Here are my favorite 5 websites of the year 2008, in random order:
Since we moved to the US in September we are now (finally) able to use all of the video websites that stream TV episodes and movies. No more dreaded “This video is not available in your country” error messages. Hulu (http://www.hulu.com) is by far the best one and offers over 900 different television series from dozens of different networks. And the best part is that Hulu is completely free! Programs are simply interrupted by short commercials.
Pretty much all major shows are represented on Hulu, except for ones from ABC (Desperate Housewives, Lost, Pushing Daisies, etc.), so for those you need to go to ABC.com, which has IMO the worst video player of all network websites, but that’s a different story.
We’re using Hulu with PlayOn (which is fully awesome!) to stream episodes and movies directly from my PC through our PlayStation and onto our Vizio TV. We use Hulu and PlayOn daily to watch the news and our favorite TV shows including The Daily Show, Colbert Report, 30 Rock, and ER. We’ve also started to watch older shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Firefly.
Mint (http://www.mint.com) is a free personal financial planner that pulls information from all your online financial records, including your bank accounts, credit cards and loans. It records your income and expenses and spits out neat graphs that illustrate your cash flow and expenses.
I started to use this tool when we moved to the US to get an idea of how much we’re spending on food, travel, shopping, etc. I keep all our receipts and categorize them properly in my transactions overview on Mint. With our short history here the usefulness has been limited, but it’s been a great tool nonetheless. Like Hulu (and the next one, Netflix) this service only works for people in the US.
We signed up for the free 2-week trial of Netflix (http://www.netflix.com) in November and we’re hooked. Netflix is a DVD-rental place that works through regular USPS mail. On their website you maintain a list of the DVDs that you want to receive and they’ll automatically send you the next one through the mail. Your monthly subscription fee determines how many DVDs you’re allowed to have at once. Each DVD comes unboxed in a little envelop that is also a return-envelop. The US mail service allows you to leave outgoing mail in your own mailbox, so we don’t even need to leave our home to send DVDs back.
We’re on the 1-DVD-at-a-time scheme for $8.99 per month and are able to watch about 2 DVDs per week; if we get one on Monday, we’ll watch it that evening, send it back the next day and on Thursday we’ll have the next one in the mail.
In addition to the collection of 100,000 DVDs that you can pick from, they also have an additional 12,000 titles that can be watched instantly online. Together with the PlayOn software that we’re also using for Hulu, we are able to stream all of Netflix’s Watch Instantly movies and TV shows onto our television. We’ve liked this service even more than getting the actual DVDs in the mail. In the last few weeks we’ve watched lots of movies and TV shows this way. The quality of the streaming videos are great and comparable to Hulu. A little worse than DVD, but still pretty great. With Hulu and Netflix we have enough entertainment at our fingertips to fill a lifetime.
I started to use Flickr (http://www.flickr.com) this year to store and backup all of our 8 years of digital photos. It took me months to upload the many gigabytes of data, and all our 30,000+ photos are now on Flickr. I decided to copy all our pictures to Flickr before our move to the US as I didn’t want to risk losing our backups during transport.
Now that all our photos are in one handy place instead of various DVDs and harddisks, I love the extra ability that it gives us. Flickr makes it much easier to share our pictures with family and friends as well as embedding them on our websites. I can put them on a map, tag them, view archives by year, month and day, categorize them in sets and collections, and much more.
Now that we have such easy access to all our photos I find that I look at them much more than when they were backed up on a drive or disc. The only drawback I have with Flickr is that it is pretty slow sometimes, but otherwise I love it.
I always have at least two tabs in my Firefox open with the same sites: Google Reader (https://www.google.com/reader) and Gmail (http://mail.google.com). These two tools organize my life and I couldn’t live without them anymore. I’ve been using Gmail for a few years now and I love it. After years of struggling with huge Outlook PST files I finally switched over to Gmail and I have never looked back. No longer do I need to worry about archiving my old email and it is wonderful to be able to search for old mails in seconds. Gmail is the way to go.
This year I’ve also started to use Google Reader intensively. In the past I’ve tried other feed readers and RSS aggregators, but since using Google Reader I really feel like I’m on top of all my favorite websites. Every morning I go through my email and then my Google Reader to catch up with all my news sites, blogs and other feeds. It’s hard to believe I didn’t use Google Reader before this year, but it has become one of my most-used tools.
If you think about it Gmail and Google Reader are very similar. I wonder if Google will ever decide to combine the two. My Gmail could simply be one of the folders in Google Reader. I’d say: merge ’em!
So there you have it, these are my favorite five websites of the year 2008.