It’s time to update the entries in your browser’s links toolbar. But with recent estimates putting the size of the internet at well more than 100 million distinct websites, it’s getting harder and harder to get a handle on all the great stuff that’s out there. That’s why we’ve compiled this list. And unlike some lists you may have seen, which try to name the very “best” websites, but end up just telling you a lot of stuff you already know, we’ve chosen instead to highlight 50 of our favorite sites that fly under most people’s radar. Think of it as the Maximum PC blog roll (remember those?). These sites represent great alternatives to popular web destinations like YouTube and Hulu, and include useful references, powerful web apps, and the unknown blogs you must absolutely bookmark.
You might have heard of some of these sites, but we’ll bet you haven’t heard of all them. Read on and find out. You won’t be disappointed.
See What Can Be Done with 4 Kilobytes
If you’re any kind of nerd at all, you probably know about the demoscene, where talented programmers create complex videos rendered in real-time, stored in incredibly small files. If you’re not familiar, you should make yourself acquainted with the scene, and all of the trippy, procedurally-generated content it has to offer. And hey, it’s not like you’re going to hit your bandwidth cap watching demos.
But what if you just want to see what all the fuss is about without actually downloading and running an executable? That’s where demoscene.tv comes in. Think of it as YouTube for the scene, letting you watch demos in HD on the web. And if you like what you see, the full demo executable is just a click away.
Clutter-Free Social Networking
You can admit it. Along with Twitter, Facebook is one of the sites that you absolutely feel compelled to check every day to keep track of your friends’ activities and latest funny links. But while we’re all for friend-stalking, we could definitely do without the AJAX-heavy sidebars and interface modules that clutter up the Facebook homepage. Try using Facebook Lite, which gives you lean views of friend feeds and your user profile. You get access to essential image and update posting functionality without being bothered by the newest Facebook game apps.
Let other people play games for you
The Let’s Play Archive maintains a list of hundreds of “Let’s Play” games, where somebody plays through a video game while maintaining a journal using text, screenshots and videos. Some are funny, while other’s just give you a whirlwind tour of a game you’ve never played before. Sounds dumb? Give it a try, you might just find it more engrossing than you’d imagined.
What They Didn’t Teach You in School If you’ve ever needed some advice on how to do go about doing the most obscure, but didn’t really know who to turn to without receiving some sort of critical feedback, So You Wanna is a great resource for inquiring minds that think alike. So you wanna…audition for American Idol? Bottle your home-made beer? Get a travel visa to a foreign country? So You Wanna tells you all about it and assists you in your quest to become the all-knowing. Note that there is some NSFW content floating around the site.
Crowd Sourcing the 3D World
14th Century cartographers would be right about Google Earth – its world is pretty flat. Despite high-resolution satellite imagery that lets you zoom in on your neighbor’s skylight, buildings are still part of one big flat surface. That’s where you come in. Google’s Building Maker is a website that lets you help design and create buildings for Google Earth. Using a plug-in based version of their Sketch-up modeling program, you can easily create a textured 3D model of your neighborhood or local landmarks and submit them to be included in the Google Earth database. The process is surprisingly simple and really fun to use. Google has rolled out the service to 50 cities so far, but plans on expanding its reach in the future.
Outsmart the Swedes at their Own Game
If you’ve been a college student or 20-something living on a budget in the last couple decades, chances are good that there are a couple of bits of Ikea furniture gracing your living quarters. The Ikeahacker blog shows you how other people have transformed their old Swedish furniture into something awesome.
Count your Calories
Also a popular iPhone app, Fatburgr helps you count calories and make healthier decisions when eating out at various popular dine-in and fast food restaurants. Simply pick your poison (ours is Panera Bread) and Fatburgr will present you with an alphabetical list of the restaurant’s entire food inventory with the number of calories, grams of fat, carbohydrates, and fiber in each serving. If you take a look, you might be surprised at the lack of nutrition surrounding some of your favorite dishes.
Ffffound (yes, four F’s) is an image bookmarking web service that allows users to post and share their favorite images they find on the web and recommends similar images according to the user’s taste. This is a great resource if you’re looking for some inspiration, or need an image that matches your tastes. Fffound displays graphic designer’s works, typography, advertisement design, animations, and sometimes, even the latest meme. There is some NSFW content floating around the site.
Keep Up with the Local News
Curious about what’s on the front page of newspapers elsewhere in the world? Look no further than the Newseum, which offers downloadable PDFs fof more than 80 major international and domestic newspapers. These informative gems are brought to you by the interactive museum of news and journalism and is located by Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Strange Maps are Strange
If you’ve got a fascination with maps, or an affinity for world history, Strange Maps posts interesting maps several times a week, complete with interesting facts and statistics following suit in blog form.
The Most Accurate Weather Reports
We know, your gut instinct tells you to go to Weather.com to check for local weather conditions or the weekend forecast. But Weather Underground provides better local reporting by tapping into a network of 10,000 local weather stations in all major cities across the United States. A community-powered reporting system provides detailed hourly updates, which are especially useful when planning your commute during the rainy season.
Take a Look, Read a Book
If you’re looking for a good book that’s out of your realm, try your hand at What Should I Read Next. WSIRN displays recommendations based on your favorites list. Conversely, if you just want a quick recommendation, simply enter in one item and WSIRN will offer titles that may appeal to your interests based on genre and author title.
There’s more to Life than the Internet
A recent issue of Wired listed rules for the modern Pointdexter – proper etiquette for techies in the 21st century. But while you may know the difference between a good and bad post on Twitter, how about ten hours of the day when you’re not on the internet? That’s where Rules for My Unborn Son comes in; this blog regularly posts the important lessons that’ll really help you get by in life. Rules like “Never eat lunch at your desk” and “Compliment your mom’s cooking” may be common sense for most of the world, but it’s sage advice for the unwashed masses of geeks.
Pitch a Meeting
Microsoft’s Powerpoint is truly a hassle to use when you’ve only got a few hours to put together a full blown presentation. Thankfully, free web services like Prezi offer procrastinating professionals a better way to put together some pretty creative presentations. Prezi takes about five minutes to learn and the slide show is really just one big easel. And, if you want to get super creative, there are numerous tutorials that teach you how to jazz up your presentation with animated segues and mindmapping techniques that will inspire your audience to think outside of the box. Best of all, it’s all hosted online, so you don’t have to worry about anything happening to your expense report.
Must-Read before Engaging in Mature Internet Discourse
This wiki is a comprehensive catalog of literary devices used in popular fiction, including tropes (different for clichés) used in most television shows today. Be wary, the site is a deep dive into the craft of story writing, and will change the way you enjoy books, television, and movies forever.
Stay Up to Date with the Internet
Pardon us for considering our readers to be out of touch with the latest Internet memes, but you’d be surprised to see the statistics on how many average Internet users aren’t in touch with the latest Internet fads. For this reason, Know Your Meme exists to give your friends and family all an equal chance to laugh at, or with, the Internet.
Play Flash Games in Style
What do you get when you combine time-wasting flash games, an Xbox-like achievement system, a social network and a collectable card game? You get Kongregate; the best flash game hub on the ‘net.
Instructional Videos that are Actually Coherent
From mundane tasks like washing your hair to complicated ventures like how to finance a home, Howcast hosts instructional videos that can help you get by in life. User-shared videos are well produced and get straight to the point, unlike the junk you’ll find on YouTube.
Find the Perfect Wallpaper
Interfacelift may not be the biggest desktop wallpaper site on the internet, but it is one of the best organized, with easy sorting by resolution, rating, or tag. With thousands of gorgeous photos and illustrations, available in tons of resolutions (including dual- and triple-monitor resolutions), Interfacelift is definitely worth a look next time you want to refresh your PC’s wallpaper.
Demystify Your Investments
If you’re new to investing, the stock market and other financial institutions can seem like black magic—you put some money in, some charts go up and down, and hopefully you end up richer than you started. Enter Investopedia, Forbes’ collection of definitions and articles about all things financial. Written accessibly but not condescendingly, Investopedia will leave you feeling more confident about investing in no time at all.
Paint a Pretty Picture
You don’t have to be a designer to learn how to touch up photos, create your own graphics, or conjure up fancy web buttons. Good Tutorials is one of our favorite resources for making the most out of our entire Adobe Creative Suite. Additionally, if you’ve got a knack for web design, this site can also help with CSS, Flash, Java and PHP.
Learn How to Drink in Style
Nothing says “sophistication” and/or “problem drinker” like leaving Drinkhacker open in your browser. With well-written spirits reviews and intriguing cocktail recipes, Drinkhacker’s got something to offer even the most casual drinkers.
Be a Sci-Fi Superfan
Ok, ok, so io9 is a Gawker blog, and therefore not exactly “under the radar.” Nonetheless, it’s one of the blog mega-network’s lesser known sites, and an absolute must-read for any science fiction fan (we know you’re out there). All mediums get covered — television shows, movies, books, and even comics. The editors know their Cylons from their Cardassians, and the editorials give you more to stretch your mind than typical geek debates.
Spruce Up Your Desktop
Customize.org is the biggest and best resource for pretty much any aspect of the desktop customization scene. On it, people post screenshots of their desktops, tricked out with popular apps like Litestep, Samurize and Rainlender, and share how they’re made. The site also hosts themes and skins for those apps and others, along with helpful how-to guides.
Learn a New Interesting Fact Every Day
Did you know that giraffes have the highest blood pressure of any mammal? Or that Pope John Paul II was made an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters? No? Well, if you visited the Mental_Floss blog regularly, you would. With informative posts, infuriating quizzes and an “Amazing Fact Generator,” the blog is recquired reading for wannabe smart-alecs.
Find new music, the colorful way
Musicovery is a music-finding service that’s a little different than the rest. To get music recommendations, you just specify a list of genres that you like, a timeframe, and whether you want your music calm or energetic, dark or positive. Musicovery searches up matching songs, and displays them in a color-coded map. Its library isn’t as big as some others, but the colorful visuals and unusual song selection make it worth a visit.
Glimpse into the Possible Future
Do high-concept gadgets like the Optimus Keyboard tickle your fancy? Yanko Design is a blog that focuses entirely on futuristic design concepts from studios like Art. Lebedev. The products showcased are mostly conceptual renders and may never see production, but occasionally, you’ll find a forward-thinking idea that perfectly combines form and function.
Skip the Robot, Talk to a Person
These days, calling technical support can be a real nightmare for a number of reasons: long hold times, unintelligible outsourced operators, and “Tier 1” technicians who almost inevitably know less about the product in question than you do. But the worst of all tech-support injustices is the automated frustration dispensers that companies sometime employ to put you through a labyrinth of touch-tone menus before you can talk to a real person.
But you don’t have to put up with all of that, thanks to Gethuman.com, which tells you—on a company by company basis—exactly what number to call and what buttons to press to get through to a real, human operator.
Learn to Cook like a Nerd
If you’re the type that thinks of cooking as more of a science than an art, then Cooking For Engineers is the site for you. With lots of recipes written out and photographed in excruciating detail, and interesting cooking “experiments,” this site will help you make the transition from computer nerd to kitchen nerd.
See the World’s News at a Glance
As Google News has become the single largest aggregation of local and global news, there have been several attempts to rearrange all that data into a more readable form. Newsmap.jp is one such effort, which organizes stories into a big, colorful treemap, based on category (business, technology, sport, etc) and importance, measured by the number of outlets reporting on a story.
Give it a try; it’s a surprisingly intuitive and addicting way to browse the news.
Listen to Free, Licensable Music
These days there are so many sites offering free music download (legally or illegally), that to stand out from the crowd, you need to do something unique. Magnatune is a site that does several unique things. For one: they only offer music from independent artists. Another, you can listen to any album in its entirety. Finally, Magnatune lets you license any song they offer, making an excellent resource for producers of podcasts and indie films.
Plan Your Next Trip
If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, Kayak can help you find the best deals on any trip around the world, whether it’s by plane, ship, or automobile. Kayak is a search engine that pulls information from hundreds of travel sites based on your query; you can then refine your search and choose the result that is right for you. You can also sign up for their newsletter and receive daily deals based on your airport location setting . We should mention, however, that domestic flights within the continental United States or Europe do not show up economy airliners, such as Southwest and EasyJet.
Find Out Things You Never Knew about Your Favorite Games and Movies
Eeggs.com is a directory of user-submitted easter eggs for games, movies, and TV shows. You can browse the “Eeggs” by category, date added, or by rank. There are about 4,000 Easter eggs for video games alone, so head on over and find out what you’ve been missing.
Put Some Flair on Your Blog
Play Thousands of Free, Awesome Games
“Interactive fiction” is a term used to refer to text-based adventure games which rely on clever writing and imagination, rather than fancy graphics. Although you’re probably more familiar with the classic interactive fiction games that were popular around the dawn of PC gaming, such as Zork and Adventure, there are plenty of enthusiasts still hard at work turning out new and innovative works in the genre. Ifarchive.org is the place to go to find pretty much an interactive fiction game, new or old, as well as emulators and other software needed to play them.
Listen to Music, Level Up
Tired of music sites that just let you listen to music? Wish more stuff in your life had RPG elements? Then you should definitely give TheSixtyOne.com a look. A music site with a decidedly indie slant, songs on TheSixtyOne are uploaded by artists themselves, and voted on by users. The gimmick? Whenever a song that you’ve voted for goes on to be voted for by others, you gain experience and levels. There are also achievements (such as listen to 1000 songs) and quests (for example: listen to 7 recently posted songs), so you’ll always have something to work toward.
Make Slick-Looking Web Photo Collages
Vuvox is a web app which lets you take a collection of images, videos, and song files, and turn them into a rich, scrolling web collage. A set of simple photo editing tools lets you show only the best parts of your photos, and you can add info boxes that expand when moused over. When you’ve created the perfect collage, you can embed it on your blog or other website, or pass a link around on Twitter.
Decode the Language of File Extensions
This essential website is a comprehensive database of file extensions for whenever you come across an unknown file type. The site is frequently updated, easy to browse, and even links you to freeware applications to open your cryptic files. In fact, the advocacy of free software to open documents is paramount in the site’s mission statement.
Watch TV Shows and Movies You Can’t Find on Hulu
NBC’s Hulu may be the dominant video-streaming service for legally watching TV shows and movies, but its catalogue isn’t nearly comprehensive. Rival service Crackle fills in missing shows and films owned by Sony Pictures, in case you want to watch movies like Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day. Cracke’s collection isn’t as big as Hulu’s, but there are plenty of hidden gems here (Karate Kid II, anyone?).
Insightful Gaming News without the Kotaku Crowd
Boingboing’s gaming spinoff cherry picks only the most interesting gaming links and industry news for its blog, adding insightful commentary with a little nostalgic bent to each post. It has since been put on hiatus, and former editor Brandon Boyer has deposited most of his eclectic links in a Tumblr blog. Still, Offworld’s archives are a delightful read, and it is still currently updated by the editors of Boingboing.
Also worth checking out: Rockpapershotgun.com, featuring frequent Offworld and PC Gamer UK contributors.
The Best Place to Upload Your Videos
We’ve given up all hope for Youtube. Vimeo – founded by the creators of CollegeHumor – is the premium cable equivalent of internet video. The simple upload interface, relatively quick processing times, and elegant video interface make this our preferred video hosting site. The moderated channels have high-quality content (there’s even a channel for anaglyph 3D video!), and the community has more than a single-digit lexicon.
Craiglist Gets Unstuck from 1995
Craigslist is undoubtedly the best place online marketplace to barter or trade goods, but its interface and navigation system leaves much to be desired. But since all of its content can be read through RSS feeds, you’re not forced to actually use the Craigslist site. Craiglook is a mash-up of Craiglist feeds (read through Yahoo Pipes) and Google Maps. Its location radius-based search is the site’s most useful feature, and its content is always up to date with the main Craigslist directory.
Collaborate in Real-Time without the Wave
Yes, we know everyone is excited about the potential of Google Wave as an end-all solution for real-time project collaboration. But in its Beta state, Wave is too buggy and slow to earn our recommendation. Drop.io takes a simpler approach to real-time collaboration: users share online “drop” repositories which host documents and images. We dig that Drop.io doesn’t require complicated user accounts or unnecessary social networking elements. Yahoo apparently feels the same way, and has pre-installed Drop.io’s Attach Large Files feature into every Yahoo mail account.
A Social Music Platform to Replace iTunes
Spotify is a new music service that hopes to streamline the way we both stream and purchase new music. The company was launched with the blessing of several major labels, in a refreshingly forward-thinking move on the part of the music industry. Because of this, Spotify is able to stream full, high-quality tracks from these labels without fear of retribution. Our favorite feature is the ability to create and save playlists for later. This really adds to the illusion that you now have an unlimited music library on your computer. While Spotify is not yet available for US residents, we await its stateside debut with bated breath.
Respect Your Gadget’s Ancestors
This darling Tumblr blog preaches the kind of nostalgia that techies can really appreciate. Author Anna Jane Grossman recounts the simpler days of pay phones, Polaroid photos, and pocket calculators. If you’re ever suffering from shiny gadget overload, take a breath and calm yourself in the Obsolete blog’s welcoming analog arms.
Tech News from a Different Perspective
Wired UK’s website is a great example of an international publication that puts out fine content that’s distinct from its US counterpart. Sure, some news and blog posts cover the same topics as the stateside edition, but the perspective is just as elucidating and fresh. Plus, it’s the only place you’ll find the musings of acclaimed futurist and comic book writer Warren Ellis.
Advanced Crafting for Hobbyists
Like to get your hands dirty? Makezine’s blog is a treasure trove of links to geeky craft projects found all over the web. From circuit bending tutorials to D-I-Y robots, you’ll find all sorts of nifty projects that’ll get your inner inventor stirring. And even if you’re not the hacking type, the linked projects are a joy to read.
Find any PDF Reference Manual
This search engine is dedicated to indexing PDF files scattered all over the web. It’s extremely useful for finding technical manuals that you might have thrown away without having to dig through the original manufacturer’s website. It’s also great for finding ebooks and obscure academic documents.
Because Not Everyone Uses Helvetica
In the days of yore, font-recognition software was expensive and didn’t work particularly well. Lucky for us, what once cost a lot of money is now available free on the web. Point your browser to WhatTheFont, upload an image featuring the font in question, and the service will give you a list of matching fonts, usually including some free options. For bonus points, font nerds can test their knowledge by trying to identify the difference between Arial and Helvetica in common logos.
Get Your Sci-Fi Short Story Fix
If you’re a science fiction and fantasy aficionado, this site is for you. A free membership to this publisher’s site gets you access to exclusive ebooks, and casual browsers can still dive into a wealth of short stories, comics, art, and its delightful blog.
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