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The top 10 Web sites you never heard of
Chris Dannen and April Joyner, FastCompany.com | February 21, 2008
The Internet is even more useful than you think. As more and more programmers and developers race to create the next killer app, some end up gaining momentum while others haven't quite caught on yet. We've slogged through the undiscovered masses to bring you ten websites that are informative, handy, or simply downright cool -- before they enter the zeitgeist.
There are plenty of dating sites out there, but they all focus on finding compatibility based on users' profiles -- not necessarily on personalities. This site offers blind dates at public places in your neighborhood in the following major cities: New York, Austin, Boston, and San Francisco (with more cities coming soon). The dates can be arranged on short notice -- as soon as tonight even -- without even viewing a profile or image for your date. It's the closest thing to a matchmaking friend you'll ever find online.
Better than: Pining over profiles pictures on Facebook.
Being well-read might not be your biggest priority, but it comes in handy during dinner conversations. Luckily, there's DailyLit. The site offers both classics and contemporary titles, all provided in quick-reading installments that can be sent to you either via e-mail or RSS. Since most of the classics are in the public domain, they're free; newer titles are available for purchase. So, the next time the conversation turns to the genius of Herman Melville, you can join in.
Better than: Lugging around real books.
While a glut of applications help you organize appointments on a calendar, there's a lot of activity in your daily life that doesn't fit neatly into your calendar's time slots. Not good at remembering to print out your flight confirmation code?
Send a message to Sandy, and she'll remind you in a daily digest, in a text message, or as an event on your calendar. Using e-mail, SMS, Twitter, or Jott, you can set up and receive reminders for appointments, contacts, lists, and random information. And, true to her human-like presence on the site, "Sandy" speaks and understands plain English -- just like a real personal assistant.
Better than: Paying a real Sandy who needs sick days.
Cocktail Party Physics
Physics probably doesn't come to mind as a conversation starter, let alone an icebreaker in a room full of unacquainted guests. But in this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations. Blogger Jennifer Ouelette makes science and technology engaging enough for 2,000 word posts. Now, that's a feat.
Better than: Trying to impress the in-laws with your martini capacity.
Newsmap is an amazing graphical representation of the constantly-changing headlines on Google News. By relying on something called a "treemap algorithm" to aggregate news, Newsmap uses space to translate the importance of a story; in other words, more popular and important stories appear larger, while less important ones appear smaller. It also connects news stories by theme, using a variety of colors to represent categories.
Better than: Sorting through RSS feeds.
You have no excuse for not keeping your New Year's resolution now that you can take that jog almost everywhere you go. Run.com, a user-generated database of running routes all over the world, uses Google Maps mashups, allowing runners to look up routes in their area and choose them by length, difficulty, scenery and other user-rated criteria.
Business travelers who want to keep in shape on the road will be glad to find routes in all 50 states, as well as in dozens of foreign countries. The site is still in beta, so look for more routes to come.
Better than: Getting purposely lost just to mix up your running routine.
MakeUseOf is a tech blog that even laymen can understand. While early adopters follow delve into the tiniest details about Web technologies, most Web surfers only want the highlights of the latest developments. MakeUseOf offers just that, in considerably de-geeked language.
The tech-savvy aren't left out, though: in the "Geeky Fun" section, the initiated will find plenty of fodder for hearty laughs.
Better than: Trawling through techno-babble blogs for something free, cool and useful.
Try this: write directions for tying your shoes, or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's not as easy as it seems; some things are best demonstrated, not written. That's what makes the 5min "videopedia" invaluable. It's a site featuring short videos that provide solutions or instructions for common and practical issues, like how to insulate your house or how to teach your dog to sit.
None of the videos are longer than five minutes, and they're all user-generated, making 5min a kind of instructional video version of Wikipedia.
Better than: Reading About.com.
With so many mobile phones on the market, it's hard to keep up and know which one is right for you. That's the logic behind TryPhone, a fully functioning interactive phone-testing site where you walk through all the common features of the phone you're considering buying in glorious, high-resolution interactivity. The site also contains user reviews, specifications, product photos and links for purchasing.
Better than: The dummy devices at cell phone stores.
If you ever find yourself sucked in by the occasional History Channel special, you'll quickly get lost in Damn Interesting, a blog that writes long-form historical summaries of just about anything that's, well... damn interesting. Read about the bizarre saga of the trans-siberian railroad, or the story of the failed invention of wireless electricity. If you're in need of an engaging academic time-waster, you've found it.
Better than: The "Random Article" link on Wikipedia