Monday, November 7, 2011

Seven of my favorite websites

After a big week and bigger weekend, I'm on vacation this week (picture me throwing my hands up in the air with a big grin on my face). This vacation is as much stay-cation as anything, and I love that. Sometimes it's great to just have some extra time to catch up with your to-do list and take it easy!

While I have the chance to sit at home in my cozy wool slippers, I want to share with you some of my favorite websites that in many ways offer a mental vacation of their own.

Let's start with some shopping sites, which is especially relevant now that we've passed Halloween and all the retailers have officially pushed us into the holiday shopping season.

Unique. Thoughtful. Inspired. Independent. If these are qualities you like in a gift (whether it's a gift for yourself or for a friend), then you need to be shopping at Etsy. Etsy calls itself "the world's handmade marketplace," and its mission is "to empower people to change the way the global economy works."

Etsy is an online community of independent sellers who make or sell unique handmade or vintage items and supplies. It offers people like me a chance to set up an online shop with very little initial investment but reach a global audience. Not only that, but it's an amazing community, as well—sellers actively discuss business topics and share insight and experience with their fellow Etsians from around the world.

Shop by keyword search, categories, color, curated treasuries of related items, and even by geographic area—so you can find sellers in your own community. And that's the very best way to support your local economy. Shopping on Etsy will remind you of how nice a "personal touch" really is.  

On the flip side, I also love some big, huge retailers. Call that what you will, but I do believe we can have the best of both worlds!

When it comes to shopping online for shoes, bags, and even clothing, it's hard to beat Zappos. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better selection of brands and products, but even with such a large quantity of items, the site is clean and easy to navigate. My favorite part: free shipping both ways. So forget the challenges of buying shoes online, knowing that you have to try them on. Read the customer reviews, order a couple sizes of the same pair, try them on at home, then return the ones that don't fit.

And if you ever have an issue, Zappos is known for its top-notch customer service, and I can personally attest to it. It won't feel like you're dealing with a faceless monster retailer.

Let's change gears, and I'll share some sites that help with organization and productivity.

Dropbox is a simple site that acts like a virtual USB drive. Create a free account, and you get an online storage space for files, and you don't have to tote around a USB drive or disc. If you're like me, and you have a computer at home and one at work, it makes accessing a file you need in both places very easy.

But that's only the beginning. Say you want to share a file with a friend (or multiple friends), but it's too large to email. Put it in your Dropbox public folder, then send them the link to the file, and they can download it.

If you have a smartphone, it gets even better, because you can download an app and access all your files from your phone, too.

Simple idea, but very handy.

Google Reader
If you follow more than a handful of blogs, then you should check out Google Reader. It makes following blogs easy, simple and organized. It tells you when a new post has been published, and you can keep up with them from one central page. I also love to use it as my own personally curated search engine, which comes in especially handy when I'm looking for a recipe or information on a particular topic.

I wrote a post last year on nine reasons why I love Google Reader—you can read more about it there.

Hootsuite is great if you have more than one social media account, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can update your status on each network, read your friends' updates, and schedule posts ahead of time. Since I have a personal Facebook profile, a.e.miller photography Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, and staying on top of social media is important for my job, it's been very helpful. 

Anyone who spends time searching for information online knows what Wikipedia is, but it wasn't until I heard founder Jimmy Wales speak at a recent conference that I really started appreciating it.

The site is run by a nonprofit organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, with only 70 employees—but it boasts nearly 20 million articles in 270 different languages (200 of which have at least 1,000 articles in that language). It's the fifth most popular website in the world. Its mission is to provide free access to information for everyone in their own language.

Wikipedia runs on an openly editable model that allows people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds to create and edit content. It relies on the knowledge of the community who are constantly updating it.

Wales spoke passionately about the importance of making sure people around the world, of every nationality and situation, have equal access to information. He shared this video that helps to illustrate the power of their mission.

I now feel like I appreciate the site as more than just a quick resource for information. Very inspiring.

Apple Movie Trailers
And finally, how about some pure entertainment?

I love movie trailers. I love that the best clips from each movie are set to music that often gives me goosebumps. I always make sure I get to the theater in time to catch the previews.

The Apple Movie Trailers site is a great repository of new trailers. Whenever I'm looking to just kill a few minutes of time online, this is where I go. Yes, you can find trailers on YouTube and in other places, but in the characteristic way of everything Apple, this site is cleanly designed and easy to navigate. (Do you see a common thread of organization running through the sites that I like?) It's updated regularly, so it's worth going back again and again... and again...

I'll stop there for now. But I want to hear from you: what are some of your favorite websites?

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