related issues. A recent redesign introduced a nifty new tool called Symptom Checker, which lets you self-diagnose—sorry, "pinpoint potential conditions"—in seconds by clicking on body parts and selecting from a list of specific complaints (just be sure to check with your doctor for a real diagnosis). The new WebMD Health Manager lets you store your personal medical records online and make them available to doctors. The new Revolution Health portal, which launched in April, has many of these same tools and features, including its own symptom checker (but WebMD's has cool graphics). Other trustworthy sources of information about disease and other health matters: the Medem Leaning Centers, which aggregates top articles from leading medical societies on a wide range of topics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health.

 

Wikipedia.org

The people's encyclopedia, with millions of articles written in hundreds of languages. It's free, and anyone can edit. Its pages dominate Google search results, and the site is in the top 10 in terms of traffic. A vigilant group of volunteers helps maintain quality control. And now there's Wikia, where you can create a wiki of your own and get help managing it. Other offshoots include the Wiktionary, Wikiquote and Wikispecies, a "directory of life."

 

Yahoo.com

We've already singled out a few of our favorites from Yahoo's basket of goodies — Flickr, Del.icio.us, Bix — but the site is also number two in Web search. A free account with Yahoo Mail now comes with unlimited storage, and fewer restrictions on file attachments. You can also access your messages on your cell phone. Another favorite site within the mega-site is Yahoo! Answers, a community where visitors post questions, users respond, and everybody rates and ranks those responses. The site boasts 21.4 million unique U.S. visitors a month and more than 130 million answers to millions of questions ranging from, 'How is yoga different from Pilates?' to, 'What do you do about The Annoying Guy at work?' Meanwhile, new social networking site wis.dm takes an entirely different approach to online Q&A.

 

         
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11 Web Services

Mozy.com

Backing up all your computer files is like flossing: it's a chore, but you know you should do it, or you risk losing something forever—not your teeth, of course, but your digital photos, music, financial records or that rough draft of your first novel. Mozy can keep all of that stuff safe and encrypted on its own servers. It will store 2 gigabytes worth of your files for free (enough to cover, say, a couple thousand pictures, depending on the image resolution), or an unlimited amount for $4.95 per month. You download and install the Mozy program and it does all the work; you tell it precisely what you want to protect. The first backup can take hours, but after that, Mozy will continue to work behind the scenes to backup new files. (Fortunately, this little backup engine is trained to take a break when you are using your computer, to avoid slowing everything down.) Mozy also lets you view your backed up files from any PC, and let you restore files as needed.

 

Tumblr.com

Bloggers have long lamented the constant pressure to post daily, even multiple times a day, or risk becoming irrelevant or losing their audience. Well, it's Tumblr to the rescue: this service helps you feel good about your blog, even when you have nothing much to say. A "tumblelog," as the company home page notes, is more like a scrapbook than a journal; images and text are displayed rather large to help pump things up, and the posting process—basically working buttons on a "dashboard"—couldn't be easier. Vox also stands out among the many blog builders out there. This service, from Six Apart, lets you set a different privacy filter for each post if you want, so you can opt to make some of your blog public and other parts of it private.

 

Twitter.com

Broadcast where you are and what you're doing right here and right now by texting from your mobile phone. Your pithy posts will pop up on all your friends' cell phones so they can keep abreast of everything you do, in real time. Each "tweet" must be brief—no longer than 140 characters. The service, created by Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, exploded onto the moblogging scene earlier this year. There have been some bugs—big ones like vanishing accounts and mysterious spikes in individual networks—but none of these hiccups seemed to have dampened the public's enthusiasm. In fact, membership reportedly doubles every two to three weeks. Meanwhile, a number of third-party tools have launched to enhance it: Twitterific, Twitteroo, Tweetbar, Twitterholic, Twittervision... Kyte.tv's kyte Mobile service takes things even further, letting you broadcast your own "kyte show" in real time with photos and video shot with your (Web-connected) cell phone.

 

Weebly.com

This clever WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) website building tool for non-techies offers a one-step process for adding content that's already somewhere else on the Web, such as Flickr photos, YouTube videos and Google maps. You can also add RSS feed readers that will display headlines that link back to the latest posts on your favorite blogs (just be sure to type in the site's feed URL, not the home page URL). When you click-and-drag a YouTube video onto your page, a flash player appears with it, and you can adjust the viewing screen size. (This is different than posting a link that takes you back to the source; you're literally copying the content and pulling it into your site.) Creating a blog is as easy as creating a new page, and the page design templates let you hit the ground running; you can mouse over a particular layout to get a preview. Weebly also lets you use your own domain name, if you've got one, otherwise your site URL will be yourname.weebly.com.

For those who want more flexibility, one of Weebly's click-and-drag elements is Custom HTML, which lets you copy and paste chunks of code—helpful if you want to add an element that the Weebly editor program does not yet offer as one of it's presto-it's-there features.

 

 

Weebly doesn't charge anything to host your site, and there's no limit to the number of pages or amount of material you put up. What's the catch? Founder David Rusenko insists there is none (Weebly will someday go vertical to make money, he says) and we couldn't find one. Users are not obligated to put ads on their pages, Rusenko adds, but they can if they want to by adding an "AdBrite ads" element to their pages. AdBrite delivers the display ads automatically (and makes sure they are relevant to the subject matter of your site) and turns over 100% of any revenue.

Note to Mac users: Weebly will work for you too, but try Apple's iWeb first. It uses the same click-and-drag, template approach and works with iPhoto and other Apple iLife programs to make the whole process seamless.

Soon to be hitched? WedOrama.com will host your wedding website for $70 for one year. Share every moment, from the proposal to the post honeymoon hangover, with video uploads, unlimited photos, multiple guestbooks, RSVP tracking and a personalized URL.

 

 

 

Netvibes.com

Netvibes puts everything you need on one web page, in neat little boxes that you can rearrange, reposition and rejigger to your heart's content. Display your email, weather, top stories from your favorite news sites and the latest posts from your favorite blogs; direct links are embedded within. User-created modules are listed in the "Ecosystem" public directory, and are available free for you to drag and drop into your own page. (You can make your own modules available to other Netvibers by clicking the share button next to the editing toolkit.) There's a general Web search box as well as a video search box, which pools keyword search results from YouTube, Metacafe, Google's video search engine and MySpace. To repopulate it, just click the refresh button. The Email wizard that synchs up with Gmail in a snap, but if you have Yahoo Mail it has to be a POP3 enabled account (which is not free). Hotmail, AOL and .Mac email accounts link up easily too. Honorable mention: Pageflakes.

 

 

Wetpaint.com

Sure, your pals can post comments about your blog, YouTube videos and Flickr photos, but if you want a true collaborative exchange, consider creating a wiki—a site where anyone can add and edit any of the site's content. Wetpaint, a Seattle startup, makes it super easy for non-techie people to create a wiki or contribute to one. Even companies are using it: Food & Wine magazine has a Wetpaint wiki; CBS started one for CSI fans and T-Mobile created one for the Sidekick.

The process for adding text, Web links, photos and video to a Wetpaint wiki is highly intuitive, but there are video tutorials just in case. If you're feeling protective or want a little more control, Wetpaint lets you set different levels of access for different users. You can also restrict access altogether to only those you've specifically invited, though anybody will still be able to visit the site. As your wiki evolves and grows, there are tools that track the changes in detail, so you can see who did what and when—and then call them on it before changing it back.

 

GrandCentral.com

Most of us have at least three phone numbers—home, work, cell—and don't always know which one to give out, or later regret the choice we made. Grand Central is a free, one-number-ringing-multiple-phones routing service that solves all these problems, while giving you a level of control over your calls that earlier services like it did not. To get started, Grand Central assigns you a number (you can ask for a particular area code, then choose from a list) and you set up the forwarding rules. One obvious advantage is that when you're at your desk, you don't have to waste wireless minutes by taking calls on your cell phone; when you're away from your desk, you don't have to miss business calls ringing in at the office, because all your calls ring at all your phones, all the time. You can white-list your friends and colleagues so their calls come right through. You can also black-list numbers by sending them to the Spam folder or set up the outgoing message ("this phone is not in service") to play for unwanted callers. You can screen calls by listening in as callers are leaving a voicemail message, and then cut in to take the call... or not. You can also record your own calls—pretty handy when you're in the car or on the golf course. Another cool feature is the Call Switch: while you're talking on one phone, you can transfer the call to another without hanging up, or even interrupting the conversation. Note: Basic service is free, but Click-to-Call, Call Record and other features are not. Check out the mobile version at grandcentral.com/mobile.

 

 

OhDon'tForget.com

It does only one thing, but it does it oh, so well. On the home page, just type in a cell phone number and a brief message ("Pick up dry cleaning") and this site sends it out as a text message to that phone on the date and at the time you specify. The site detects your time zone so you don't have to include that, nor do you have to even register or look at any ads. (Recipients will be charged a regular text-messaging fee.) You'll need to be brief, as there's a 160-character limit on messages, although soon users will be able to ramble on longer, and Oh, Don't Forget... will transmit the message in parts so that it all gets through, the site's creator Jason Stirman says. The service works with all U.S. carriers, a few select Canadian ones and a few in Europe and Japan, but you don't have to know your recipient's carrier to send a message. (If you changed carriers but saved your old number, you must take one extra simple step: see Add Your Number.)

Another way to nag your spouse: Teleflip's flipOut service, which lets you email a text message of up to 120 characters to anybody's phone by sending it to theirnumber@teleflip.com. Your email appears as a text message, and the reply turns up as an email message in your inbox. TeleFlip has another service called FlipMail, which lets you read your email on any cell phone, be it "smart" or otherwise. Here too you must pay your carrier for text-messaging services, and while it's ad free, longer missives are sliced and diced to meet the 120 character-per-message max. You also have to "white list" your friends, because flipMail only allows messages from pre-approved email addresses to get through.

 

Zoho.com, ThinkFree.com, Ajax13.com

All three of these websites want to help you be more productive anytime you're online, from any browser—not just when you're sitting at your home or work PC. Each offers its own suite of free, Web-based tools that mimic Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel and Power Point. These Office alternatives are also compatible with their Microsoft counterparts, so you can import work from—or export it back to—the mother suite. Another advantage to using a Web-based spreadsheet or word processing app is that you can make your documents available to others to view or edit. Google is also going for a piece of this action with its Docs & Spreadsheets.

 

Arts and Leisure

Wotartist.com

This elegantly designed portal is a beautiful introduction to artist websites from around the world. Listings are organized by region (Americas, U.K., Europe, Australia, Asia/Middle East) and directory pages list types and genres (sculpture, painting and photography; Figurative, Surrealism and Expressionism). They are clues that are to be explored—moused over, really—so you can discover who, and what, lies beyond. Trigger the pop-up windows to see the artist's name and a sample piece. One click takes you to that artist's website, where you can see more images of their work, learn about gallery shows and get other information. Whether you're a serious collector or just plain curious, it's fun to hop from Nick Milliner's animations (listed as "Weird" on the U.K. page) to bright clay pots by Pippin Drysdale (ceramics, in Australia). But if you're looking for a particular artist, just Google him or her, as there's no search-this-site option. If you're an artist who needs help designing a website to showcase your work, Wotartist has a Wotdesign team for hire. Another site that can quickly suck you in: Getty Images' 10 ways, 10 separate, uniquely structured virtual paths through one immense collection.

 

PhotonHead.com

Everything you need to know about digital cameras: which one to buy, how to use it and tricks to getting the best results, all delivered in snappy prose. The Beginner's Guide to photography explains certain techniques like the Half-Press (good for focusing and speeding up your camera's reaction time) and provides lessons in Photographic Concepts (offered "so those numbers on the camera will start to make sense"). There's loads of advice on how to take snapshots the old-fashioned way, too. (Remember film?) Another great resource is Digital Photography Review, a previous Time.com best-site pick that was recently acquired by Amazon.com. It boasts a comprehensive database of digital camera specs by make and model, in-depth product reviews, industry news and a useful glossary of terms. Picnik.com provides basic photo-editing tools that you can use from inside your browser (there's no application to download) and it can also work inside Facebook, Flickr and Picasa Web albums. And Graphita lets you add icons, dialogue bubbles and other doodads to your images.

 

CellSwapper.com

Stuck in a contract with a wireless carrier that just doesn't work for you? Suffer no longer. Cellswapper makes is possible to walk away without having to pay an early-termination penalty, which can range from $150 to $250 depending on the carrier. Once you've registered as a user on the site, you can offer to turn over your own plan to someone who needs one on a short-term basis or browse for a new one to acquire yourself. Many swappers offer incentives—the old phone, accessories, cash—to sweeten the offer. You can post your plan for free and pay a $14.95 transfer fee, or pay $9.95 upfront and get more prominent placement for your ad. If you take over a plan that was posted here, you get a 25% refund. (Some carriers require a visit to a store to complete a transfer; others will do it over the phone. Be sure you tell the carrier before transferring if you want to keep your number.) The average time it takes to find a buyer, according to the site, is three days. The main site is for U.S. customers only, but now Canadians can get in on the fun too.

 

Glimpse.com

One part style guide and two parts shopping portal, Glimpse lets you browse for high-fashion apparel and accessories by look, category, store or brand. Search results conveniently pop up as a series of thumbnails displayed on the same page, and the "featured looks" pages—guides to how to dress like Drew Barrymore, Sienna Miller, America Ferrera and other celebs/style icons—are well designed, with tools that link you to where to buy Halle Berry's two-button blazer, let you request a sales alert via email or tell a friend about it. Featured stores include many of our favorites, like shopbop.com, Bluefly and Piperlime, the Gap's new shoe shop. ShopStyle, another chic shopping hub, lets users post images and links to items they like, and the SheFinds section (written by the site's fashion editor) offers outfit guides and trend alerts. The hot swimsuit this season: the monokini.

 

Chow.com

This hip food site, owned by CNET, serves its content like a five-course multimedia meal, with audio and video, photos, blogs and boards. The recipes and party tips, cooking guides, primers and gear reviews are skewed to a younger audience than, say, Epicurious and other mainstays of the genre. The articles cover food, food culture and food trends; there's a section on cocktail party canapés ("Killer Apps") and an in-depth look at milk ("Mapping the Mustache: a Chow taste test"). The video section includes dozens of tutorials, from how to cure salmon to how to butterfly chicken to how to open a bottle of wine; one feature clip shows a Chow reporter asking random people on the street, "what's for dinner?" Photo montages like that of Delhi street food are listed along with podcasts of chef interviews. The Chow messages boards are from Chowhound, a site that started up in the mid-90s and has been inviting anybody anywhere to post a restaurant review ever since. Now that it's also a CNET property, Chowhound is doing its business here, and has brought its entire archive along with it. Another new food site to watch: Foodbuzz.

 

 

DonorsChoose.org

This is charitable giving that will especially appeal to parents who are tired of school fundraisers that involve selling chocolate bars and wrapping paper. On this site classroom teachers submit specific requests; DonorsChoose screens all proposals before posting. You decide which project you would like to help fund and then make a payment online, and the site buys the materials and ships them directly to the school. You can choose to remain anonymous, or not. Another way to help out your favorite charity is to sign them up on Goodsearch, a search engine powered by Yahoo! that splits its ad revenue 50/50 with non-profits. When you use GoodSearch to search the Web, a penny goes to the group of your choice. (The trick, of course, is to spread the word—you'd need, say, 1,000 surfers using GoodSearch twice a day to raise any real cash.) If you're getting married and can do without the pasta bowls and flatware, consider setting up a registry at the I Do Foundation, where your guests can give money to your favorite charity in lieu of a gift to you. Curious about how a particular non-profit spends its money? Search Charity Navigator for an independent financial evaluation.

 

IdealBite.com

Green-lifestyle websites seem to be sprouting up all over, but Ideal Bite serves up eco-friendly tips with a mixture of heart and sass, and doesn't ask you to compromise your personal style or comfort. Call it Green Lite; down to earth and practical, not preachy, Ideal Bite supplements its guidance with "Bang for the Bite" fun tidbits and "cocktail factoids" that speak to its playful approach. The advice is well-researched and delivered in series of persuasive and concise bullet points, followed by links to online shops that sell Earth-friendly goods like recycled wrapping paper and beeswax candles. One recent tip gave lazy gardeners permission to just leave the grass clippings where they lie after mowing the lawn; the clippings serve as a natural fertilizer, Ideal Bite pointed out, plus you'll use fewer plastic bags and keep yard waste out of the local landfill. Sign up to receive a daily tip via email, or read them all in the site's tip library. Honorable mention goes to Sprig, a green 'zine for women. And at Green Maven, you will find all sorts of websites that are devoted to the cause and can conduct a Google search rigged to produce only green results.

 

Etsy.com

Do you knit, sew or practice some other form of fine craftsmanship? Wish you could sell your wares but don't want to go to the trouble of opening up your own Web store? Sell them on Etsy, a thriving marketplace for handmade items of all sorts, including clothing, jewelry and other personal items, home décor and housewares. The item descriptions will note how many are left in stock. Often there's only one left—these are homespun operations—but many sellers will take custom orders ("If you like the style of this bag but would like a different color scheme, or have a favorite material, contact me..."). There are several different ways to shop: by category (crochet, ceramics, woodworking) or by color, or visit a particular shop, which will be listed in the directory by the seller's username. HomeGrownMarket.com—a similar site where we spotted some nice handmade fabric belts, bracelets and baby quilts—runs a forum where buyers can submit custom order requests and sellers can bid for the job.

 

PaperToys.com

Can't keep your kid's nose out of his Nintendo DS? You might tempt him to give the video games a rest with a paper model from Paper Toys. Most parents will have to stay involved in these projects, as they can get quite complicated (and require a certain level of manual dexterity), but there's enough here to choose from—everything from a T-Rex to the Taj Mahal—to keep your craft table humming for weekends to come. The models are provided as one-page letter-sized printouts on your home printer; the site suggests using a photocopier to enlarge. For more retro fun, check out FlipClips, where you can turn your 30-sec. home video into a 150-page flip book for $19 (smaller books cost less). You submit your footage using the site's easy drag-and-drop upload tool; the site accepts most major file formats, and gives advice on what to do if your file is too big (more than 25 MB).

 

Mpire.com

This is a shopping search engine on steroids. Not only will it give you a list of links to where to buy that 32-in. LCD TV, if you click on Show Product Details, it will display a pricing chart that shows whether the price is trending up or down, at both retail and at auction, so you can decide if it's the right time to buy. (Farecast does the chart thing with airfares.) The "shopping companion" browser plug-in, a free download, is handy to use when you are shopping at other sites; it shows what other etailers are charging for the item you're looking at, so you can be sure to get the best deal. Soon it will also show how consumers rated the product on Epinions and Amazon. Another shopping search engine worth trying: TheFind.com. So far this site has indexed more than 150 million products offered by 55,000 online stores, from mom-and-pop Web shops to major e-tailers like Amazon.com, and it doesn't accept payment from merchants for top placement in its search results.

 

 

Redfin.com

Selling or buying a home? Save serious money using this online real estate broker. There are trade-offs, but if you're willing to do some of the legwork, you can save $10,000 to $12,000 in lower commission fees. So far the site only covers the Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles markets, but Chicago and Washington are on deck. Other innovative online brokers include ZipRealty and BuySide Realty. Before you list, get a sense of how much your property could fetch on Cyberhomes, a new Zillow competitor that provide home valuations based on property, mortgage, ownership and appraisal records—the same data realtors who charge 6% commissions consult—and charts average sales price trends by ZIP code. Curious what the new neighbors paid for their house? Type the address into PropertyShark to get the details on the transaction.

 

Yapta.com

Part Farecast (see below) and part Del.icio.us, Yapta lets you track airfare prices and share the information with others. See a flight you're interested in? Bookmark it, and flight and fare data is stored in your Yapta account. If you find other options, you can bookmark those too, then go back and compare them all. Yapta will automatically update the store info if fares change; Yapta will also alert you if a fare dips even after you've already bought your ticket, so you can request a refund from the airline. Honorable mention goes to Airfarewatchdog.com, where fare researchers verify "lowest" listed prices and check if seats at that price are really available. Meanwhile, Farecast, the airfare shopping service and Time.com 2006 best-site pick, has added 20 markets to its service area; the site now provides airfare predictions (based on market trends) for 75 airports across the U.S., and has new search filters that let frequent fliers sort results by type of flight (red eye, short connection, etc.). The site reports an accuracy rate of 75%. If you're uncomfortable with those odds, you can buy a $10 insurance policy called Fare Guard that lets you lock in an advertised fare price. If Farecast predicts the fare will drop or stay the same—and it goes up—then Farecast will cover the difference.

 

     

Audio and Video

FunnyOrDie.com

A YouTube alternative for an in-crowd of comedians and actors, Funny Or Die features the likes of Jimmy Fallon crooning "Car Wash for Peace" ("put down those guns, pick up a sponge...") and Ed Helms as Glen the Zombie-American. There's also some odd and amusing stuff from Will Ferrell, who launched the site with writers Adam McKay (Talladega Nights) and Chris Henchy (Entourage) and plugs his personal faves on the home page. Don't miss David Blaine Street Magic 2 (it's a tad too long, but it pays off) or Barats & Bereta's Fast Food Commercial (gross, but good).

AtomFilms, offers its own extensive comedy library, which registered members can view in higher resolution on a full screen. Access is free, but the trade-off is ads, ads and more ads. Has The Onion's new video site left you cold? Try This Just In ..., a news-parody site produced by HBO in partnership with AOL (corporate cousins of Time.com). And 23/6, due to launch any day, has been conceived by the folks behind The Huffington Post and partner IAC/InterActiveCorp (owner of CollegeHumor.com, where we caught the brilliant movie-trailer mashup "V for Dodgeball") promises more riffing on current events and pop culture.

 

Last.fm

Type in the name of a favorite artist and, in a matter of seconds, music by that artist (and similar artists) will be streaming to your desktop — and it will keep playing as long as that browser window stays open. If you take the time to register and download the last.fm application, the service will dig deeper into your musical life, hook you up with its rapidly-expanding social network and match you with other users who share your musical tastes. Every time you play a song on your computer, last.fm takes note, adding the metadata to your profile. These "scrobbles" are shared with those you designate as your friends; they also help make last.fm a better DJ.

MOG, another music site-turned-social network, works in a similar way, keeping tabs on what you listen to, making recommendations and connecting you to other "moggers" who share your tastes. MOG TV (click the Watch tab on the home page) adds music video mashups to the mix. Pandora, another personalized radio service — and a Time.com 2006 best-site pick — recently launched a mobile version that turns your Sprint cell phone into an MP3 jukebox for $3 a month. Use your handset's Web browser to go to Pandora.com to download it.

 

Lala.com

Lala.com, a former CD-exchange site, has reinvented itself as a music shop that lets you sample the goods for free, and not just 15-sec previews but entire albums—specifically those owned by Warner Music Group and hundreds of smaller indie labels. The company hopes its largesse will lead to more sales; you have to buy a song if you want to download it into your mobile device. Bonus: Lala's songs will play in your iPod, a first for an iTunes competitor.

Lala has its own music player for you to download, but you don't have to use it to listen to the free tunes; you can listen from inside your browser. But if you register as a user and download its client, Lala can scan your entire digital music collection, upload what it doesn't have in its own library, then make your playlist available to other users—and to you whenever you log in away from home.

 

WhiteCityStories.org

The latest project from University of North Carolina students studying documentary multimedia storytelling, White City Stories offers an in-depth look at the history and culture of Arequipa, Peru, a sister city of Charlotte. Video footage includes day-in-the-life style coverage of locals, like the guy who raises fighting bulls (see "Head to Head Combat" in the Traditional Ties section) and the solo miner who scours the hills for copper and gold (see "Relationship to the Land"). Interactive maps add to the rich sense of place — roll over a landmark building and up pops a 360-degree panoramic interior view. The site is a joint project by students at UNC and Arequipa's own Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria. Another great site that takes you deep inside a very specific location: Gods of Chinatown, an interactive guide to the New York City neighborhood created by digital artist Isabel Chang.

 

DriverTV.com

This slick new car-shopping site features high-def video and 360-degree, click-and-drag interior views of a number of makes and models. It's no substitute for a test drive, of course, but it could help you confidently narrow your choices—as soon as its catalog is complete, which should be by the end of the year, according to a site spokesperson. DriverTV's own production team is working to fill in the gaps—the Honda and Toyota lineups are particularly thin—shooting new vehicles every four to six weeks.

The My Showroom tool gives consumers a quick-and-dirty way to compare specs on two or three models, and you can browse by category, brand or budget. In addition to the virtual tours, there's a Driver's Ed section with 30- to 60-sec. video lessons covering topics like how to change a flat to what to do if you skid. Not all the videos are produced by DriverTV; some comes from the manufacturers, such as GM's tutorial on the Onstar system, and the seven-minute history of the trophy girls provided by Porsche. DriverTV can get you a quote and put you in touch with a local dealer. But to actually buy a car online, go to CarsDirect. And Cars.com recently launched a mobile version for anytime, anywhere access to pricing and other info.

 

 

ExpertVillage.com

A vast and varied repository of how-to videos ranging from how to use a stick shift to how to apply eye makeup and how to fold an origami falcon (or flower, or fish...). Categories include Home & Garden, Music and Parenting. The Health & Fitness tutorials range from how to give a hot stone massage to beginner yoga, while the Hobbies section covers everything from Juggling Knives and Cha-Cha dancing to Backgammon and Beekeeping. Some 1,800 individuals have contributed content so far, and the extent of their professional experience and expertise is noted in their profiles. For more instructional videos, go to 5min, which calls itself a "life videopedia" and takes submissions from anybody (because "everybody's good at something"). Or try SuTree, which indexes and links to more than 5,000 lessons and lectures found all over the Web. "How to Draw Stewie from Family Guy," for example, is posted on YouTube. If you're a DIY-er seeking written guidance on how to decorate, fix or install things around the house, visit HomeEnvy.

 

Joost.com

Buoyed by a slew of content deals with major media companies, Joost has created 150 channels of free TV of all tastes, from episodes of CSI and old G.I. Joe cartoons to the NHL playoffs. These are delivered in broadcast-quality streams, and Joost members can share their playlists and chat online while watching the same show. The service is still in its beta-test phase, but testers can send out invites to join; a public launch is expected this summer. The service is free, but you have to download the Joost player to watch, so tuning in is a bit more involved than, say, checking out some of the original Web TV series available on Blip.TV, such as Cube News 1 (a personal fave), Goodnight Burbank , Starring Amanda Congdon and Alive in Bahgdad. Revision3, meanwhile, is building its own slate of original Internet TV shows, including DiggNation (two guys on a couch, surfing on their laptops), iFanBoy (three guys talking about comic books) and InDigital: Your Life In Gear (gadget geeks chatting about, and reviewing, gadgets). You can stream Revision3 episodes on your PC (no special software required) or download them to run on a smartphone, video iPod or other mobile device.

 

StarWars.com

After you've watched the Clone Wars trailer and the spoof video "Chad Vader: DayShift Manager," head over to the Star Wars mashup page where you can make your own Star Wars movie. The site provides more than 300 video clips, audio tracks and photos from George Lucas' originals for you to recut, rearrange and remix as you wish. You can even throw in your own video footage or stills, then post the results for others to watch or even to incorporate in their own mashup. Registered viewers can leave comments and give ratings. The site aims to be suitable for children, so any offensive material will be taken down. There are clips featuring all your favorite characters (Luke, Han, Chewy) and there's Leia, the armed princess in white choir robe and ear buns, and Leia as Jabba The Hut's prisoner, sporting that golden two-piece. Billie Dee Williams (a.k.a. Lando) plays host and tour guide. The easy, drag-and-drop editing tools are provided by Eyespot, which runs its own video-mixing site. For more video mashing mayhem, go to Jumpcut.com.

 

Odeo.com

This portal, launched by the guys who created Twitter, offers a wealth of MP3 files—3.3 million-plus at last count—and audio channels numbering in the thousands, all of it available legally for download into your mobile device, or for streaming inside the website too. Sign up for a free membership and you get access to the My Audio section, where you can create a personalized playlist that is automatically populated with fresh segments from the podcasts to which you've subscribed. It also lists the stuff you've starred as favorites and recommendations from friends. You can even subscribe to your own playlist and have it synchronized with your iTunes. Two more podcast portals to try: PodShow and Podomatic.

 

YouTube's You Choose '08

Each of the 17 people running for President has their own YouTube channel, now helpfully grouped by the service under the banner You Choose '08. The candidates work, to varying degrees, to feed their public's appetite for stump speeches, talk-show interviews and TV ads, and more casual video-moments like Tom Tancredo bashing the Senate immigration bill while driving. And sometimes the candidates do try to have fun with the medium. Hillary Rodham Clinton's May 16 clip asking "the American people" to suggest a campaign theme song generated some good buzz, and racked up nearly 600,000 views in three weeks. (It also gave critics an opportunity to get their licks in, by suggesting "Maneater" and "Cold as Ice"). You Choose '08, which launched March 1, allows video responses, text comments and viewer ratings by members who subscribe to a candidate's channel, but the channels are, in the end, products of the official campaign. Like any YouTube user, a candidate can remove responses at their discretion, so if you want to see the embarrassing stuff, the parodies and the gaffes, you'd have to search elsewhere—like on YouTube's main page.

 

 

Blinkx.com

You hear about a video—say, a clip of Japanese stage performers acting out a slow-motion food fight —and with a quick keyword search, you have your choice of links to where to view it. That is the beauty of Blinkx, a video search engine that keeps adding new tricks to its repertoire, like the clickable video wall that you can embed in your blog. This is a grid of video frames that links to the latest clips by topic (world news, entertainment, sports, business) and Blinkx automatically updates it throughout the day as new videos become available (the wall is also on the Blinkx home page). The new Blinkx Remote Blinkx Remote helps you find sites where you can (legally) watch or purchase full-length TV shows; it also related snippets such as interviews with cast members.

Rather than relying on content feeds from partners, Blinkx, like Google, uses its own spiders to crawl the web to index video content; its database currently boasts more than 12 million hours of video from some 130 media sources. Blinkx also uses voice-recognition technology to parse through, and appropriately tag, each segment, so search results cut right to the relevant minute inside of a longer segment. It doesn't download the content, but rather provides a preview and links you back to the original source. Its technology is spreading; Blinkx powers video search at the recently revamped Ask, Lycos, and AtomUploads, the Atom Films spinoff that invites users to upload, play, and share your video clips, cartoons and Flash games.

Google's own video search also keeps getting better. The engine recently added YouTube clips to its search results, as well as content from Metacafe and other major video sites. If you'd rather browse than conduct a targeted search, check out Online Video Guide, an exhaustive directory organized by category (movies and TV, sports, health/fitness, adult content) and offers its own top 100 list.

 

Veoh.com

This video network aims for a higher-level customer—one that doesn't like when video clips are dumbed down to run in flash players. Veoh sets no limits on the size of your video file or the length of the clip, and it can syndicate your masterpiece by uploading it to YouTube, Google Video and other major video distribution hubs. Download the Veoh TV player and you can subscribe to your favorite channels; the program will go out and grab the Web videos you want, download them and store them for you to view later. Veoh also enables users to swap high-res videos using a direct peer-to-peer (person-to-person) connection. Publishers can choose to post their videos free, or set a pay-per-view charge (Veoh gets half). Full disclosure: Time Warner, corporate parent of Time.com, is an investor in the private company. Metacafe has it's own pay incentives: it gives contributors $100 if their video tops 20,000 viewings, and $5 more for every 1,000 viewings after that.

 

MiiStation.com

For $10 this site will create for you your own personalized Nintendo Wii game character, or "Mii." You upload a digital photo of yourself or someone else, register your Wii's ID, and when the Mii is ready (it takes a few days) you use your console's built-in Wi-Fi to download the avatar to your machine. (You can also buy an adapter that lets you connect your Wii to the Internet using an Ethernet cable.) Legions of Wii fans use Miiplaza.net to make their Miis available to the masses; choose from among the 8,000 or so characters in the database. There are Miis based on celebrities—there's a Paul Giamatti, Mick Jagger and a Mr. T—and popular Sci-Fi characters (Cyclops, Storm Trooper). The Music category has Weird Al, David Bowie and Dee Snyder.

 

 

 

 

News and Information

INGDirect.com

The best bank accounts these days are online, according to the personal finance gurus. And ING Direct's no-fee, no-minimum deposit, federally-insured accounts are a snap to set up; it took us about eight minutes to complete the online forms, then another five to set up the security tools. (Under the privacy policy, the default setting directs ING not to share personal information with marketers—nice.) The basic Orange savings account pays 4.5% interest (better than most offers you'll find at traditional banks) and you can transfer money back and forth from any other checking account at any other bank at no charge. An ING paperless checking account also pays interest—4%—which is practically unheard for an account that requires no minimum balance. It sure beats the .8% we're getting at Citibank.

 

OpenSecrets.org

Want to follow the money in politics? OpenSecrets offers a detailed picture of who gives and who gets, by industry, organization or candidate. You can chart two candidates' fund-raising activities on the "week-by-week comparison" page, or read through the individual profiles. The database goes back 10 years, and covers everyone who ran, or is running, for President, Congress or the Senate. You can plug in your ZIP code to find out which candidates raised the most money in your locale, and who in your neighborhood wrote the biggest checks. (The data is public information gleaned from the FEC reports.) The Big Picture section helps make sense of it all. The site is run by the Center for Responsive Politics. Congressional Quarterly's PoliticalMoneyLine.com also tracks funds raised by each of the 2008 presidential hopefuls.

 

NowPublic.com

Mainstream media types may gripe about the absence of safeguards ensuring the validity of news reported by the blogosphere, but nowhere are the merits of citizen journalism more apparent than at NowPublic. At this "participatory news network," a.k.a. bastion of "crowd-powered media," anyone can write a story, or upload images, audio or video. Whatever gets the most votes from the reading masses—the site gets about 1 million unique vistiors per month—ends up as the lead story. (NowPublic has "guest editors," "wranglers" and an "actual news guy" who keep an eye on things, giving advice to contributing reporters and shepherding the best, most timely stuff through, but nobody on staff makes actual editing changes to the content.)

NowPublic now counts nearly 97,000 contributing reporters in more than 140 countries around the world. During Hurricane Katrina, NowPublic was there; eight contributors filed on-the-scene reports from London's Heathrow Airport during the August 2006 terrorism lockdown—while the regular press was forced to wait outside. On June 6 NowPublic's coverage of a storm in Oman made it to the top of the AOL and Yahoo news sites. As part of its partnership with the Associated Press, NowPublic reporters now help the wire service gather footage on the ground. "We wanted to build a next-generation wire service that counted for the accidental bystanders, the storm chasers," co-founder Leonard Brody says. "And with digital capturing devices now in the average person's hand, they can be first when there's breaking news."

 

Ecofoot.org

Everybody's going green, don't you know, so if you want to get with the program, this is a good place to start. The Ecological Footprint Quiz contains 14 questions about your driving, eating and other personal habits, then gives you the ugly truth—your total carbon footprint, in acres—and the bottom line: "If everybody lived like you, we would need 2.8 planets." (And we scored well below the average. Yikes!) After you've recovered from the shock of finding out how much of a drag you are on the Earth's natural resources, you can click one of the "What You Can Do" links to learn how to mend your ways. ZeroFootprint a not-for-profit operation, also has tools to help you calculate your personal impact on the environment, and how much money in offsets you would need to buy to make up for it. The site takes your $20 or $40 or $100 offset payment and puts it toward tree plantings and investments in sustainable energy projects. (Some critics blast offsets as ineffective, conscience-clearing cop-outs, but Zerofootprint takes pains to explain how theirs are certified and verified.) The site also features a Marketplace section where you can learn about all types of green products, and an Events page. For more information and links, go to Clean Air-Cool Planet, where you'll find the Climate Change 2007 report and a consumer's guide to retail carbon offset providers. Or check out the the home energy audit offered by the U.S. Department of Energy.

 

I'm Too Young For This.com

Cancer sucks anytime it strikes, but what if you're under 40? This information and resource portal for adolescents and young adults with cancer is the work of Matthew Zachary, a pianist, brain cancer survivor and founder of Steps for Living, a nonprofit advocacy group. The site provides links to and information about support organizations, scholarships and other financial aid opportunities, social networks, summer camps, weekend spa retreats, fertility education, peer counseling—the kinds of support services you don't typically hear about from a doctor. The site also sells a CD with recordings by 21 young adult musicians who "chose to get busy living" when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Proceeds from the album sales support Steps for Living's outreach programs.

 

 

Stockpickr.com

This investing advice and analysis site, created by two New York hedge fund managers, is now part of TheStreet.com. See what the pros have in their portfolios, check out the day's winners and losers, or see what star pickers like Jim Cramer think. Find more stock market analysis at SeekingAlpha, which pulls together advice from blogs, money managers and investment newsletters, and recently launched a hedge fund jobs board. You can sign up to have the site email its articles to your Blackberry or get the RSS feed. And while The Wall Street Journal Online is still available only to paying subscribers only, stock tables and other market data are provided free at its Markets Data Center, which is updated thousands of times a day.

 

FAFSA4Caster

It's a mouthful, but the new online FAFSA4caster (say it with me: "Faff-suh-fore-caster"), created by the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office of the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to help families figure out if college is possible financially. FSA is the country's largest source of financial aid for post-secondary education—it provided some $80 billion in aid to nearly 10 million students and their families last school year. It offers what's called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—key word free— but the process is complex. The 4caster is a good way for families to start exploring their options; it can give an early indication of whether your family is eligible to receive aid, and how much you would need to contribute toward your college expenses. A financial aid wizard can help you calculate how much aid might be available to you at a particular school, and other tools help you find scholarships and other non-federal financial aid. You can do all the paperwork online and the information you plug into the 4caster is carried over, which helps streamline things. See related site, FAFSA on the Web.

 

ThePollingReport.com

Want to know what the American public thinks about same-sex marriage? Assisted suicide? Mitt Romney? The Polling Report posts data from opinion surveys from dozens of sources: CNN, Gallup, Pew, Harris, CBS News, even TIME. You can view poll results by topic (Iraq, Iran, national health insurance, prosecutor) or scan the home page for links tagged with today's (or yesterday's) date to see what's just been added. The website is independent and nonpartisan; paying subscribers get access to state poll results. And if you're curious about where your own opinions place you on the political grid, complete the six-page questionnaire at The Political Compass to find out just how authoritarian or libertarian—not just left or right—you really are.

 

Newsvine.com

See what everybody is talking about right now, and add your two cents. That's the basic idea behind Newsvine.com, a Web 2.0 cocktail that mixes elements of Digg (social news), Netvibes (customization) and NowPublic (user-generated news). The most prominently placed articles are the ones voted most important by users. You can plant your own "seeds" on the vine, i.e. links to stories from elsewhere on the Web, along with your comments, to start a discussion. You can also change the page layout by adding RSS feeds and moving the boxes around. Most articles come from familiar sources (Associated Press, The New York Times, BBC) but Newsvine also invites members to write their own columns and create their own Newsvine groups to discuss areas of common interest. Recently the site added local news and weather, and a "News in Pictures" slideshow from the AP.

 

SimpleWeather.com

No muss, no fuss: Just current conditions and the five-day forecast, by city or ZIP code, without ads or other distractions. The site remembers your last three checkpoints and lists them in a drop down menu for easy access. If your computer doesn't accept cookies, you can bookmark the SimpleWeather with your ZIP code in the URL, like so: www.simpleweather.com/00000 (replace the zeroes with your ZIP's five digits). The weather data comes from Weather.com and for now, coverage is U.S. only, but Canada and the UK are next. SimpleWeather also has a blog (who doesn't?) which provides some insight into this little operation and the two guys behind it, as well as some pretty useful tips. The April 26 post, for instance, explains how to create a multi-tabbed homepage. What a charming and humble way to encourage more frequent visitation.

 

Social Networks

StumbleUpon.com

StumbleUpon, a startup recently snapped up by eBay, lets you tag sites you think friends should check out, and will recommend sites to you based on what other users have tagged in your areas' interests. When you register to download the StumbleUpon program, you get a handy toolbar for your Web browser. It includes Thumbs Up/Thumbs down buttons, and a "Send To" button you can click to email a link to a friend. When you're in the mood for something new, click the "Channel" button; like a channel-changer, it immediately takes you to a new site, one it figures you might like. When we tried it, many of the sites it pushed to us were pleasant surprises, and made sense based on the topics we selected at sign-up: photography, music and movies, to name a few. As for the site that showed a photo of a small rodent clutching a miniature machine gun, we suppose that one qualified as "Humor." With nearly 2.5 million Stumblers already feeding the network, the fun, we suspect, never ends. Google also offers its own website recommendation tool, represented by a dice icon that, when clicked, takes you to a site Google thinks you'll like based on your past searches. You'll need the Google Toolbar to get that one.

 

Hitchsters.com

This matchmaker's mission is to hook you up...with a cab buddy. Fares from New York City airports into Manhattan can run $30 to $100, so why not let Hitchsters help you find someone else to split the tab. Simply input your flight time into the site's database, and Hitchsters will try to match you with a co-rider based on your preferences. Contact information is then given out to both parties, via email or text message, but don't worry: only a cell phone number and first name is revealed (the site doesn't even take addresses; users are asked to click on a map to indicate their general location). Co-riders work out a meet-up plan directly with each another. Hitchsters plans to expand into Brooklyn this summer, where it will connect riders with a car service (because it's much harder to hail a yellow cab in the outer boroughs) and then apply that new model to new services in other cities such as London and Boston.

There are some etiquette guidelines. For instance, the first person to get out of the cab pays 60% of the fare. If you can't agree on who should get out first, then it's rock/paper/scissors. Hitchsters doesn't do background checks on its users, but neither does Craigslist, and besides, you've got the cab driver as a witness. And hey, you never know-that romantic ride back from LaGuardia just might turn into a first date.

 

LinkedIn.com

A social network for business professionals and career-minded folks, LinkedIn gets respect from the corporate world. Employers use it to recruit new talent; employees use it to network with others in their field. When you create a profile, treat it like a resume. You can build your personal contacts list by searching for, reaching out to and adding individuals who work for the same company, went to the same business school or know you from a previous job. Ask an old boss or partner to post a recommendation that others can view. The site's search filters help you find experts and contacts by company or industry. Basic accounts are free, but you can pay for premium service that grants you greater access to the network, which now boasts more than 11 million users. There are corporate memberships too, and all 500 of the Fortune 500 companies have signed on. Looking for a general-interest MatureSpace? check out Gather.

 

bix.yahoo.com

Bix, a natural extension of the current public obsession with American Idol, plays host to all sorts of contests—beauty, comedy, dance, karaoke, lip-synching—even Capitol Records is using the site to conduct its search for its "next great country singer" (winner gets $50,000 and a three-song demo deal). Contenders upload original audio and video recordings or digital photos to enter; viewers vote, and, just like on Idol, the fans decide. Anybody can start a contest, and anybody can enter a contest—unless it's made private, which is an option. The Battle of Bix's Best Video Karaoke, for example, invited the top four from five different contests for a final face-off (it ended June 11, with songbird82 declared the champion. View the winning entry). Members can create top 10 lists (their 10 favorite entries), leave comments and email contest links to friends or post entries on their own websites (the site gives you the HTML code to copy and paste). There is mature content, but only registered members who declare themselves over 18 on their profile page can access it. Contest pages present a randomly selected face-off between two entries, and this changes each time you visit, so be sure to click "view all entries" before you pick a favorite.

 

Fatsecret.com

This social network is dedicated to helping people who are trying to lose weight. The site, which is free, uses pie charts and graphs to provide concrete information about what works for its members—and what doesn't. It lists the most popular diets and provides details about their particular approach and stages, and bar charts show progress made by the members who are following it. Read up on Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, the Fat Smash plan and the Fat Flush. Make friends to create a support system; create your own diet and share it with the community. Member-reported weigh-in amounts are posted on the home page, tagged with either a red arrow pointing up or green arrow pointing down along with links to their journal entries. Individual member pages include a weight history, plotted on a graph.

 

 

Prosper.com

Prosper is a community of lenders and borrowers—or social lending network—operates outside of any bank, so the rates are better. Post a request for a loan, including desired amount and the maximum interest rate you'd be willing to pay; potential lenders place bids for the amount they are willing to lend, and at what rate. Prosper combines the best offers and puts together a loan plan (multiple lenders, lower risk) and manages the repayment over three years (the standard term). The site also does credit checks, and charges transaction fees and servicing fees.

Prosper loans are not secured by collateral, but the loan agreements are legally binding. You can join a group to get the benefit of that group's positive payment history; as a member of a group, your timely payments help improve the group's overall rep, and that can lead to lower rates for everybody. There are loads of rules for borrowers and lenders—members are forbidden to arrange loans outside the Prosper marketplace, for example—and violations can get you booted. Zopa based in the U.K., operates along similar lines (and its site has prettier graphics) but its network is not as big as Prosper's, which boasts more than 300,000 members and nearly $66 million in active loans. Also worth noting: CircleLending which helps manage private loans between relatives and friends.

 

       

5 Sites One Should NOT Bookmark

eHarmony.com

Our main beef with this online dating site is its power to cause utter despair. eHarmony claims its more "scientific" approach to matchmaking differentiates it from competitors — its users complete extensive personality questionnaires, in order to connect them to others based on compatibility. In early 2006, eHarmony announced that more than 16,000 couples had married during the previous year as a result of meeting on the site, citing a 2005 Harris Interactive poll. That's about 90 people finding love every day, a track record bound to inflate expectations. On a more typical dating site, where users are prone to making snap judgments based on photos and sketchy profiles, if you don't find that special someone you're less likely to take it personally. It's easier to shake off because, after all, that's hardly the real you up there on that site. But if you've taken the time to answer eHarmony's 436 compatibility survey questions and paid its premium charges ($21 to $60 a month, depending on how many months you prepay), and the site then delivers terrible recommendations — or worse, rejects you as unmatchable — what do you tell yourself then? The company's advice, to stick with it for several months to improve your odds of finding a soul mate, sounds all too self-serving (the longer you use the site the more you pay). The site also discriminates against gays.

 

Evite.com

We're only mad at Evite because we need it so much, and we know it could be so much better. The site, in short, is crying out for an overhaul. With more and more sites emphasizing flexibility and user control over content, Evite's fill-in-the-blanks approach feels clumsy and dated. The ads are intrusive and navigation's a drag. The service has also been slow to adopt some of the media sharing tools that have become standard ways of the Web. You can upload photos but only after the party, and you can forget music and video. The company says these features are in development. We can't wait.

 

Meez.com

It has become trendy to tack poems, photos, icons, logos and other digital flotsam and jetsam onto email messages. We understand that digital signatures have a practical use, particularly when they provide the kind of info you'd see on a business card. And we don't doubt that, for some people, a U2 lyric can express how they feel better than they could. But the 3-D animations and other digital doodads created with the help of Meez and other sites of its ilk — Blingee, Iconator — are just plain annoying. They also clog the recipient's inbox with unnecessary bits. Sites like Smiley Central, which offers a seemingly endless assortment of cutesy creatures for dressing up email, instant messages and blog posts, require you to download a browser plug-in. The company insists the app is neither spyware nor adware, but it can still slow your computer down.

 

MySpace.com

It's by far the most popular social network, and one of the top ten online destinations overall. And, yes, Time.com named MySpace one of our 50 Coolest Websites of 2006. But since then, things have taken an ugly turn, and we're not just talking about poor page design. It seems the community has become infested with marketers and other opportunists who create false profiles and essentially spam other users, all under the guise of "making friends." Of course, there have always been loads of MySpace profiles of fictional characters, created to help market a movie or promote some other brand. But it's the bait-and-switch tactics from these leeches (Want to be my friend? Buy a ring tone! Fill out this survey!) that have taken things to a whole new—and sad—level.

 

SecondLife.com

We're sure that somebody out there is enjoying Second Life, but why? Visually, this vast virtual world can be quite impressive, but it's notoriously slow to load (it runs on free software you have to download) and difficult to navigate, even with a broadband connection. You interact in the space through an avatar, but creating and personalizing this animated representation of yourself is tedious. Movements feel clunky and there can be a terrible lag. As on many sites, there's a learning curve for novices, but Second Life's is simply too steep. And there are crazy people around every corner — disruptive types that spread graffiti and get in your way and throw you off your groove. Fans praise Second Life as a virtual hangout where you can meet and chat and buy sneakers and real estate (that's fake stuff for real money) and dance and go bowling and have sex — suggesting that "virtual humans" doing "human things" online in Second Life is somehow less pathetic than, say, cooking Kaldorei spider kabobs or making magic pantaloons in World of Warcraft. The corporate world's embrace of the place as a venue for staff meetings and training sessions does seem to lend Second Life a layer of legitimacy. But maybe it's a case of some CEOs trying too hard to be hip.

 

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