With staff dotted across multiple time zones, two-a-day headlines batches, and poor conversation skills, you can be assured that whenever you’re on the internet, we’re there too. Over the course of all that browsing, we run across sites and services that inspire, that become instantly indispensable, or that are inexplicably awesome. Here are the ones that earned a special place in our bookmarks this year.
Favorite Magazine Redesign Supporting Maximalist Principles
Since the Moss era dawned, New York magazine has brought heat: the best design of any weekly on the block, and a startling attention to zillion-izing the little things. You talk to magazine art departments, and no one understands quite how New York does it, generating that many goddamn graphics every week. Now their website’s picked up the fever. Usability be damned: so much overload, you’re afraid to click on anything. And we love it. But now that Elle and Cookie are challenging the print version for top design billing, what websites in 2008 will bring the snuff?
Favorite Way of Avoiding HTML Headaches
Billing itself as “The Weekly Newsletter You Print Out at Work,” The New-York Ghost, in fact, operates on a much deeper level—and not just its content, which contains peppery bites like realizing you’re dreaming when reading an interview with Bill Cosby and noticing “The Times decided to print Cosby’s phone number, just as they do the number of every interview subject.” By offering each issue through email only, what the Ghost has managed to do—unlike many of its web compatriots—is turn the expectation of content into the thrill of finding a new issue in your inbox. It works just like, you know, a real magazine.
Favorite Reincarnation of Merv Griffin
With Soft Focus on VBS.tv, former Nation of Ulysses, Make-Up, and Weird War vocalist Ian Svenonius puts a new notch in his C.V.: music interviewer. Dressed in a natty jacket and tie, Svenonius’s sharp cultural criticism shines in the interview format; his questions illuminate the careers of his interviewees—which include Henry Rollins, Mark E. Smith, and Ian MacKaye—while dazzling his subjects with facts and opinions about their music that, oftentimes, the musicians themselves had never considered. Finally: music interviews by a devotee, for fellow devotees.
Favorite Look at Web 2.5
Leave it to last year’s TMN Eddy award winner (and this year’s Tournament of Books judge) Ze Frank to wow us again. Attention entrepreneurs: Colorwars is what the web’s next wave will look like: Twitter-fied mob jollies, or, Improv Everywhere applied to Web 2.0. That’s Ze for you: putting the fun back into the web ever since he did that stupid dance (which, yes, we’re old enough to remember linking as it was memed).
Favorite Call for Freedom Answered
Who didn’t want to read The Atlantic for free online? Well, they heard your call and answered it, and now America’s best monthly magazine is available to be scanned, parsed, printed, and downloaded in entirety—hell, it may even inspire you to pick up an airport copy now and then.
Favorite Online Radio Show to Feature W.A.L.E.
But we should start, it’s not just W.A.L.E.: it’s practically every band, every rapper, every musician Mark Ronson plunks down on his weekly online radio set that sets the international buzz thermostat (if you like pop music with trumpets), and helps Ronson keep his indie cred when he’s not DJing Tom Cruise’s wedding. Aside from when Ronson’s away on tour and his friends guest-DJ their too-cool-for-listeners sets, it’s fresh, fun, and apt to send you off to iTunes or the Hype Machine to find tracks. All hail Authentic Shit.
Favorite Comedy Podcast
Remember when Ricky Gervais had a podcast that was decent, and we all crowed, and we all laughed? The Bugle is about 18 times better. The world’s only audio newspaper, The Bugle features John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, two Brits separated by the Atlantic Ocean, mocking the week in news. Look for episodes featuring “The American,” and always keep an ear out at the beginning of each show when they discuss the bits that were chucked in the bin prior to recording.
Favorite Second Best Thing in the World
That iPhone you got sure is cool—it’s like having the whole internet in your pocket! It’s all the computer you really need—unless you need a computer that can copy and paste. It’s true that a function prevalent in word processing applications in 1985 is not available on the iPhone. (To be fair, when you turned those word processors on their sides you couldn’t flip through tiny album covers.) Taking us part of the way to copy-and-paste nirvana through the iPhone is Instapaper—but be warned that it’s only part of the way. View a web page on your computer, save it to your Instapaper web page, then view that page on your iPhone, which is where the killer-appness happens—every page you save is viewable as text-only; removing all those cumbersome graphics and functionality means you can surf even the most 2G of networks.
Favorite Harbingers of the Future
When the original iMac was introduced 10 years ago, the grousing went that you couldn’t have a computer without a floppy drive; when the MacBook Air was unveiled in January, the hordes looked up from their iMacs and proclaimed a computer without a CD drive would be a hard sell at least. Yet as the internet’s tubes fill more and more of our hard-drive space, we have to wonder: When it’s so easy to keep acquiring data, what’s the point of saving it? With the play-most-any-song feature at Last.fm, and proof-of-model HDTV replacement Hulu.com, the hard drive’s departure has just been signaled.
Favorite Pop Travel Magazines
You know when you want that New York Times travel section voice—all light and bouncy, but without all the Condé Nast Traveler adverbs—but with a bit more authenticity, a bit more reliability when it comes to picking clubs in Bogota? We turn to Vagabondish and Monocle, depending on the mood. Will this trip be more backpacker-bobo, more couchsurfing and beer? Or are we taking in a design exhibit while reading the Journal, post-espresso? Either way, we’re covered, either with Vagabondish’s insightful local-perspective stories, or Monocle’s downloadable 25/25 city guides.
Favorite Very Good Thing
Not every award we give is for the best of something, the ultimate of something, the end-all-be-all of internet kebabs. Sometimes it’s just something small and very good: for example, These Today, the nicest way we’ve seen in a while for being pointed to a few interesting things each day. Part of our regular reading, and likely to become part of yours. But where’s the Facebook widget?
Favorite Helping Hand When in Content Quicksand
A friend once pointed to a foot-tall stack of New Yorkers in his apartment and said he was a few months behind, but was determined to read every article. A praiseworthy effort, for sure, but not everyone has that kind of fortitude. For us, skimming the issue and reading only the articles that beckon is enough; and thanks to the now sadly defunct Brijit, we don’t even have to do that. This service presents a 100-word abstract (with a rating!) of every article from a bevy of magazines, helping you decide if the article is worth the time investment. Alternately, you could read only the abstracts, get dressed up, and remnick cocktail-party conversations all night long.
Favorite Informational Criticism Graphics
Infographics as a humor trope have been well explored, but infographics that inform while serving up smart music criticism—and with consistent typography? That’s when you dial up Emo+Career=Busted Career. Recent favorites include a track-by-track comparison of Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs and Bedhead’s Beheaded and a graphically enthusiastic re-review of Destroyer’s Trouble in Dreams.
Favorite Blog to Embrace All That’s Smart
You try combining gossip stories with contemporary poetry with thought pieces on Chris Farley. Three Quarks Daily apparently took the same classes as us in college, subscribes to the same obscure science magazines, obsesses about Top Chef at similar pitch. Hell, if Steven Pinker and David Byrne—and TMN—all love it, why say no?
Favorite Sign This Internet Thing Is Going to Work After All
Until the internet can outdo the real world, it will be, at best, a second-best experience: the jeans don’t fit, to return will cost more than the shipping, the eBay seller stole your identity, etc. Yet based on stories scattered across the past year, Zappos is fast making a better-than-first-life interaction possible online. The online shoe retailer, already renown for its forgiving return policies, is becoming equally known for its inspiring practices. The wave of good feeling began with a single post from a customer grieving the death of her mother (also covered here):
When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s going against corporate policy.
Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos.