Best Time Wasters #7-#4
7. Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D Beta
Microsoft recently added some pretty impressive 3D capabilities to its existing Live Search Maps service: You're now able to bring up a virtual globe view, akin to Google's Virtual Earth application, and idle away the time zooming about the world.
At the time of this writing, the service also included amazing 3D models of 15 U.S. cities including San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix, Houston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, and Fort Worth. Unlike Google Earth, the Virtual Earth 3D Beta can operate within your Web browser, though it does require a 5MB plug-in, Windows XP SP2, and Internet Explorer 6 or 7.
Microsoft is also showcasing other mapping ideas. For instance, a Virtual Earth technology preview lets you drag a car around the streets of San Francisco or Seattle and see a street-level photographic view. There's also the remarkable Microsoft Photosynth Tech Preview, which aims to take different people's photos of the same place or object and reconstruct them in three-dimensional space.
Aggregated news arrives with a simple premise: Users submit worthwhile news stories, and the site as a whole votes on whether the story should be promoted to the home page, where it will be seen by millions. The exact mechanism varies from site to site, but top destinations like Digg, del.icio.us, Netscape, Slashdot.org and Reddit all push an exhaustive amount of news every day. For a serious fix, skip the home page and check out the "new" or "upcoming stories."
See our "Web News Wranglers" story for a closer look at Digg vs. Reddit.
Sure, you can waste a good amount of time flipping through your own old pictures and those of your friends on this photo-sharing site, but it's Flickr's public photos that can really eat up the afternoon. Start by searching for oddball keywords ("gibbon," "latex," "lohan"), or just bookmark the most recent updates page to get an all new set of thumbnails with each refresh. Writing amusing captions for random Flickr photos is also a popular blogger pastime.
See our write-up on the "New, Improved Web" for more information on emerging collaboration and community sites.
4. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
It all starts with an innocuous question. Say: "What was that movie that the new guy playing James Bond was in?" But once you've rediscovered Layer Cake, you're clicking through to costar Sienna Miller, and remembering that she's Jude Law's ex and learning about his upcoming films for the next two years, and who he's starring with...And so it goes. At IMDB, it's all too easy to get lost in this "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" research. When you burn out on movies, head over to The All Music Guide, which offers similar data for all things audio.