Whenever we publish a story saying that a group of products, services or sites are All That TM, we get a wave of inevitable (and instructive) responses from readers doubting our sanity and/or nominating alternatives that should have been on our list.
Our recent feature called "10 Sites That Will Matter in 2009" was no different. Many PC World readers actually lauded our picks for 2009's big sites, but they still submitted many other suggestions for sites that should have made the list.
I decided to go check out these sites that our readers say are All ThatTM. And some of them, I found, were pretty darn good.
Take the case of FindingDulcinea--a suggestion sent in by PC World reader EugeneO. FindingDulcinea is a news site that augments current stories with separate background information and analysis. Like any practitioner of good journalism, the site first explains the relevant facts, and then provides historical and ideological context for them. There's usually a separate section about a related issue; and in a sidebar, you'll find links to the sources used to build the whole enchilada. I like this site because I often happen upon interesting random news stories and wish that I knew more about the big picture they fit in. The Web Guides section provides the same sort of deep background on broader issues like "The U.S. Economy."
Verdict: Not the next Facebook, but the site operators will eventually be rewarded with a midsize Web audience of news addicts. FindingDulcinea has clear value as a teaching aid for kids, too. And gratuitous allusions to Don Quixote are all too rare on the Internet.
Next let's surf over to FreeNapkin, a site suggestion sent via e-mail from an anonymous reader. FreeNapkin turns out to be an eBay for free stuff. That is, you take pictures of unwanted junque in your garage and post the pics here, and the first FreeNapkin member to "claim" the item wins. The claimant pays the shipping on the item, or picks it up in person (the site filters the donations by city so you know what free stuff is nearby). People have given away everything from dogs to farm equipment on FreeNapkin. Without my having actually donated anything on the site (hmm, maybe my 401K...), I can only say that it appears to work well, based on the number of listings. FreeNapkin is no marvel of fancy Web design, but it gets bonus points for hitting squarely on the need to conserve and recycle in tough economic times. On the other hand, it loses points because the names and contact information of the site's proprietors are nowhere to be found--a bad sign.
Verdict: FreeNapkin may not get huge this year; but as word spreads about this "eBay of Free," the site could see steadily mounting membership in the next few years.
Open Proxy Network
Reader George7777 says that he finds Open Proxy Network to be useful. "A lot of people are having troubles accessing certain Web sites because some countries are blocking everything," he writes. "It shouldn't be this way; information is free." So how does Open Proxy Network help? The site provides a list of links to various anonymous proxy sites, such as TheSurfHide.com. These "proxy sites" provide a generic IP address that you can use while surfing, enabling you to venture into places on the Web where your normal IP address could not gain admittance. So if you're at school or in a public library, or even at some places of business, and you just have to visit FilthyWasteofTime.com and do some "research", one of the free proxies listed at Open Proxy Network will let you browse there anonymously.
Not surprisingly, there is no sign of the identity of the proprietors of Open Proxy Network--always a sign to me that the operators are not fully accountable for the site and the service it provides. But then again, these guys obviously are really into secrecy.
Verdict: I had no way to test Open Proxy Network because my IP address is not blocked by any site. Still, I recognize the usefulness of this site to people who want to surf with complete anonymity. Will Open Proxy Network rack up billions of hits in 2009? Probably not.