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The best websites in the world…ever. Vol.1

Alex Christie

29 September 2008

This is the first in a series of blogs written by everyone who works at Tamar. Everyone will talk about their 3 favourite sites, or sites that they use on a regular basis, and explain why these are their favourite sites. I was quite excited when asked to list my three favourite web-sites. I knew that each individual in the company is going to do the same so I’ve gotten in here first because I think a couple of people might cite these sites as well, but that’s fine they’ll have their own reasons for citing them.

The other reason that I’m quite keen to go first is that I was really late in getting on board with the whole web 2.0 social networking thing but, without really taking advantage of the social networking aspects, two of them are in my top three. So, what are my top three sites?

flickr.com
last.fm
google.com

Now I know that last one is a bit contentious and obvious but I’ll do my best to explain exactly why it’s there.

Lets start with flickr. In case you don’t know flickr is a photo sharing site which allows you to upload and organise all your photos. It allows you to do all the standard stuff like adding friends, adding comments and control who can view the photos you’ve uploaded. It’s got some very nice tools to help you organise your photos and the interface is clean and uncluttered.

The reason I really love flickr is that there’s no maximum capacity to my account – I can really get all my photos up there! The only limitation is that you’re only allowed to upload a certain amount per month, however I was so happy with my whole experience with the tools and the interface that I upgraded to the ‘pro’ package meaning that the monthly allowance became irrelevant to my level of usage. As well as the increased bandwidth, with a pro package flickr allows you to retrieve your pictures in their original size.

What this all means is that I now have a permanent off site backup for my pictures, and lets face it, what are you really going to cry about if your entire digital life goes up in flames? I could go on about the other reasons for picking flickr, like the great community (never thought I’d say that) but the final reason I’d like to state is their API.

They have invested a lot of time and effort in providing a programmable interface that’s easy to use and useful. I’ll talk about one of it’s uses when talking about last.fm but more importantly it means that, should my digital life go up in flames, with just a few lines of code I can get my entire library of photos back onto my hard drive. Awesome.

Speaking of awesome: last.fm is the other social networking site on my list but relates to music instead of photos. You can start using it straight away by going to the site and typing into the text box the name of an artist or group/act  that you like and the site will then start streaming music to you, similar to your entry.

How does this work, you may wonder? Well it’s based on a process called Audio-scrobbling: basically you download an application to your desk top, it scans your iTunes (or other) library and then creates a profile based on how many times you’ve played each song.

The application will then automatically open when you listen to music to update your profile. From here the site determines recommendations based on what other people who have similar music tastes like, and I’ve found these to be surprisingly good. There are a lot of the usual social media features but here they make more sense, e.g: having a group for your favourite record label means you get streamed music by that record label – and it really works!

Here’s a great example of why I love the internet and why I’ve singled out these two sites. I really like a record label called Tru-Thoughts, they signed a band call the Hot 8 Brass Band which I also really like. A user of last.fm created an ‘event’ and this got recommended to me and I bought tickets for the gig and had a great time. Whilst I was there I took a few pictures which I then uploaded to flickr with a predetermined tag. This meant that last.fm was able to import the pictures into the events page, genius! http://www.last.fm/event/624755

Now finally on to Google: it’s not my favourite site for search – I don’t have a favourite search site, it’s a necessary evil. No, I’ve picked Google because all their web-apps are free, things like Reader (for RSS), Gmail and Google docs. I use all of these apps frequently and many of them are ‘gadgets’ in my iGoogle homepage.

If I travelled more frequently I know I’d have another reason to champion the Gears app. Gears gets added to your browser and allows you to use the applications off-line. As much as there may be doubts about Google and that there is potential for them to do very bad things with all the data they collect, they seem ok to me. Either way, I believe it is the responsibility of the user what information they make available to any website.

I highly recommend all the sites I’ve reffered to here, they’re really good illustrations of the evolution of the web and why I love it!

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