Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Time's Top 50 Websites

The Ultimate Book of Top Ten Lists: A Mind-Boggling Collection of Fun, Fascinating and Bizarre Facts on Movies, Music, Sports, Crime, Celebrities, History, Trivia and MoreTime Magazine just released its yearly "50 Best Websites of 2011" list, and it got me thinking. There's such a variety of websites on the list: everything from hipmunk (a new airfare search engine that utilizes a cool graphical interface to display flight results) to Khan Academy (a new teaching tool that just might revolutionize the way our country approaches education). I follow technology fairly closely. I read about upcoming trends, explore new websites, and generally do my best to keep up to date on anything that might affect universities, libraries, students, or librarians. And yet many of these sites were new to me. As in, I'd never heard of them.

Why is that?

The answer is simple: there's just too much information in the world today. There's so much information that even the best tool for keeping on top of it all and sorting through it (Google) isn't up to the task of actually finding you the best information. Don't get me wrong--Google (and other search engines) does a fine job at finding you information.

It's just that there's a difference between information and the best information.

I don't know about you, but when I search Google these days, a lot of the same sites keep cropping up into the top levels of my results page. Wikipedia. eHow. Things like that--unless I'm searching for a specific website, like the home page of a company. The problem with search engines is that they so often give you what's popular--they give information that's "good enough." But things can be so much better when you get really valuable information.

There's a famous quote by Donald Rumsfeld (which he got made fun of for making), but it applies in this situation:
[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.
 When you know what you don't know, then it's fairly easy to go out and find it. When you don't know what you don't know, no amount of googling will help. If you don't know a website exists, you can't very well search for it--you have to rely on finding it through other means. Means like Time's top 50 list.

But with so many different great websites coming out each year, the top 50 list approach turns into a revolving door--you see a great site one moment, then forget about it when the next great site is presented to you.

Ideally, that's where information professionals step in. People whose job it is to know what's out there and how to get to it. People who can identify a problem and know where to find the solution, all in one fell swoop.

This post has sort of rambled on by this point, so I'll wrap it up by encouraging you to get out there and explore the internet--check out the top 50 list. And support your local librarian. :-)

1 comment:

  1. And because of too much information, I discovered through years of research that most of newly created websites nowadays sound like street merchants. There is brilliance and passion, but focusing on sales is not enough. It would be great if the online world is shaped and designed to educate kids about things they can bring with them as they grow older.