What are the indispensible websites of the gurus of the Internet, those that have been the most helpful and decisive? All of us have in mind some particular Internet portals, platforms and tools that have helped to make our lives easier and more stimulating, or that have even come to revolutionize the world as we know it. The book Ch@nge: 19 Key Essays on How the Internet Is Changing Our Lives compiles the websites and online services selected by the essayists, ranging from professors of prestigious universities such as Yale, Harvard or MIT to entrepreneurs, computer experts and renowned authors from academia. Here we highlight four of them that, though less well known, are good examples of the spirit that is derived from the complete list:
The powerful idea that the Internet should serve to spread knowledge is very present in this list of selected websites, and this is why they have selected arXiv, an open repository of scientific articles. It is a platform that has already reached nearly a million scientific research institutions and investigative projects in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, statistics, and other branches of science, but always from a quantitative perspective. Created in 1991, such is its current importance that in some areas it is almost mandatory that researchers upload their work to this repository, as was the case with the last paper of Stephen Hawking on black holes. Administered by Cornell University, with mirrors worldwide, about 7,000 new studies per month are currently being uploaded.
Education must also play a starring role in the open Internet of knowledge. In this area, the experts highlight Coursera, a platform for free online courses, an online education portal open to anyone that has time, the willingness to learn and an internet connection. Coursera, with over 6.5 million users, is already associated with some of the world’s top universities to teach their courses, such as Edinburgh, Georgia Tech, Columbia, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de la Lausanne, California, Yale and many more.
The Flipboard application is the platform for phones and tablets with which the new generations (and the not so new) consume information and Internet content. This is a social aggregator for news and other content that appears on the screen like a magazine, allowing the user to move from one object to another in a single gesture. It is such a quick and simple way to consume information that it is addictive, so much so that, in 2011, the Chinese government decided to block the application within its territory.
We all want to help stop global warming, but it seems that the tools are beyond our reach. To cope with this problem, the Center for Collective Intelligence MIT decided to launch ClimatEcoLab, a participatory platform to provide these tools, where people from around the world (with more than 10,000 registered members from over 100 countries) are collaborating in the development and evaluation of proposals. The big advantage is that the portal focuses on discussing and developing ideas on a scale more accessible for the community of Internet users. They also organize annual competitions to choose the best ideas that will receive funding for the fight against climate change.
Other websites and platforms chosen by experts
The two websites that stand out above the others, because they have been mentioned by many of these experts, are Google and Wikipedia. They are much more than simple portals, however, and maybe that is why they have been the initiatives born in the Internet that were most selected by the gurus. The search engine is nowadays not only one of the largest multinationals in the world, but also a monumental online services platform that has changed the way people communicate and the way businesses work. Wikipedia, much more than a mere online encyclopedia, has become the flagship of knowledge, free culture and almost all the goodwill of the Internet.
This field, that of sharing culture and knowledge without restrictions, is one of the key reasons that we group by concepts the websites selected by the experts. In this group one would find both arXiv (mentioned earlier) and SSRN, the largest platform for sharing research in the social sciences; also Scholar, a Google search engine where one finds all types of studies published in the academic field. Alongside these, Coursera is also dedicated to spreading the wisdom of the TED initiative through inspiring talks.
For their work in disseminating information, the experts have highlighted several news or link aggregators such as The Browser, the Reddit platform, the Flipboard application and Hacker News (where programmers and entrepreneurs share content from their area of expertise). It seems that the Internet experts do not rely on traditional media, not only because they prefer social news aggregators such as these, but also because of the important place occupied by alternative information initiatives such as Drudge Report, TomDispatch (calling itself an “antidote to the mainstream media”), CounterPunch, and TechCrunch specializing in web technology.
From a higher point of view, or deeper, the importance of the right of access to information in our era is also present among the sites chosen in this volume: Wikileaks and its fist on the table of opaque governments; the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the defense of civil liberties in the digital world; Free Government Information, a platform to demand transparency to public information; and Archive.org, which backs up almost all the Internet to be able to consult those pages that have disappeared.
More focused on culture and its dissemination, the experts highlight the fundamental role played by Napster, the distribution service for digital music files that changed the way people consume music. They also include Spotify, one of its many heirs in the attempt to make music more accessible and delivered in ways far removed from the classic distribution systems. Similarly, they recognize the service provided by iTunes, the revolution brought about by Amazon (and its Kindle) and the online book market of AbeBooks.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter also have a place in the minds of those most knowledgeable about the Internet, because they have changed the dissemination of information and content and the way in which people relate to one another. That has also been helped along by Skype, which allows one to connect visually with anyone anywhere on the planet. In the world of entertainment, they highlight massive games like EverQuest, for personal exercise Kinect Training is listed, and for the geekiest comics: xkcd.
In addition, these experts recognize the contribution of tools like Siri, the personal assistant application; VirtualTourist, a social network for travelers; Instapaper, which saves links for later viewing; GitHub, a hosting service on the web for software development projects; Kiva, an organization that permits money lending to small businesses or entrepreneurs in developing countries through the Internet.