In the early days of the Internet, search engines were extremely limited and finding things often involved ‘surfing,’ which meant starting from one of your favourite websites (often a ‘portal’) and following links in the hopes of ending up where you wanted to be. For this reason, this links page in the very first iterations of my website used to be stuffed with about every website I knew about at that time. This practice became mostly pointless since the advent of efficient search engines. So instead, this page now contains a concise set of websites that I either (used to) visit frequently or deem important and could be of interest.
Ironically, I deem the ‘surfing’ paradigm to have become more relevant again due to increasing sloppiness of current search engines. It seems there is an overflow of information, some of which only shows up at the top of search results because the site authors have spent a lot of time on ‘SEO,’ not because the information is actually useful. To make things worse, major search engines like Google have obviously started to drop webpages from their index entirely, based on some weighting scheme that changes every few months. They also heavily favour recent pages which makes it profitable for parasites to make sloppy derivative copies of existing pages. The mere fact that the copy is newer will give it a good chance of being preferred by search engines, even if the content of the page is worse than the original. Bad times.
General • Music & Movies • Comics • YouTube channels
If you have never heard of Google, you should really update your internet awareness. Google owns at the time of this writing the most popular search engine. A search engine makes an index of webpages and tries to return the most “relevant” ones when someone enters a search term. The success of Google is partially due to the fact that their engine is very efficient, contains a massive amount of pages, and used to rank the results in a way people find helpful. Over the years, Google evolved from merely a search engine to a player on multiple markets. They also have free e-mail, world maps, webmaster tools and much more.
You can search Google directly from this search box:
The major problem with Google is that the time when they were merely a search engine is long gone. Google is now a subsidiary of Alphabet, a conglomerate whose core business is advertising. The search engine has changed a lot and in my opinion, it is no longer objective by any stretch of the imagination. Results are now weighted in weird ways that heavily favour a limited set of webpages. I suspect that one of those weights (directly or indirectly) is potential ad revenue, but it is of course very difficult to prove this. Be very critical about the search results and if you want to be sure, cross-reference with another search engine like the following one.
An alternative to Google. I don't use it very often, only when I get frustrated by the fact that Google keeps feeding me the same ‘trendy’ results even when I try to craft my search terms to find something else. Another plus is that this search engine is not part of a big conglomerate whose primary goal is to make money off a personal profile they construct from your search and browsing behaviour.
Microsoft's search engine, worth a try if neither of the above two seem to offer useful results.
An online encyclopaedia that can be edited by anyone. The result is that you can find information about pretty much anything there. The only disadvantage is that the quality of the information may be lower for less popular topics, and for political and controversial topics it is not unusual for the text to be biased. It is an immensely useful site but you should always read it with a critical eye. There are translations in various languages but for non-region-specific information, the English pages are most often the most elaborate.
News for nerds, stuff that matters, and a gazillion idiots who are waiting like vultures to reply to your comments with some self-indulgent remark to show how much more intelligent they are than you, and how much better their way of life is. My strategy is to read the articles only, and the first comments that aren't stupid
first post! attempts. If I really feel brave, I might attempt a comment on a fresh article. Don't waste your time posting on an article that has a large amount of comments already: chances are nobody will ever read your text.
- BBC News
I live in Belgium but I rarely check the Belgian news sources, because experience tells me they give watered-down versions of the BBC's news with a delay added on top. Although I admit that these days I tend to ignore mainstream news outlets altogether because it is becoming too obvious that their main goal is not to provide actual news, but to make you buy a subscription or generate ad revenue by maximising controversy in the featured articles.
I mostly used the RSS feed instead of browing through the site itself.
Music & Movies
- All Music Guide
An extensive database of music releases and artists, with reviews by people who mostly know what they're talking about (be aware that some reviews are extremely subjective hence utterly worthless, though). The search function is useful, but unfortunately the site runs on Microsoft software and can't always handle the load. If you search something and there are more than ±200 results, don't bother opening them, the server will timeout. Also it is a bit biased towards releases/artists in the USA and UK. Anything else, especially when sung in a language different from English, is mostly labeled “World music” even when it's plain rock. Information about mainstream artists is generally correct but you may want to double-check anything about lesser known artists.
Kind of a rougher version of AMG, built by anyone who wants to contribute. There are fewer reviews and their quality varies even more, but there's often much more detailed information about specific releases. If you can't find it on AMG, you may find it here.
At some point I removed this link, but I restored it after some changes that truly annoyed me were reverted. I used to go to this website to look up ratings and reviews of films and TV series. Sometimes I wrote my own reviews. I even have a page explaining how I choose my rating score for a film.
Even though they somewhat made it better again, the reviews page is still much less usable than it used to be. There is still a strong emphasis on sorting reviews in so-called ‘helpfulness’ order, and the lay-out went from paginated to pseudo-infinite scrolling, meaning you cannot even skim through reviews without clicking and scrolling like crazy and choking your browser by loading all the content into the same single page. (As I explain elsewhere, infinite scrolling is awful and should never have been introduced anywhere except maybe in very specific circumstances.)
What pisses me off about the so-called ‘helpfulness’ ranking is that it is not helpful at all. It only calculates the ratio of upvotes versus downvotes for each review. This system is very easily abused by people who are paid to upvote reviews of a certain production house and downvote the rest. Heck, it is easy to do this through automated scripts. Generally, sorting reviews in this way will result in the first few positive reviews being forever stuck at the top of the list, unless the film was truly so abysmally bad that no drone or bot could prevent the truth from being upvoted. I used to describe here a way of getting a more balanced idea about films by sorting the list in various ways, but that has now been sabotaged. The result is that I now only rarely use this website anymore, although it remains useful to get listings and technical details about films and TV series. The ratings and reviews however have become pretty much useless and obviously I don't bother writing my own anymore.
You may want to look at Rotten Tomatoes as an alternative, my general impression is that its votes are manipulated to a lesser degree.
- Radio Paradise
If you hate advertisements and have a broad non-commercial musical taste, this may be the best internet radio station out there. If your idols are Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Lady GaGa, by all means stay away. If you become a regular listener, don't forget to donate to keep it running because donations are their only source of income.
Keep in mind that the reason why Radio Paradise can run 24/7, is that it is semi-automated. You will hear recurring playlist fragments if you keep on listening for weeks. But it is nothing like the average U.S. radio station that endlessly loops its 30-song playlist with different commercials as only variations.
In its earlier days this was a great platform where anyone could share any video. True, the result was that it soon filled up with unimaginable amounts of uninteresting garbage — the not-so-surprising result of giving the man-in-the-street access to video recording and publishing tools. However, if you looked well enough, you could find some true gems in there, as well as all the highlights of famous films. The comments were not moderated in any way and reading then usually lead to instant loss of faith in humanity. It was a nice illustration of why I believe the internet should be separated in a section for babies up to immature teenagers, and grown-up people. But even though I am not sure how, the quality of the comments has improved quite a bit in recent years. It may have something to do with changes to the rating and filtering system.
What has not improved however, is the increasing censorship that seems to be the result of YouTube having been bought by Google, who basically turned it into an advertising platform that just happens to use user-contributed videos as a carrier medium for the ads. Every decision is now being taken with advertising revenue as the primary goal. The whole platform also exudes hints of a leftist political agenda that relies on pretty much the same censhorship tactics as extreme right has been using in the past. Still, it is by far the most successful website of its kind, but that's probably only because no serious contender has managed to get a foothold yet.
Below is a list of some of my favourite YT channels.
- Calvin & Hobbes
This is one of the most beautiful comics ever made, but it got stuck inside a paradox: its success on the one hand, and the very commercialization it tried to criticize on the other hand. I don't include a link because the ‘official’ site on which the comic resides is an insult to the spirit of the comic. I recommend buying the paper version or (only if you're really too poor to have any money to spare) downloading a complete archive somewhere.
This is definitely not for everyone, because this comic is built around the storyline of the computer game “Half-Life 2”. You must have played that game (and preferably also Counter-Strike) to appreciate this comic, which mocks many elements of the game and computer games in general.
This comic alternates between a storyline involving gamers, and loose comics about other games and computer-related stuff. If your experience with computers doesn't go beyond Facebook, web surfing and watching videos of kittens, you'll hardly find this one funny. I must admit I have stopped following this one, so I can't tell whether it has maintained the same quality as in its early years.
The neverending story of an employee in a corporation where nobody (including the CEO) knows what they're actually doing. It's amazing how recognisable the situations in these comics are, whatever your own job is. Despite the limited scope of the comic, Scott Adams seems to have an infinite amount of inspiration. Try this exercise: take a bunch of random Dilbert comics and try to replace their text balloons such that they match with your own company. The easier this is, the more worried you should be.
I can recommend the comics in the archive from the years 1990-2003. The quality has unfortunately been declining lately, probably because the comics are now produced by some kind of ‘collective’ and as David Bowie would word it, “Garfield has grown up a cow”. As a matter of fact, Garfield has been designed to be a cash cow from the start, but only in the recent decades this has become a bit too obvious for my taste. It looks like the whole franchise including the original website got swallowed by Nickelodeon now, which is why I now link to the comics archive on the GoComics site.
- General Protection Fault
One of the lesser known webcomics, but of high quality. The story line seems to start out very simple but becomes pretty complex. Despite the name there's something for everyone in here, although you will certainly appreciate it more if you're a bit ‘nerdy’.
- Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun
This comic is best described by summing up a few keywords: Jesus Christ, guns, Ernest Hemingway, nazis, gore, and fecal incontinence. Enough said. Not sure if there are still updates, but the first book was by far the best, the second one is OK, and I didn't bother checking for updates after the third one because it was rather uninteresting.
- The Perry Bible Fellowship
A true little gem with wildly varying drawing styles and unlike some other comics, a healthy dose of sarcasm. Warning: adults only. Unfortunately the update schedule is, well, … completely random. Definitely quality over quantity.
- Sequential Art
This comic, part of Collected Curios, is also updated randomly with sporadic long delays, but it is worth the wait. It usually draws inspiration from popular culture, especially the more ‘nerdy’ movies and video games, giving them its own weird twist with a unique style of humour that I really like.
One of the oldest web comics. When going through the archive you can actually re-experience the early internet, and the Dot Com Bubble bursting. It is not for everyone but for people involved with ICT in some way, there are some true gems in here. Don't worry if the “comments” under each strip don't seem to make sense to you, they have become a kind of message board for insiders aka UFies. Unfortunately this comic has started stagnating somewhere in 2010 and is now on repeat mode.
A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. That pretty much sums it up. It is quite possible that you'll find this comic weird, nerdy and incomprehensible. If the previous sentence made you curious, you'll probably like it.
These are by far not all the channels I follow and not even all my favourites are in here, these are just the ones I think deserve a bit more publicity.
- Acorn to Arabella
These two guys woke up one morning and decided to build a wooden boat entirely from scratch (only some parts are salvaged from old wrecks). Watching this boat slowly take shape is always a relaxing moment at the end of each week.
- Captain Disillusion
This was, as far as I remember, the first channel I ever subscribed to, back in the days when YouTube movies were the size of postage stamps and ads were nowhere to be seen. Originally the videos were all about our Captain debunking visual tricks in (online) videos, but the topic has widened to special effects in general. Uploads are not frequent because obviously quality goes above quantity here.
- Cody's Lab (or Cody'sLab)
This channel has stayed true to the earlier era of YouTube, when the goal was not to make fancy videos with high production values in the hopes of luring a big audience to watch videos crafted to be at least 10 minutes long to get optimal ad revenue. Cody's videos are basic and honest, and cover a wide range of subjects, trying to explain science in ways everyone can understand. Unfortunately many of the videos have been banned because some people confuse the concepts of education and danger.
- The History Guy
History that deserves to be remembered is the tagline of this channel. The videos describe interesting parts of history that you have probably never heard of before, and even if you think that the subject of a particular video does not look interesting, the enthusiasm of the narrator will help convince you of the opposite.
Another one in the “quality over quantity” camp: only sporadic uploads, but of very high quality. The general theme is failed or underrated attempts at bringing innovation in aerospace or other means of transportation. As was completely predictable given the quality level, after a while the author moved his main productions to a paid service, but he still uploads a free video to this channel now and then.
- Project Farm
Unbiased reviews of various tools and products, with quite a bit of care to stay true to the scientific method. Of course there are limitations to the test set-ups and methods due to the small scale, but still the results do give an indication when manufacturer claims are exaggerated and which brands to avoid. The funny thing is that this being an American channel, I cannot even buy some of the products being reviewed, but still the videos are very useful to know what to pay attention to and sometimes even to merely learn that a certain product exists at all.
Another remnant of the earlier days of YouTube. The subject of the videos has gradually evolved towards testing of strange or experimental shotgun slugs, with some attention to aerodynamics and supersonic flight behaviour. I admit this channel may appear a bit redneck at times, but that is part of the fun.
- World of Armor - ArmorSmith
In the (admittedly unlikely) event that you need an accurate reproduction of a medieval bascinet for a re-enactment, or a more practical helmet for medieval fighting sport, or just a real metal copy of a cool helmet from a video game or movie, this is where I would go. The videos are of the same high quality as the armour itself. They are in Russian, but with pretty good English subtitles. I have no need for any armour, I just watch this for the display of skill and passion for the work. Also check out the cool website at http://www.armorysmith.com.