Summer is here, so it's a good time to look at some Web sites. If you were to leave your computer and go outside, you might discover that you're actually in some kind of huge Matrix-style virtual-reality simulation. I've been out there–I'm thinking of calling it First Life or something. Best to stay in the house, I figure.
To many people, the very idea of Weblogs (or blogs, as the kids call them) still carries that stigma of endless millions of people writing on-line diaries about their daily lives. From that perspective–amateurs writing about mundane things–blogs don't have much appeal. But some have morphed into a new form of Internet resource that has outgrown the original meaning of the practically just-coined term. At what point does a blog (particularly if it's dedicated to a niche subject area) become an on-line specialty magazine, a news service, an information conglomerator, a collaborative wiki created by devotees, or an annotated archive of rare audio or video?
I mention this because I'm seeing more and more sites formerly known as blogs coming up as high-ranking results during Google searches, especially when the subject matter is really obscure. Recently, I was trying to track down information on the exuberant roots-rock band the Del-Lords, whose superb second album, Johnny Comes Marching Home (1986), has never been released on CD. A few years ago, you'd go to some site like allmusic.com and hope that some bigger geek than you had methodically typed in a complete discography and maybe a few people had clicked in a few ratings out of five stars or written a review.
These days you search Google instead, and are presented with lots of options. Yes, the big sites float to the top, but that just makes them easier to ignore. If you do get suckered over to mp3.com by the promise of free downloads, all you find is an incomplete list of albums and no music, just the invitation to write about or rate something. Obviously these old-model sites are no longer where the cool people hang out.
So after a diversion to the site of preeminent rock critic (if there can be such a thing) Robert Christgau (www.robertchristgau.com/) and a pointless visit to Wikipedia, I realized that the interesting stuff began about halfway down the second page of results. There was a site full of album art, for a nice rush of nostalgia. I ran into the Web site of Piero Scaruffi (www.scaruffi.com/), a consummate list maker who was profiled last fall in the New York Times. I even came across the MySpace page of Del-Lords singer-songwriter Scott Kempner (www.myspace.com/scottkempner/) and the official site of guitarist Eric Ambel (www.ericambel.com/). Eventually I stumbled on a circle of people who have sites devoted to all kinds of cool albums from the vinyl days, some with sample tracks available. The Power Pop Lovers blog (powerpoplovers.blogspot.com/) is a good entry point, despite recently having become inactive. Its selected links to other sites are very well chosen, and are full of interesting musical discoveries.
So the big sites were basically just begging you to give them some information, while the blog-type sites proved to be much more useful. Sometimes there's even original content being produced and made available, as on Daytrotter (www.daytrotter.com/), which features live-in-studio tracks from many dozens of bands. Admittedly, I only recognize the names of a handful of them, but it only takes a click or two to find out if Tacks, the Boy Disaster is something you'd like. Then maybe hop over to iConcertCal (www.iconcertcal.com/) to download a Mac or Windows plug-in software module for iTunes that analyzes your digital music library and creates a personalized calendar of concerts for whatever region you specify.
Leaving behind music but staying with the "I guess you'd have to call it a blog" theme, there's science exploration galore over at Hack a Day (www.misc.hackaday.com/). That's hacking in the old sense of the word (experimenting with technology in clever ways). The site scours the Web for (mostly) hardware hacks, like building a TV out of the screen from a broken laptop and a VCR, or making glow-in-the-dark ink for an ink-jet cartridge. Rating? Extremely Geeky.
Neatorama (www.neatorama.com/) is more of a populist blog in the standard "cool stuff" vein, but it's eclectic and generally well chosen. Gadget Lab (blog.wired.com/gadgets/) is, well, a blog about a bunch of cool gadgets from the people at Wired magazine. I also like Shiny Shiny (www.shinyshiny.tv/) because it's a gadget blog written by a slightly saucy British woman who loves Hello Kitty. Over at I Like Totally Love It (www.iliketotallyloveit.com/), it's the site's visitors who nominate cool items, and then other visitors vote on the coolness and desirability of each one. It covers a lot more than just gadgets, though. There are lots of stylish home-décor products, and unusual stuff like laser-tattooed pet fish and soap made from butter.