I probably get asked at least once a week for a list of the sites that I like or visit regularly. I get the feeling people must think I have stumbled on to a few super-secret sites that act as my muse. I also get the feeling they’re a little surprised when I finally get around to telling them which sites I like and why.
This weekend, I received an e-mail from someone in the UK who posed that very familiar question to me. After writing a fairly lengthy e-mail in response, I decided to post parts of it here. Though I also added and tweaked a few things to that initial response, as well.
So here it is, a look at the sites I visit and other general ramblings regarding my own pesonal web activity … as of Oct. 30, 2006.
My favorite newspaper site in the US — other than the sites we’ve built 😉 — is roanoke.com.
I like that site a lot because the folks there do such a good job on so many fronts: they seem to keep the site updated all the time with local news, it’s a news site that actually embraces the things that make the Internet such a great medium (from both technological and content perspectives), they’re always trying new things like video podcasts, and they’re not afraid of showing some personality.
There are lots of other news sites doing interesting things, but — at least in my mind — roanoke.com clearly tries harder, or at least does it better. That site just seems a little more nimble than most other newspaper sites in the US.
But I don’t visit roanoke.com every day. I try to check in on it every few weeks to see what they’re up to. The reason I don’t visit the site more often than that is because it is clearly a local site for its local community, and I really have no ties or reasons to care what’s happening in Roanoke on a daily basis … other than that there is a badass newspaper site there.
The sites that I do visit on a daily basis tend to be more about things that I love or am interested in, which I think makes me a fairly typical Internet user. For the most part, these aren’t the most technologically advanced sites or even super well-designed sites, but I like them because they have the stuff that I want.
OK, this usually surprises people, but I’m a huge Disney nut. And I visit several Disney fan sites and blogs whenever I can — which amounts to at least once or twice a day.
My current favorite Disney sites are wdwmagic.com (the discussion forums in the middle of homepage are really great and very informative, and there are lots of insanely recent photos posted there, but newbies need to be careful what they post because some of the regulars — though very knowledgable — can be mean); jimhillmedia.com has more long-form posts from a few folks with seemingly inside ties that mix news with opinion and speculation; and thedisneyblog.com is more of a traditional blog that links to other interesting things on the Web.
The laughingplace.com and mouseplanet.com also are good sites, but I don’t get to them as much as I’d like. I also really like a Disney themepark history blog called the Pickle Barrel, which can be found at perkypickle.blogspot.com.
What I’m guessing many people just noticed is what I didn’t list: I don’t visit any of the official Disney sites or any “traditional” news sites for updated information on the company. The fan blogs do a much better job of talking about the company than the official sites do. And if a “traditional” news organization runs an interesting story on Disney, then the fan blogs are all over it, so it’s much easier to just visit them each day than it is to run searches on traditional news sites for that sort of info.
Disney used to produce a killer (and official) weekly podcast about its theme parks. Yes, it had a lot of promotional stuff in there, but it also was very informative and gave lots of behind-the-scenes insight with tons of interesting interviews. That Disney podcast went on hiatus for several months and just returned. It is now being produced by different folks at the company. The new version has much slicker production values, but it’s changed from something truly informative and useful to something that seems much more akin to an infomercial. My guess is that I will keep subscribing to it, but it sure ain’t what it used to be, and the most-recent episode wasn’t even encoded correctly to work on an iPod. 😦
Speaking of podcasts, I subscribe to lots of them because they allow me to take in the things that I’m interested in on my terms and schedule. My current favorite podcast is nothing more than the audio from a daily sports show on ESPN called PTI (Pardon the Interruption). Even though it is originally a television show, it works surprisingly well as just audio. Maybe even better.
In a related note, I also download my favorite television show (NBC’s Studio 60) from iTunes each week for many of the same reasons that I like the PTI podcast — having the show on my iPod means I can watch it whenever and where ever I want.
I really believe newspapers need to be doing more with podcasts. In Naples, we put a lot of effort into them. They were moderately successful, but my guess is that it’s still going to take a little longer for podcasts to really catch on with larger audiences. My gut tells me that “on-demand” multimedia programming is really going to be popular. Just ask anyone who owns a Tivo or has a cable DVR. It definitely changes how — and when — they watch TV.
BTW … I think ESPN.com is very, very good for many of the same reasons that I outlined for roanoke.com. ESPN.com really pushes things and seems fearless when it comes to trying new things. I don’t know how the rest of the public feels about it, but I love the video player on the ESPN.com homepage, and I probably end up watching an entire clip directly from their homepage at least two or three times a week.
I love the Kansas City Royals baseball team even though they completely suck. The team’s official site (done by MLB.com) is surprisingly good, especially in regards to being updated all of the time, along with all of the cool extras that I like on sites. Plus, they hired my favorite Royals beat writer away from the Kansas City Star newspaper, so now I can still read his stuff. An interesting note about this is that at the bottom of every one of his stories is this blurb: “This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.”
I wish they’d do more with team-specific podcasting on the MLB.com site, and I hate that they charge for game updates to be sent to mobile phones. To get around that, I use the cell-phone live-game updates service from sportsanywhere.com. It works great and is free.
I use Google news and Yahoo news more than I should because they’re so good at giving you a quick and easy snapshot of what’s currently happening in the US and world. Plus, I love the info on technology and the latest gadgets that are on those sites.
Because I just moved to the DC area, and because I used to get lost in Topeka when I lived there, I use Google maps almost everyday. I love that you can send your mobile phone text messages of addresses directly from the Google maps pages. That’s handy and practical.
I also use the Google news e-mail search alerts a lot. I have daily search alerts set up for things like “real estate naples” which is a big one since my family is trying to sell a home there that never will sell, “jayhawks” so that I can keep tabs on my beloved team, as well as a few others related to things that interest me. We implemented something similar to this on naplesnews.com when folks searched our archives, and I’ve always thought more newspapers should offer this sort of “persistent” search functionality. Man, is it useful.
I probably visit technorati.com at least once every day. I think it’s such a great site for seeing what bloggers are writing about each day.
And I love youtube.com. If there is a video from an old band that I love, it’s likely they will have lots of videos on youtube.com. Plus, it’s just got a lot of entertaining stuff on there. I don’t think I’ve ever visited youtube.com to be informed. When I visit youtube, I’m usually going there to be entertained and to kill some time.
Well, that’s it. Or at least that’s all I can think of as of right now. 🙂