Eight Great Sites to Help You Get More Out of the Net

When I talk to people about the Internet I’m often surprised to find that while they’re savvy about some parts of it they know little of others. For that reason I think it’s worthwhile to suggest a handful of sites you might want to consider using.

I do this knowing that some of you will look at my suggestions and say they’re incomplete, or ignore some better sites, or my reasoning for including them is all wrong. Fine, I say, include your own list in the comments, and maybe together we can expand our knowledge of the Net.

I’ll start by saying I’m not including the search engines or social media sites, as they are too obvious. I am going to include other obvious sites, but only if I have a less-obvious reason for using them. All are free, or free but offer premium upgrades.

  1.  Lifehacker (lifehacker.com): I love this site for its silliness and for its seriousness, but most of all for its obsessiveness. It’s a site obsessed with making life easier, one little kitchen-organization or computing or duct-tape trick at a time.

    Sometimes it borders on parodying itself, but I’m always picking up truly useful tidbits ranging from how to store my earbuds so they won’t tangle, to how to “jailbreak” my iPhone, to how to make better coffee using an AeroPress. As I write this there are pieces on “Make a sleep plan to help you lose weight” and on “Write sauce and salad recipes on squeeze bottles for easy duplication.”

  2. Mashable (mashable.com): Describing itself as “social media news,” Mashable is full of geeky info bits that by themselves are super-interesting trivia but when put together can give you a picture of social trends. Pieces on the site as I write include “The History of Email,” an infographic marking the 40th anniversary of email’s invention; “NBC omits ‘under God’ from U.S. Pledge, ignites controversy”; and “How dad’s music indicates what you listen to today,” another infographic.

  3. Yelp (yelp.com): This is an obvious site to many, but I’m always surprised to find there still are a number of people who haven’t heard of it. Yelp is a “crowd sourced” guide to businesses, and in particular restaurants. Any given restaurant may have dozens or even hundreds of user reviews written about it, including photos of the place and the food. Any one review is not reliable, but taken as a whole, the reviews are useful. It’s a great way to discover new restaurants or to find something good to eat near where you happen to be (with the mobile app).

  4. Evernote (evernote.com): This isn’t a website so much as a Web-oriented application. Evernote, essentially a free-form searchable database for keeping lists, Web clippings, musings or anything else you can think of, is one of the most useful apps on my computer and iPhone. Using the extensions it offers for various Web browsers, I can clip an article and file it in seconds. I use it to collect and organize information for articles I write. I use it to keep track of what size water filter my refrigerator uses when I need to replace it. I use it for Christmas lists. You can manage all the information through the website or, better, through native apps available for Mac, PC and mobile phones that all sync with the website.

  5. Yahoo (bookmarks.yahoo.com) or Google Bookmarks (bookmarks.google.com): Have you ever surfed the Web and run across a page that you thought could be useful later? You could save the URL to Evernote, but even better are the bookmark sites offered by Yahoo and Google.

    Why not just save them to your computer? Because computers crash, or you upgrade your Web browser and for some reason the bookmarks don’t follow the upgrade seamlessly. Because you might want a cached copy of the page you bookmarked. Because you want to be able to search for the bookmark when you can’t remember how you filed it. Both sites offer easy import and export, and both offer “bookmarklets” – code you can use to create a “Bookmark it” shortcut button on your browser that makes it as easy to bookmark a page that way as using your browser’s built-in bookmarks.

  6. AllRecipes (allrecipes.com): There are thousands of recipe websites out there, but for keeping your own recipe box, whether online or printed, this is the one I’ve found to be most useful. Online, your recipes are searchable and can sync to your mobile app, so if you’re out shopping and want to double-check the ingredients you need, you can. If you still like to keep a real recipe box in the kitchen, the printing options are fantastic: You can print to 3×5 or 4×6 cards, or if you prefer a notebook or file folder, full-size pages.

  7. Picnik (picnik.com): Another Web app, this one is great if you have a photo that you just need to make some quick fixes on. Picnik is both easy to use and surprisingly full-featured when it comes to working with images. You can crop, straighten, sharpen, adjust color, exposure, contrast, eliminate redeye, just about anything you typically might want to do. Although Picnik is the site I use, there are similar sites that you might also find useful, including FotoFlexer and Pixenate.

  8. Weather Underground (wunderground.com): I’m a bit of a weather junkie, and while I know Weather.com’s forecasts are good enough for most users, these two sites offer more-useful information if you have an interest. Wunderground’s strength is in its detail and use of a network of non-official weather stations. Perhaps the National Weather Service doesn’t have an official monitoring site for the city you’re interested in. Several people, schools or businesses will, and Wunderground makes use of those.

    Another great piece to the site is its historical data. You can look up the weather on this date last year, for instance. Better than that, if you plan to travel somewhere you can check what weather is like for that time of year through Wunderground’s Trip Planner. In Palm Springs, for example, the average high temperature this time of year is 104 degrees, with an average low of 74. There’s a 93 percent chance the temperature will rise above 90 degrees, and a zero chance of it being cloudy.


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