Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 Essential Websites

First off, let me just say that none of these sites are paying me. With the dozens of people who visit this page daily, I wouldn't be surprised if they do very soon - but for now, these are all non-paid recommendations.

At last count, there were over 234 million websites on the internet - which means that if you visit one every minute, you'll be done with the whole thing in just over 444 years. It's Nice to know that the only things capable of "finishing" the internet are oak trees and Heidi Montag from the neck down. But that notwithstanding, the World Wide Web is a hall of wonders unlike any the world has ever known - and there has never been a time when the whole of humankind's knowledge has been more available to more people. The tragedy of this modern wonder is that the overwhelming majority of us either don't use this amazing privilege of our era - or even worse, use it for banality which far outpaces what we were capable of previously. And though I may not be able to stop you from using this modern day oracle to stalk your ex, leer at celebrity sex videos or validate your conspiracy theories, I can still try and offer you a few preciously informative nuggets to punctuate your otherwise mindless internet travails. And with that: 3 websites that will actually make you smarter:

1. - I would personally donate thousands of dollars for this website to be sent to everyone who has ever or will ever forward an ostensibly "factual" e-mail to their friends, family, co-workers, etc. The fact that this site has become a social necessity is a tragedy of its own - but I am at least grateful for its existence. For those of you who don't know - Snopes is an independent fact-checking and research website that is run by a married couple in California, and has been debunking urban legends, mass e-mails and other questionable assertions of fact for 14 years. Of course, there are other fact-checking websites, but Snopes takes a special interest in the nonsense passed on by everyday folks. You know, those e-mails forwarded to you by your friends and family asserting the President's questionable citizenship, a large corporation's failure to support U.S. troops, or attributing some insane quote to an otherwise unassuming celebrity? Sure you do. Every time I get one of these, I look it up on Snopes, confirm that it's crap and "Reply All" with simply a link to the Snopes article. The fact that it usually doesn't stop the offending transmitter from continuing to disseminate this type of nonsense is even more telling than the original e-mail, but it's nice to know there are still people out there committed to battling stupidity - one urban legend at a time.

2. Okay, you probably visit Google already - but you might not really be using it. No matter what Bing, Yahoo, or any other also-ran search engine spends on marketing - I'll sooner trade my AC/DC albums for Miley Cyrus CDs than I'll start using something besides Google to navigate the information superhighway. The simple fact is that you just don't get as big as Google is by providing a free service unless you're very, very good at it. They didn't just revolutionize internet searching, they continue to do it - with constant innovations, most of which just transparently improve your searching experience. The Google experience is a brilliantly simple one (a logo, a box and two buttons) - but can also be so much more. is a gateway to internet done right - offering up a menu of services which embody the best results of both open source programming and free market competition, when their competitors can barely get the searching part right. I use Google as my primary legal, consumer and personal research tool - and nothing else even comes close. Take a moment to revisit your old friend Google, and find out what it can really do - like your real friends, you'll find a myriad of talents you never expected.

3. Intelligent web-surfing is very nearly an oxymoron. Because for the most part, the time we spend simply moving from site-to-site, with no specific objective or task in mind, is dominated by our most base and prurient interests. We're more likely to happen upon the cure for cancer than we are to kick across something besides lo-res amateur fight videos, shopping sites or good old-fashioned internet porn. But there is a tool out there which will help make your web wanderings marginally more intellectual (even if it means you'll have to tell a few fibs about your "interests"). StumbleUpon is a push-button, free web service which allows you to surf based on your interests and what you want to see - rather than what everyone else wants you to see. It's simple enough, you create an account, check boxes based on what you're interested in, and then install a button on your browser's tool bar. Push the button, see a new site. And much like your Pandora account, a thumbs up/thumbs down set of buttons to help the engine learn your preferences just a little better with each new site it sends you. For me, StumbleUpon has pointed me to some of the most amazing things and useful resources on the Net, none of which I ever would have found otherwise. It's also drastically reduced the number of fight videos, fart jokes and ill-advised online shopping I've done.

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There is no shortage of guides to the web, lists of top sites, or people who will tell you just exactly where on the Internet you should be spending your time and money. But precious few of them are interested in helping to stem the tide of global brain loss that the majority of the World Wide Web is effecting in all of us. It shouldn't be a radical suggestion that we use, at least once in a while, the most exhaustive and easily accessible collection of knowledge ever imagined to actually learn something - and perhaps even more importantly, teach something. It's one thing to take the world of wonders around us for granted, but it's quite another to use it as a tool for devolution. Don't worry, when you're done surfing for the good of your brain, the rest of the dirty underbelly of the Internet will still be there, just as nasty, horrible and derisive as it ever was, and just like the real world, still paying for the good parts.


Anonymous said...

An informative 3 things! I have yet to check out the Snopes site yet, but I will certainly give it a try!


Anonymous said...

I'm sending the link to my Mom... she is the queen of mass emails!! will be coming in handy on a boring day! :)


Anonymous said...

stumbled this

Anonymous said...

Use all three. Daily. Stumbled onto this page, too.

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