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Web Sights

May 6, 2008

Every once in a while, I hear about a new website that is redefining or simplifying the way we interact with the internet. Usually I read about the site on another site, or maybe I see it in an online Wired article. I subscribe to the 37signals company blog, which seems to have a myriad of sources for cutting-edge designs, so that helps me keep my finger on the pulse of technology as well.

But there’s no single site that keeps me up-to-date on all the cool sites. In truth, such a site might be impossible to maintain or visit, given the huge amount of content. There are so many niche markets out there. Like, I’m sure there’s a site out there that is the very best at helping you find the perfect toe fungus ointment. But most people don’t need that—there would be too much clutter on the compendium site.

While I was searching for this Shangri-la of a website, I came across Time’s list of the top 50 websites of 2007 (in case you’re curious, this blog, listed as number 51, barely didn’t make the list). It’s a great list, and if you have about an hour to spare, I’d recommend that you click through the entire list. If you only have about 2 minutes, here are my highlights and observations:

www.simpleweather.com: Just today, Caroline asked me what the weather was going to be like this weekend. I went to the standard weather site, weather.com, and we waited for about 4 minutes for the site to load. Like ESPN.com, there’s so much content on the weather.com homepage that you don’t need. Plus, you have to click through several different pages to get to the weather info you need. From now on, I’ll be visiting simpleweather.com. It only takes 2 seconds to load, and you’ll have the weather information you need immediately.

www.kayak.com: Another site that completes a crucial task both simpler and quicker than other comparable sites, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of kayak.com before. It’s an airfare search site that is heads and shoulders above any other search site out there. It’s flexible, and it’s extremely fast at changing your search parameters after you run the original search. This is the airfare search site to use.

www.ohdontforget.com: Check out this page. The purpose is simple: If you need to remind yourself (or someone else) of something in twenty minutes or twenty years, just type in the phone number, the date and time, and the message, and ohdontforget.com will text the message to you at that time. There’s no charge above your normal text message fee, and you don’t have to sign in or sign up. I want to have it text something to me in like three years, but (a) the message will really creep me out, and (b) I have no idea what to write. How about “Iron Man 2 comes out on April 30, 2010?”

www.mpire.com: This site is really interesting. It charts the prices of literally anything so you can base your purchases on trends. So if you’re looking to buy a Blu-Ray player but aren’t sure if it’s the right time, you could look at the prices to see if it’s dipped low enough. The glitch is that the results include products that you care about. For example, if you search for Amazon Kindle, you’ll see that the graph dips below the $400 price tag on the Kindle. No one out there is selling the Kindle for less than $400, but people are selling Kindle accessories for less than that price. So those subsidiary products are skewing the price. It still makes for an interesting search.

www.weebly.com: I was just telling someone the other day that I wish there was a way I could create a website by dragging and dropping things onto the page like I’m used to doing in Windows. Now there’s a way. Weebly.com simplifies the website-building process without sacrificing variety or complexity. I’ll be giving it a try when I create my hatsforcats website.

www.prosper.com: Want a loan to start a new company? Here’s the new way to do it. Prosper.com connects individuals who need money to individuals who have money. The interest rates are slightly higher than industry norms (which helps the lenders), but where else are you going to go to borrow $5,000 to create prototype hats for cats? This site isn’t for people who need a lot of money or who have a lot of money to loan, but it’s a way for people with a few thousand bucks to spare to feel invested in something they’re passionate about. And they get their money back, with interest.

www.kiva.com: A very similar site to prosper.com is kiva, which is one of several microlending sites that have recently popped up. Kiva allows you to give very small amounts of money (as low as $25) to third-world individuals or businesses seeking loans to make their lives—and the lives around them—better. Those individuals were connected to kiva through third-party organizations that monitor their progress. So if you lend $50 to a chicken farmer in the Congo, you can be somewhat assured that he isn’t going to fly the coop. The microloans add up to bigger amounts that allow these people to significantly change their lives.

A few observations about this top 50 list: There were no job search sites on the list. There were tons of social networking sites, including www.linkedin.com, a Facebook-style site that connects you to friends and their businesses, but no actual job search engines. Perhaps that’s indicative of how you should try to get a job in this day and age: know people who know people. Nonetheless, I still contend that there is a large percentage of people who have no idea what they want to do with their lives, and there needs to be a site that allows them to see what their eligible for. I proposed such a job search engine last year on my blog, and I still think it’s a good idea. Instead of searching by what you want to do or where you want to live, you search by your qualifications and skills. The resulting search shows you what you can do, or at least what you can apply for. If you don’t want McDonald’s burger flipper to show up on every search, just specify the salary range you’re interested in. If such a site exists, let me know; if not, I’m going to have to find a way to make it happen.

My other observation is that it’s very difficult to tell from their names what the majority of these sites do. Simpleweather.com is perfect—you know exactly what you’re getting before you even visit the site, and once you hear it, you remember it. Ohdontforget.com is almost as good, and kayak.com is pretty close as well. But yapta.com? Kiva.com? It’s okay to come up with a unique name, but people have to (a) remember it, and (b) remember what it’s about. TiVo is a perfect example of this. It’s a weird word, but you hear it once and don’t forget it, and you know it’s about TV even if you have no clue about what it actually does.

So that’s the list. It’s somewhat reassuring to me that there are so many people out there making the web—and, in some cases, the world—a better place. Now I’ve gotta get my piece of the pie.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    May 7, 2008 12:35 pm

    You highlighted some good sites but how could you pass up on mentioning DonorsChoose or Etsy from the top 50 list? Those are golden sites, much better then prosper or kiva.com.
    Kendall

  2. Jamey Stegmaier permalink
    May 7, 2008 12:38 pm

    You have a good point, but these are quite different from Kiva. Donorschoose is pretty close, but their philosophy is very different–it looks like they support teachers in America, while Kiva supports very poor people in third-world countries. I’d say both causes are really important, but they’re pretty different. As for etsy, I’m not all that interested in homemade goods, but it looks like a pretty well-made site nonetheless. Have you used it?

  3. Anonymous permalink
    May 7, 2008 4:49 pm

    I’ll allow your argument. They are very different sites, but you still fail to give due measure to two of the best sites on the top 50 list so let me do it here.

    Yes, I have used etsy. It’s a unique site in finding those one of a kind gifts. My mom likes the site for that reason – especially for jewelry purposes. I can understand your disinterest though. You don’t seem to be the type of man who’ll fancy yourself up in pearls.

    I actually have a place in my heart for donorschoose.org, as I’ve worked through the Governor’s Office to expand its use in Virginia. This site is by far the best in allowing you to give back to the education community and help a teacher who has been using money from his or her pocket for the benefit of students. You actually choose the classroom project in the community area you want to fund. Amazingly, 75% of donors are first time “citizen philanthropists” who like the concept because the donor receives a follow up email of thanks from the teacher as soon as the project is funded. And once the teacher receives the “product” you helped fund, you soon receive pictures of the students using it as well as thank you notes from students. The idea that the donor gets to literally choose where his or her hard earned money goes and see its fruition is one of the main reasons of its success. I suggest you check it out. I just finished funding a classroom that needed pencils in Southwest VA, and a special ed class in Fairfax that needed a classroom set of calculators. The possibiliites are endless and its all tax deductible.

    Now think about how Virginia’s school system gave you your start. Have I convinced you yet to give and to give back to Virginia? It was worth a shot.

  4. Jamey Stegmaier permalink
    May 7, 2008 10:06 pm

    I think you’ve sold me on donorschoose.org. For me, it’s more of a matter of choosing which organizations to give to (or balancing several donations), because you can’t give to everyone. But you make a good case for that cause, and donorschoose.org certainly creates an efficient, reliable system to giving to the teachers who are raising America’s youth in their classrooms. That’s something I can get behind. I think a key part of fundraising and development is making sure that those who give feel involved (and not just “feel,” involved, but really are involved) in the causes to which they choose to give. Hence the value in subtle touches like thank-you notes, which I’m pretty sure kiva encourages of their donor recipients as well.

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