The online world has changed dramatically even since we last drew up a list of 100 useful sites in December 2006. In the interim, there has been a revival of the browser wars – with Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari making surprising inroads into the Windows monopoly, and offering a new vision of what browsing can be like.
Many of the sites listed here were not available when we did our last list; although longevity is a mark of pride online, it is difficult for companies set up in the 1990s to reinvent themselves quickly enough to take advantage of new technologies. Although of course rapid change brings casualties too: it’s possible that with all the economic turbulence going on that some sites here won’t be around in a year from now, or that their now free services will have become paid-for. That doesn’t diminish their usefulness, though; it just underlines their determination to survive.
The biggest changes since 2006 have been in the fields of collaborative online services that let people in different locations work simultaneously on projects. Collaboration in 2006 was very much focused on words, but now you can create presentations that look as though they were made with expensive packages. And then you can share those presentations, or look at other work that people have done – and even download them. You can convert files without needing expensive systems. Collaborative working has never been easier, even across different platorms. The web really is becoming the operating system, as the rise of the “netbooks” (aka ultraportables, aka Liliputers) emphasises.
The growth of location-based services – particularly those which you can choose to log yourself in and out of, thus protecting your privacy – has been rapid. A parallel growth has come with the mobile web; there’s no escaping the fact that Apple’s iPhone has revolutionised how its users, in their millions, think about the internet. For them, it is no longer something that is experienced well on a computer and then badly on their mobile phone; the mobile version of Safari has made browsing on the move an altogether more pleasant experience, which it was never before.
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That opens up new vistas: location-aware task managers can adjust the order of your to-do list based on what the GPS unit in the phone is telling you, so that while you’re in the supermarket it will remind you about the cereal you need, but in the office it will tell you to send that important memo right away.
Video, of course, is now everywhere. YouTube was already dominant in 2006, but now the BBC’s iPlayer is taking over. If it makes its technology available to all, perhaps the UK will become a nation of video makers and watchers.
So here are our 100 revised best sites to see you through the next couple of years. They’re organised roughly along those lines Planet Reporter.
Now as easy as falling off a log.
Bloglines bloglines.com for reading web feeds. Smart and clean.
WordPress wordpress.com free, and most importantly spam-free, blogging.
Sign up to the new-look Media Briefing: bigger, better, brighter
A newly revived category, thanks to Chrome and Safari.
Chrome google.com/chrome newly out of beta, though Windows-only.
Firefox mozilla.com/firefox infinitely malleable, with fewer security holes.
Flock.com with an emphasis on linking to social networks.
Opera.com growing in importance for mobiles.
Safari apple.com/safari Apple’s contender; a leader in mobile web access.
Everyone needs some relaxation.
Dilbert dilbert.com hi, cube-dwellers.
Alex alexcartoon.com amid the financial crisis, Alex the banker remains reliably self-interested.
Doonesbury doonesbury.com the cartoon you’ll also find in that printed newspaper thing.
The Joy of Tech geekculture.com/joyoftech well-drawn, witty near-daily takes on Apple and computing life.
XKCD xkcd.com “Stick-figure strip featuring humour about technology, science, mathematics and relationships.”
The main change from last time: whatever you want to do, wherever you are.
Dipity dipity.com build timelines and add text, pictures and videos.
Zoho zoho.com everything in one place, from documents to presentations.
Rememberthemilk rememberthemilk.com online task/to-do management.
Netvibes netvibes.com you to-do lists, news, weather and photos on one page.
280slides.com create presentations online. Very slick.
Zamzar zamzar.com convert files from one format to another.
A field where handheld, bedroom and Flash games are becoming mainstream
Eurogamer eurogamer.net reportage, with breadth, if not always depth.
The Independent GamingSource tigsource.com a great place to pick up on tomorrow’s breakthrough hits.
Pocket Gamer pocketgamer.co.uk still by far the best site on handheld gaming.
Metacritic metacritic.com/games industry touchstone and useful one-stop buying guide.
Jay is Games jayisgames.com passionate, well-designed and knowledgeable.