Each year, in compiling our daily headlines, we view and read approximately two zillion websites. Some are funny. Some help us understand parts of our lives and our world in new ways. Some, like Twitter, or pornography, make us want to smash our computers—and then Twitter about it:
computer smashed, phone still works, headlines up within the hour 06:19 AM May 24, 2007 from txt
We enjoy using the internet and we love to see people write, design, and invent interesting things that push its boundaries. We appreciate excellence. Here are this year’s awards for outstanding excellence on the internet.
Favorite Way to Wake Up Smarter
We admit, since Eric Umansky departed Slate’s “Today’s Papers” feature, we haven’t given his replacement Daniel Politi a chance. We were big Umansky fans; we wept, we unpinned from the wall Blessed Umansky trading cards. Around the same time, Time redesigned its website and launched a TP clone called “The Ag,” edited by Matthew Yeomans, and now we are converted. “The Ag” rivals “Today’s Papers’” glory days: a useful, well-written summary of the news from multiple perspectives, with a slightly longer memory for news stories than possessed by most anchors. Yeomans’s personality may not yet show through the way Umansky’s did, nor possess the same dedication (and petulant zeal) to pinning scarlet letters when editors go astray—but he likes celebrity gossip, and we like his consistent publishing time of around 6 a.m. EST.
» The Ag
Favorite Use of Web-based Capabilities, News
It’s the goal of journalism to provide an accurate portrayal of the news; we believe that for news agencies’ interactive desks, the goal should also be to explain that news in ways neither pulp nor video can: self-paced, intuitive, but without any loss of detail. No online news source in recent memory has done as fine a job of streamlining a massive amount of content into a usable format than the New York Times Online’s interactive map/timeline of the Virginia Tech shootings. This chronological depiction of the day’s events, told through deceptively simple graphics and copy, gives readers an exceptionally deep understanding of how the tragedy unfolded within the layout of the Virginia Tech campus and buildings. All that, and it was posted within a day of when the story first broke.
Favorite Foreign Affairs Grocery Bag
It’s not enough that Foreign Policy has replaced certain TMN editors’ Atlantic Monthly subscriptions (heresy to one editor, who declared the most recent Atlantic “the best ever”), Passport, its editors’ blog, has also become a daily addiction. Linking and explaining global stories big and small, Passport transmits a populist bent, but also satisfies specific joneses with links to whitepapers, obscure studies, and corruption scandals we’d otherwise miss. We throw the gauntlet in the direction of the Atlantic, specifically James Bennet’s gleaming scalp: Make 2007 the year you stop extending blogspot functionality to a few hallowed names and really embrace the medium, otherwise FP may garner this award twice.
Published since 2005, Neatorama’s daily posts nearly identically match our interests: amusing diagrams, teenage mountain climbers, one-story skyscrapers. As New York told Chance in the I Love New York finale, “You and me, Chance, we are exact.” Fresh links, regular posting, eclectic taste. We’ve been reading for a long time, then realized, wow, we read this every day—which, given the amount of consistent dreck on the internet and particularly on blogs, is saying something.
Favorite Format for Snubbing iTunes’s TV Stranglehold
Though still requiring an “invitation” to watch, Joost just may live up to its promise of providing “the new way of watching TV.” Essentially a Napster for television, or a not-just-for-nerds alluc, with Joost you’re watching programs on demand in decent, full-screen resolution as soon as you launch the application. And though the programming is more eclectic than excellent for the moment—selections from Comedy Central, Vh2, National Geographic—it’s no worse than your 300 channels of cable schlock.
Favorite Ways to Fly by the Seat of Our Pants
There hasn’t been a trip we’ve planned in the past year without first checking the airfare predictions at Farecast, whose trove of airline data encased in a slick user interface proves that when you buy makes all the difference in price—though earlier isn’t always better. On the other hand, when you need to get out of town fast, SkyScanner tells you the best fares for anything, anywhere, within a chosen month. No questions asked.
Favorite Way to Keep it Simple, Stupid
There are nifty internet solutions, such as HopStop, for navigating New York City—and then there are clever ones: those that are simple, obvious, and when it comes down to it, irreplaceable. SmallTown Brooklyn’s clickable block-by-block maps present Brooklynites with borough businesses in the way they know it best—not by name or address, but from the walker’s perspective, by block and street. Sure, it could be made to be nifty, with scrollable Ajax maps or by building in some kind of social network, but why snap your browser in half when you just want to find out the name of that little Laundromat on Sixth Ave?
Favorite Software for Making Macs Work as Great as They Look
We’re not saying David Watanabe has developed certain kinds of software that some people might view as illicit or lacking in wholly legal purposes. What we are saying is that he’s taken that technology and made it work really well for those of us who prefer to use Macs, but tire of being two years behind the PC hordes. Recent releases include Inquisitor—which makes Safari work almost, but not quite as well as Firefox—and XTorrent—best used for sharing movies such as your cousin’s kindergarten graduation and other uncopyrighted works.
Favorite Mp3 Blog, Lifetime Achievement Award
When the music industry’s copyright police ship off the last of the mp3 bloggers to a maximum security prison in Greenland, it’s for Said the Gramophone that we’ll hold our candlelight vigil. Their smart insights on music you’ve never heard, but swear you’d been meaning to hear, prove music writing doesn’t have to be a string of unconvincing adverbs. StG’s mp3 choices are wide-ranged yet well-rounded: gawking at weird musical ephemera; hooting about the newest, greatest sounds; rediscovering past gems with a dash of personal storytelling. They effectively paint life through music, and—for the music lovers among us—isn’t that how we listen?
Favorite Internet-Spawned Book Deal
We’ve promoted Maira Kalman’s “Principles of Uncertainty” column—a monthly whimsical, philosophical, and inimitable illustrated column on life, hats, and cake—since it began as the best reason to subscribe to the New York Times’s TimesSelect program. Now that it’s on hiatus, our flags have lowered, but there’s news that not only will the column be reborn, but there’s also a book in the works. Kalman deserves the world. Truly, the Times didn’t know what to do with her material (“Let’s make it in Flash!” “No, let’s do like the New Yorker and animate!” “Wait, why not just make the page background black?!” “Done!”), and it doesn’t matter: She’s simply too good.
Favorite Heir to the Throne of John Peel
If you believe the internet only started mattering once it was “monetized,” stop reading now. We can’t be responsible for the damage you’ll wreck upon your 42-inch LCD cinema displays. Because why, you might ask, would anyone record exclusive sessions and interview today’s best independent artists and bands, then post the results alongside original illustrations—for free? That’s exactly what Daytrotter does, out of a love for bringing together so many artistic media under one beautiful canopy. Truly the best of the musical web.
Favorite Way to Get Our Dialect On
We’ve been meaning to learn Spanish for años, but the problem with most audio language lessons is that, except for the parts in another language, the hosts’ monotone dialogue kicks in our ADD. Not so with Mark and Kara, the charming hosts at Coffee Break Spanish. Because they’re Scottish—and therefore have the world’s most appealing accents—the parts in English and en español are never a bore. Additional reading is available via download for those students who want an enriched listening experience, but the lessons are so well-designed that you won’t lose out if you choose only the bare-bones path the first time around. Though it feels like a best-in-class approach to language lessons, we have to wonder—now that we’re finally speaking Spanish, are we’re doing so with a Scottish accent? Not that we’d mind.
Favorite Listening Station: Mp3 Blog of the Year
When we want to hear exceptional new music—not just anything, but stuff selected by people with respectable eardrums—we go to Gorilla vs. Bear. Their music recommendations have all but supplanted the need to ever walk into a record store again—though not because of the bevy of mp3s. GvsB’s picks are knowledgeable yet friendly; they want you to hear it because they love it. And if another blogger found it first, they’re only too happy to give credit where it’s due. Surly music store clerks beware.
Favorite Virtual Mixed-Doubles Partners
We love seeing the blog format used intelligently by big publishers: appropriately modeled after a magazine’s purpose rather than pelleted from the masthead. Tennis has done it well with its male and female versions of Ready, Set, Goal. Featuring two engaging amateur tennis players, Joe in San Jose, Calif., and Kellie in Olathe, Kan., the blogs document their progress as each tries to reach a big goal in the course of a year, enlisting experts and readers to help them along. Fun reading when it’s raining and you can’t get to the courts yourself.
Favorite Way to Ready a Menu for Vegan Friends
A vegan diet may not be for everyone, but lots of our friends enjoy it, and we enjoy having them over for dinner. Enter What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway? With delicious menus and recipes, and photographs of the finished products, it’s a good resource for when a vegan comes to town—hell, it’s a good resource when you want a tasty dinner.
Favorite Forks Poking into a Whole Lotta Food
We hate the way food and cooking have been sold as a separate culture, understood only by the dedicated, replete with stylists and snobby wonks and glamour—but Serious Eats is fun, informed, and fair-minded. And it’s no amateur production: a social network, a content producer to rival Rachael Ray, a video haberdashery of trends in cooking and food. It all smells fishily like a bid for a buyout—but who are we to knock ambition? We can’t blame them for the company they keep; if anything, we award them for producing such high-quality work. We just hope they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Favorite Web Phenomenon, Soon-to-Be Culinary Celebrity, Web Bucket-Spitter
There was a time when Gary would introduce each Wine Library TV (WLTV) episode with a taciturn, conversational “Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of Wine Library TV. I’m your host, Gary Vaynerchuk,” and then he’d get right into the material. These days, he’s out to lacerate you with syllables, and we, along with several thousand others, are game to be spittled-upon. From humble beginnings begin great careers: Not long ago Gary was managing his father’s wine shop, and now (sources tell us) he’s turning down big offers to transplant his humble web magic to the cable airwaves. Recently partnered with TMN-friend Corkd.com, WLTV is everything the Food Network can’t manage to program: a show about wine with an extremely likeable host who’s not only a well-rounded expert but also a lot of genuine fun (and isn’t shilling his 14th cookbook). If you like wine, and you like your media untouched by a dozen marketing groups’ hands, welcome to the Vayniacs.
Favorite Self-picking (Movie) Brain
A goldmine to aspiring Robert Townes, screenwriter John August documents the movie writer’s life, and shares his own pratfalls and the lessons he’s learned. We’d like to suggest a site slogan: “Making mincemeat of Joe Esterhaus’s self-help-book career, one post at a time.”
Favorite Use of Celebrity Online
Sure, people spend too much time online laughing at celebrities’ genitals—but what if there were celebrities who were also bloggers, and what if their blogs were also worthwhile? Would you laugh at a blogger’s genitals? OK, bad argument. But the point stands that Mindy Kaling (Kelly from The Office), the proprietress of Things I’ve Bought That I Love, and crazed Dodgers fan Alyssa Milano, who channels George F. Will into her heart-warming baseball blog, Touch ‘Em All, bring the honesty and expertise in droves, and that makes for some compelling reading.
Favorite Vault of Obscurity
Packed with 18th-century lithographs of giants and rope-dancers, and diagrams that explain architectural styles you never understood—all presented by a curator who prefers to let the images do the talking—BibliOdyssey is the internet equivalent of that store that smells funny, located in that alley you can never seem to find. Remember this one in a few years, when you’re charged with designing the gig poster for a Decemberists cover band.
Favorite Reason for the Internet to Exist
When we first saw Indexed, we figured it would never last—it just seemed too good, a web geek’s one-off destined for two minutes on Digg. How happy to learn we were wrong. Jessica Hagy draws simple diagrams of complex relationships onto index cards, then scans them in. That’s it. However, who else would think of documenting that iffy space between whales, fishy smells, and extravagant shows otherwise known as Sea World or a Las Vegas Casino? Perhaps our favorite site on the internet, bar none.