What Do You Think? Most Important Websites of the Decade

January 11, 2010
By | 15 Comments

Continuing with our series (music and film still to come, TV already here), what websites would you nominate as the most important of the decade? We’re not asking for the “best” per se, and we’re leaving it open with regards to what constitutes “importance,” but humor us and play along. We’ve started the ball rolling, with personal picks, but the list needs your participation too.

All we ask is that you only list one per post, then let others have a turn, since we want this list to form communally, not simply to be a collection of everyone else’s lists. Also, be sure to say why it’s important.

Craigslist (Jonathan Gray): I chose a slightly more arcane pick for the TV Show list, so I’ll go mainstream here. Nowadays, when people talk about the death of newspapers, it’s blogs that get the blame, but back in the early to mid 00s, it was Craig who they all wanted to kill, and most nashing of journalistic teeth had Craig at the center. He took away a huge portion of their revenue stream, allowed many of us to find apartments without evil brokers, gave local TV news broadcasters yet another site to have a moral panic about, and showed that you don’t need flash graphics to succeed online. For all those who have ever bought, sold, given, or found something or someone on Craigslist, raise a glass to Craig.

Google News (Andrew Bottomley): It’s almost too obvious to state but over the past decade the Internet has drastically changed how we access and consume media. On a daily basis, most of us consume a greater quantity and variety of music, video, photos, reviews, personal correspondence, and the like than ever before, and that information comes to us from both more numerous and more diverse sources. There are a lot of sites that have enabled these changes – Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Yelp, Digg, to name a few – but few were more consequential than Google News. The Internet search giant’s news aggregator revolutionized not only how people read the news (online and for free) but what news they read, as the service pulls from more than 4,500 English-language news sites. As a result, readers can instantaneously find news sources, both big and small, from all over the world. This decentralization of the new industry has allowed readers to freely seek out whatever news they wish – no longer confining them to the major TV networks, cable news outlets, and major daily newspapers and news agencies. Moreover, it helped transform the news into a two-way medium by enabling readers to effortlessly share it with other readers and subsequently engage in discussion about it through other alternate channels of communication such as Twitter.

YouTube (Josh David Jackson): The one-stop site for music videos, viral ad campaigns, cute animal videos, hate messages, TV theme songs, machinima, lip-synch videos, ghost riding the whip, beauty tips, bloopers, local news segments, home videos, live performances, recut trailers, Viacom content, college lectures, live TV slips, incredible amateurs, old commercials, grassroots agitation, Astroturf, coming out stories, science stunts, fan films, home improvement demos, executions, dumbassery, animation, language lessons, wedding entrances, nonsense, video game walkthroughs, tired memes, funny babies, student films, marriage proposals, comedy bits, international TV, odes, guided meditation, protest footage, rants, editing virtuosos, gross-out videos, workout routines, public service announcements, confessionals, AFHV clips, historical footage, awesomely bad TV, conspiracy theories, etc.

Real Clear World/Politics/Markets (Matt Sienkiewicz):  There is perhaps a bit of recency bias with this choice, but the Internet is nothing if not fleeting.  Between 2008’s compulsive poll-checking and 2009’s onslaught of bad news, RCW/P/M has provided a wonderful, truly global alternative to the Wild West World of the blogosphere.  The sites are essentially just filters and aggregators, but they’re really good ones. Just like any skillful montagist, they have the ability to take two items and, through juxtaposition, make them worth much more than the sum of the parts.  Wall Street Journal articles on Finance sit next to John Nichol’s work in The Nation; a China Post analysis of terrorism in Malaysia resides, perhaps a little bit uncomfortably, right below an NY Post story about drones and the War on  Terror.  RCW/P/M shows how the Internet can complement Old Media by being fast, global and creative without sacrificing the editorial oversight and long-term research that makes newspaper writing so important.


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15 Responses to “ What Do You Think? Most Important Websites of the Decade ”

  1. Erin Copple Smith on January 11, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    Well, I love a good blog, so I’ve got to nominate Heather Armstrong’s Dooce.com as the standout blog of the decade.

    Started in 2001 in the early days of “online journaling” that became what we now know as “blogging,” Dooce.com began as a place for Heather to rant about her job and talk about her life. After her employers found out about the site, she was fired–a moment that coined a new phrase: dooced (v): To get fired for writing about your job online. (This, in fact, has become so iconic that it was featured as a $2000 question on Jeopardy! recently.)

    Nowadays, dooce.com generates enough profit to function as the full-time job of both Heather and her husband, Jon. Instead of her office job, Heather now writes about life as an ex-Mormon living in Salt Lake City, and also her family (Jon, two daughters, two dogs), and life in general. Her battles with post-partum depression (resulting in a stay in a psychiatric hospital) have become the basis of one of her two published books.

    Last year, Heather was named one of Time’s 25 Best Blogs of 2009, and was named #26 on Forbes’ list of the 30 most influential women in media (right behind Oprah, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, etc.).

    Whether blog fans read her or not, love her or hate her, she’s become a deeply entrenched part of the media landscape.

  2. Matt Sienkiewicz on January 11, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    And, you know, Facebook. Anything that brings another Jesse Eisenberg into the world is good by me.

    • Liz Ellcessor on January 11, 2010 at 6:27 PM

      Josh stole my pick! YouTube was really groundbreaking, integrating social networking and video, professional and amateur, legal and not-so-legal. It paved the way for current uses of blogs and Facebook, it inspired Hulu and made streaming video mainstream in other internet sites and media outlets.

      Just as crucial, and on a serious note, I’ll nominate Drudge Report/MoveOn.org. Both started as email lists in the late 1990s, but the websites that emerged influenced the forms of political blogging and online news that became increasingly central to US elections. Drudge’s reliance on primary documents disproved the mainstream media’s information monopoly, and MoveOn’s attention to grassroots politics and local organizing (Meetups, petitions, etc.) reinvigorated political activism. They were an inspiration for other lobbying and nonprofit groups, as well as for political blogs (Huffington Post, Michele Malkin).

  3. Germaine Halegoua on January 11, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    Ok, though Andrew already mentioned it in his post, I feel like it must be said: Twitter.

    The site has received lip service in media outlets across the board, and has been analyzed from hyperbolic utopian and dystopian perspectives, as well as everything in between. Third party applications for Twitter like Tweetdeck, Twitpic, and TweetMeme abound, as do references to the service’s 140 character limit for posts, and notes about community-driven conventions and innovations like the use of hashtags, for example.

    Also, if you remember when Twitter launched around 2006, there were more articles and blog posts circulating about the service’s “uselessness” and predictions of its imminent death, rather than calls for papers about how Twitter use has revolutionized global politics. Over the past decade, Twitter has endured, and according to David Carr’s recent NY Times piece, Twitter will endure. Last year, Nielsen Online found that the micro-blogging service registered slightly over 7 million unique visitors in the month of February alone, and the predicted number of users in the US for this year is around 26 million. With numbers like that, the notion that Twitter will merely “endure” almost seems like an understatement.

    Equally important during this decade though: Keyhole, which then became Google Earth.

  4. Annie Petersen on January 12, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    TMZ. Love it or hate it, it’s absolutely altered the landscape of celebrity gossip, exchanging the celebrity photo for the celebrity video AND becoming the first to successfully transfer web content to television. TMZ broke the biggest gossip scoops this year, including calling MJ’s death HOURS before anyone else, but it also got tape, party menus, and photos of bailout bigwigs partying on taxpayer dollars. And even if none of us are reading it, its numbers are through the roof. AND it’s got Time Warner big bucks behind it…and might have been the only successful enterprise under the AOL banner (until very recently, it was a coproduction of AOL and Time Warner’s Telepictures).

  5. Jeffrey Jones on January 12, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    How about simply Google? It is a website, and although YouTube is transformative, who owns who?

  6. McChris on January 12, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    I’d argue that Blogger.com put into motion the mainstreaming the trends in web publishing and social media that most of the previous posts describe. Although blogs or personal publishing weren’t new this decade, I think Blogger was the first to bring the concept to a mainstream user base.

  7. Lindsay H. Garrison on January 12, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Great list going here. Something that comes to mind for me in terms of transformative web sites of the aughts are blogging template sites, like Blogspot/Blogger (also owned by Google) or WordPress. Blogger was initially launched in 1999, but exploded after being purchased by Google in 2002. WordPress came along as open-source alternative in 2003, but between the two, they’ve clearly changed the game for web publishing and the ways in which people can/do interact with the internet. Blog template sites offer an easy road to web presence for everyone from mommies and cooks to Wyclef Jean and National Geographic, and power a massive amount of the content we interact with online. WordPress alone has brought us the greatness that is Perez Hilton, Wonkette, TechCruch, Stuff White People Like, Lol Cats, and of course, Antenna.

  8. Jonathan Gray on January 12, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    If I might add another, selfishly, let’s go with Flow. Was it important to the world at large? Probably not. But it did something very important in our field, demanding different types of discussion and presentation of research, becoming a great site for community, launching two successful conferences, inspiring many others to start blogging after they got the taste from writing for Flow, and forcing a lot of us to deliver on promises of open access. Several other aca-blogs preceded it, but Flow went large. Bravo, Avi, Chris, UT, and co.

  9. Jason Mittell on January 12, 2010 at 10:13 PM

    Not precisely a website, but rather an app/platform: iTunes. When it launched, nobody thought people would actually pay for mp3s that could be downloaded for free. Then nobody thought people would pay for TV eps that they could watch for free. And meanwhile, both industries were transformed by Apple’s success. Plus it invented a new form of audio culture in podcasts. Can’t imagine media without it today.

  10. Michael Curtin on January 13, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    Wikipedia. It changed my students’ lives.

    • Ben Morton on January 18, 2010 at 10:28 AM

      Finally someone says it. But it also changed our lives. We’ll sacrifice total certainty for the quick reference.

  11. Sreya Mitra on January 13, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    Well, it’s been said before…but definitely Youtube. Where else could I have watch Bollywood superstars on yet-another Indian talk show, or the latest Bollywood flick in eighteen installments?

  12. Mike Chopra-Gant on January 14, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    Two candidates, Questia and Spotify. I say Questia as much because of the potential as much for what it represents at the moment. As the library gets larger the degree to which it eases the process of obtaining access to books and journal article, as well as the way that it indexes the texts, making it much easier to home in on exactly what you are after, will revolutionise the process of research. Spotify? Well if you got in early and got the free version, what’s not to like? Paying for it, however, is an idea that…er…what’s the word?…oh yes, sucks!

  13. Myles McNutt on January 16, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Since I’ve contributed to the other lists, I’m going to go with The Onion here. Not only did it help capture a particularly fantastic form of satire, but the site has always expanded with The A.V. Club into the world of cultural commentary that need not appear as satire. While the site has adapted over time to include the A.V. Club as well as a viral video component, it has always felt like an almost effortless transition that hasn’t muted their original impact while expanded their reach to reflect changes to how we experience content online.