Editor's pick: Originally published June 23.
Newsfeeds aside -- which dredge up any number of weirdo sites -- you probably have about a dozen tried-and-true places you go on a regular basis. Google (yes, almost universally), your favorite social platforms (Facebook and everyone else), salacious media sites (you love Gawker, admit it), and more stoic news sources (fill in the blanks here).
Alexa.com, owned by Amazon, keeps track of 500 of the most popular sites (if you have time to browse them), but you probably don't recognize most of them. A lot of them are Chinese sites, and so you could be forgiven for not going to those very often if you don't do business in China. Many of them are really interesting, though -- and about half are in English.
Here are 25 offbeat ones that are among the most popular in the world to keep you busy this summer, all culled from the Top 500 and all safe for work. The whole world seems to be clicking on these sites, so why aren't you?
The tagline for Imgur.com is a bit of hyperbole-"the most awesome images on the Internet"-but the experience of Imgur.com is on point: choosing within two categories of variables will give you relevant images to your search. Google can do it better, right? Not for Imgur.com users, who are loyal and-at last count-number 150 million each month. And, there's a kind of scrappy, underdog quality to the site-it defaults black while Google defaults white; it feels no frills while other image sites skew heavy on the design side; it surfaces some very weird crowd-sourced stuff while other image sites feel more mainstream in their findings. Is the site awesome? Yes. Is it the most awesome? You'll have to decide for yourself.
Cloud-based services and features for locally installed software are commonplace these days. Pair that fact with the approachable vibe that corporate megabrands like Intel and HP have curated for their homepage, and you get Office.com to support Microsoft's most recognizable suite of products. The megamenu couldn't be simpler: products, templates, support, and my account, and the experience couldn't be easier. Its audience is largely American (accounting for 35% of its visitors), but its Alexa Traffic Rank-to offer a sense of its global impact-is 66th overall (reached by combining average daily visitors and page views over three months). What that means is that there are only 65 other websites that are more popular than this one, which is not bad at all for what is essentially a tech support site-albeit a handsome one.
In the import/export business, it used to be that you had to know a guy who knew a guy to get your foot in the door. Trade is regulated, sure, but if you wanted to make a living, you had to deal with some unscrupulous characters. Enter Alibaba.com, which brokers sales between buyers and sellers all over the world with more than a modicum of transparency. Want to import Chinese bikes? Search bikes, see who sells them, supply availability, price per unit, minimum order, full company profile, seller response rates, and a hundred other data points-all giving you a composite picture that's as close to an airtight guarantee as you're going to get.
Disney is a juggernaut brand-movies, merchandise, theme parks, cruises, a hospitality empire, television, theater-and Go.com brings it all together. Don't let the site's laconic name throw you off. This is a Disney portal that pulls together interactive media, social media, ABC, ESPN, and other digital properties. Why not nest it under something more iconic like Disney.com? That site is also a major portal, but Go.com is a vestige of the dot com boom-when Disney purchased Infoseek in 1999, called it Go.com, and attempted to run a search engine and news site. It was scuttled in 2001 (and the company reportedly laid off 400 people), and transformed it into what we see today.
If you wanted to perform an Internet search of the World Wide Web, what would "your way" be? This site is a pretty basic search engine ("powered by Google") that's the 171st most popular site in the United States. It's more popular in India (99th), Brazil (70th), Indonesia (67th), and Algeria (16th), relative to their populations, according to Alexa.com's rankings. It's ad-free and pop-up free, which is hygienic and nice for beleaguered eyes. Here's the catch, though: if you don't have the proper defenses up, Myway.com will automatically change your browser's settings to default to-you guessed it-Myway.com. If that doesn't bother you at all, and you want an Internet search to unfold "your way," then this might be the thing for you.
Since its inception, Quora.com has held the noble intention of delivering vetted, relatively neutral, and verifiable answers to common questions-answers, its developers claim, that are "amazing" and "definitive." That's a tall order, and it falls short sometimes-especially with some of the more interpretive topics. When you sign up, it creates a personalized feed for you based on no fewer than nine interests (you can add more later). You can read answers that are deemed "best" by popular vote and/or veracity. You can contribute answers and see how you stack up to other erudite members. One thing to note: it is skewed toward answers contributed from Indian contributors-where the site is the 17th most popular overall among all sites accessed by Indian IP addresses. A close second are American contributors.
Nametests.com offers a seemingly endless supply of Buzzfeed-style quizzes, with personalized answers culled from your Facebook page. "Will you find true love?" or "Which friends do you need?" are definite third-rails for some people (even if the temptation to know is great), but others are actually quite helpful such as "The Job Title Generator: What Is Your True Calling?" It's more fun than anything else-and to the last question, one might see National Engineer of Web Exploitation (surely a title in the Soviet army at one point). Users in the U.S., Brazil, and Germany are the biggest addicts.
Mediafire.com is a cloud-based storage solution that lets you access your files on any device. But, it also bills itself as an "online storage and collaboration" company, aiming for that small team zone somewhere beneath the enterprise solution threshold, as well as the freelancer or self-employed set. It's free, too, if you're storing 10GB or less (they make their money on ads for the free version), and modestly priced if you're storing 1T or less. The Texas-based company behind it has found a sizeable audience in the U.S., but Indonesia, India, Egypt, and Brazil are very close behind.
The breeding ground for software and apps is so much larger than the mainstream ones most of us use. The Spain-based site Uptodown.com (launched nearly 15 years ago) represents that breeding ground, with tens of thousands of products-all vetted and written-up by the site's editorial team, all with comments from users. Its blog and news functions have tutorials and updates, as well as tips and tricks-making it a fully functional support network. Alexa.com counts more than 2.5 million daily unique visitors-largely from Brazil, Mexico, India, Indonesia, and Argentina.
Feedly.com's tagline, "The content you need to accelerate your research, marketing, and sales," sounds capacious, but the key is the site's ability to deliver less content to you, not more-from blogs, commercial publications, YouTube, and other sources. One of its useful pieces of functionality is the creation of collections-so you can sort what's coming according to the way you sort information in your own mind. Plus, it integrates with Trello, Slack, OneNote 365, and Evernote, which is handy if your interests are aligned with your day job (and Feedly Academy offers excellent tutorials). Biggest adopters? Japan, Russia, and the U.S.
You have to see 9gag.com to believe it. It is, for all intents and purposes, one giant procrastination aid and a relentless Internet bazaar full of terrible, image-based puns that skews toward superhero worship and mild to saucy cultural commentary. There's even a section on crowd-sourced Cosplay, so you can connect with other adults who choose to make every day Halloween. Recently, there was something on there about a dead rat and Pokemon that was couched as a statement on the Rio Olympics this summer-maybe. There was also an amateur video of a rave dance party, c. 1997, in either Russia or Germany that was, admittedly, funny to watch for the remarkable fashion as well as the moves.
The National Institutes of Health is one of the world's largest biomedical research institutions globally, and one of the largest concentrations of blindingly smart people in the U.S.-with more than 5,200 researchers and postdoctoral fellows. It also employs almost 20,000 support staff beyond that brain-trust. Since Nih.gov is the front door for America's research agency of record, it offers a comprehensive, transparent account and resource for everyone-grants, initiatives, findings, clinical trial listings, and science news. While most of its web traffic is from the U.S., Indian and Chinese browsers often point there on a regular basis.
Livejournal.com is a kind of Facebook that, in an alternate universe sans Mark Zuckerberg, might have taken root and been the hub of our digital lives. That alternate universe is Russia, sort of, where 57% of its traffic comes from. Livejournal.com is, as the name suggests, about blog posts and diaries that is where a lot of young Russians get their information about current events, local protests, or social issues. Although it was founded (and is based) in San Francisco, it is owned by a Russian conglomerate and is an official partner of Russian news outlet Gazeta.ru.
We all know Wikipedia. There's a bigger story here, though, written by the Wikimedia Foundation-the non-profit that defines open source information building. Wikimedia.org takes you to a landing page that features no fewer than 16 "initiatives" or "projects" proffered by the foundation-from the well-known -pedia to Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikidata, Wikiversity, and an excellent travel site called Wiki Voyage (among others). Most of its traffic comes from the U.S., but India, Russia, Japan, and Germany form a group of secondary markets.
Softonic.com began life almost two decades ago as a software download site-and reportedly had six million visitors a day at its peak. It's a different sort of site now, focused more intently on news, videos, reviews, and tips rather than just downloads (although a deals section as some pretty good and heavily marked down products for purchase). It's editorial voice and agenda is laudable, too-taking the side of the average consumer with a geek streak (without being patronizing) while also appealing to die hard techies (without being fiercely exclusionary) is no easy line to walk.
At base level, artificial intelligence is about creating an analog to the human capacity to think. HAL 9000 was kind of a disaster, but that's a different story. Trello.com is similarly keyed to the human capacity to productively organize tasks. It's basically a board of sticky notes (known as "cards" in Trelloese) that you can position and reposition, with associated checklists and deadline trackers for any number of participants. Trello Business Class is an upgrade, for more complex organizational needs, but the basic service is robust and even comes with an avatar dog named Taco who kind of floats around and helps you when you need it.
Internet Archive, or simply Archive.org, is a library of free media of all stripes. All of it is searchable and also sorted by repositories-everyone from the University of Toronto to the Library of Congress-and by collections-such as, amusingly, Grateful Dead, "silent film," Bad Panda Records, and others. Looking to scratch a Billy Corgan itch? Hit up the Smashing Pumpkins channel for song snippets or entire concerts (with track listings). The interface is simple (even if you end up hitting the back button quite often to redirect your browsing) and the archive is complete enough to never reach the end.
Lifebuzz.com wants you to "live inspired," and that's entirely possible on the 101st most popular site in the U.S. (with sizable fan bases in the U.K., India, Canada, and Australia). "An 18 Year Old Got Her Painting in the Met, Because Dreams Do Come True," and "Children of the Most Evil Men in History" are just two offerings-at opposite ends of the inspiration spectrum, clearly. The mega menu is simple: inspire, live, and learn are each broken down into sub-categories that are logical and if not inspiring, then certainly entertaining.
Medium.com solicits material that's about the quality of the idea, rather than the qualifications of the writer, and encourages thoughtful citizens to opine on any number of topics, "from astute observations to inspired rants," according to their promotional video. The site's contribution mode-the "editor"-creates a distraction-free zone that is virtually idiot-proof, so all of the anxiety of blogging is removed for the blogger. What's left is an elegant site and a straightforward experience for both the writer and the reader, and its popular in India, Russia, the U.K., South Korea, and the U.S.
Shopify.com is a boon for small business owners, makers, and artisans who want a hassle-free hub to operate an online store, take and fill orders, and have the benefit of social media integration that requires nearly zero effort. Behind the e-commerce site featuring your products are fairly robust order tracking, analytics, and mobile functions. There's even a proprietary Shopify point-of-sale swipe card-reader that you can attach to your tablet or phone (and an upcharge for the new chip card-reader), so you can sell online, on the street, or in a bricks-and-mortar business.
If you have kids in school, Blackboard.com is a site you may have encountered. School districts far and wide utilize it for collaborative assignments, class websites, communication tools for the broader academic community, and analytics. Higher education uses it for those things and more-including virtual classrooms and distance learning. Businesses also use it for training and conferencing. A little more than half of the site's traffic comes from the U.S., but Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and China are emerging players who are using Blackboard.com to fill the cracks in sometimes challenged academic institutions.
Siteadvisor.com is a product offered by McAfee that maps onto your browser to tell you-with little icons-which search results are safe and which are not safe. It also works with social media platforms, as well, protecting you from that seemingly innocuous dancing cat video. Downloads, too, are scanned and tagged as safe or unsafe (or even moderately safe). And, the best part about Siteadvisor.com is the plug-in is free. Globally, Germany is the number one market for this product, followed very closely by Brazil. It's also big in France, the U.S., and Italy.
Scribd.com is a subscription-based e-book, audio book, and comic book digital library service with over a million titles and more than 60 million documents in its open library. It got its start as an academic paper sharing site in 2007 and quickly morphed into a sharing site for all sorts of documents. Since 2013, its subscription model has focused on digital books (after striking deals with major publishers), and its audio book offerings have grown steadily since their introduction a year later. India and Indonesia represent the two largest markets for San Francisco-based Scribd.com, with the U.S. a close third-but Mexico and Brazil are gaining.
Before sending that reply to a group chain, how often have you taken a minute to search for just the right animated GIF? You have probably found some of those files on Giphy.com, which is an insanely rich (and procrastination-worthy) trove of cinematic blips, feline shenanigans, and any number of celebrity faces reacting to inane questions on daytime television. The search function on Giphy.com is reliable and easy to use, meaning you will spend less time trying to act cool in the hunt for the perfect GIF-and more time actually appearing cool when your texting lag-time is a mere 10 seconds.
Share and follow buttons on websites are must-haves these days-like fries with your burger, or even more dramatic, like wheels with your car. Making it easy for visitors to hook into their social media accounts (while keeping them on your website) is vital if you're going to keep your time-on-page numbers up. Addthis.com also has some targeting overlays and bumpers that you can integrate into your website-the "subscribe now and never miss a beat" window that pops up and makes it easy for people to begin their brand relationship with you. India loves this site-almost 26% of Addthis.com's traffic comes from the country.