We are overloaded with media, both Web-based and hard copy. We need solid tools to help us sift through all of it, and to clue us in on the stuff that's worth paying attention to. The following sites employ user communities and new Web tools to help us do just that--and also provide forums where we can offer our own opinions.
Pitchfork: One the first independent-music Web sites, and arguably still the best. Not too much about Justin Timberlake here, but plenty on new indie releases. Be sure to check out the PitchforkTV beta for fresh documentaries on music legends.
Amoeba Music: This music chain's site gives you a pretty good flavor of the music that people are listening to on the Left Coast (the chain has stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley, California). The site is full of reviews of new releases, staff picks, music blogs, and video from in-store concerts. MP3s, too.
Other Music: And here you can find the view from the East Coast--Greenwich Village, to be exact. This eclectic little neighborhood record shop, it turns out, has a wonderful online store, divided into a digital downloads section and a CD/LP mail-order site. Both sections include reviews, articles, and in-store video.
Metacritic: At this site you can read fresh criticism about new (mainstream) films, DVDs, music, TV, and games. The content selection is broad, and the reviews are well written and fair.
Pandora: Pandora is still one of the coolest music sites around, largely because of its uncanny ability to help you form a Web-radio playlist tailored to your tastes. Try it while you still can; the RIAA is doing its best to kill off sites like this.
Last.fm: This site is another example of a social network formed around something that people want to talk about: music. I've been hipped to several new bands (Battles, Iron and Wine) as a result of lurking on Last.fm. While Pandora may still have an edge at helping you discover new music, Last.fm really became a contender last January, when it began allowing users to stream full songs (not just low-quality samples) at its site.
Powell's Books: Big, diffuse Amazon is fine, but Powell's is the best online bookstore in America. Why? Powell's focuses primarily on books and offers superior reviews of volumes new and old by super-bookish staffers and Powell's customers alike. The site is easy to navigate and search, too.
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