When we decided to poll readers on their favorite Web sites about a month ago, we didn't expect to get much more than a few suggestions to add to our first-ever Best of the Web list. Silly us. Instead, we got a flood of votes beyond all expectations -- well over 16,000 valid responses -- that span a wider range of interests than you might expect from a business-oriented audience.
Judging from the results, BusinessWeek Online readers love to watch and share video and photos, blog, and shop more than anything else. But they also use the Web to get things done: To find and sell stuff on the classified-ad site Craigslist, look for jobs on HotJobs and SimplyHired.com, research investment information on Yahoo! Finance (YHOO), and find and socialize with friends on the social-networking services MySpace and Rabble.
It's always risky to draw too many sweeping conclusions from online polls, especially when they're as open-ended and unscientific as we freely admit ours was. Truth be told, some folks managed to submit multiple votes for a site within seconds of each other, which wasn't supposed to be allowed. Sorry, guys -- we detected that ballot-stuffing and eliminated those bogus votes from the results. Other sites exhorted their fans to vote, so those savvy enough to rally their troops clearly logged a lot more votes. We let those through, since the fact that they could rally so many fans is another rough gauge of popularity.
KEEPING TRACK. Some choices in the online poll won't be surprising. Google (GOOG) as the king of search? Check. MySpace as the leader in social networking? Check. World of Warcraft as the winner in online games? Check. And they deserve their high marks.
By contrast, the picks from BusinessWeek editors veer purposely more toward the lesser-known sites. They range from the local-services review site Yelp to Plazes, sort of a navigation system for your social life that lets you keep friends, family, and colleagues aware of where in the world you are.
That said, there's also a lot of overlap between the lists -- partly because we seeded the initial choices in the poll, before adding more reader-driven choices later. But also, we hope, because great minds think alike.
"PARTICIPATORY WEB." Indeed, readers spotted a number of ace sites and services we hadn't heard about. One reader turned us on to both MightyGoods, a great blog that points to carefully chosen, quality products available online, and Ask Metafilter, where you can request answers to just about any question and get a lot of surprisingly good advice. Others pointed us to Podcast Pickle, a podcasting site with (go figure) a grinning preserved cucumber for a mascot that's jam-packed with features such as personalized favorites lists.
Nowhere was reader enthusiasm more apparent than our @Home category -- especially for video, which overflowed the virtual ballot boxes with more than 9,726 valid votes. (And, for whatever reason, it also drew the most fraudulent votes of the entire poll.) The media-sharing service Grouper captured nearly 80% of the votes even though it's relatively new. We suspect that there was some cheerleading going on to create such an unprecedented crush of votes.
But clearly, people are ready to share their music, video, and other media. "People want to contribute," notes Julie Herendeen, vice-president for network products at Yahoo, who oversees Yahoo 360. "We're moving toward a more participatory Web."
SHOPPING AROUND. Not many readers cast votes for home-oriented personal services, even though we find some of them among the most useful sites on the Web. Sure, Craigslist deservedly garnered the lion's share for its no-nonsense, high-quality listings of jobs, home rentals, and stuff for sale. But it's well worth checking out Yelp and the ace personal organizer Backpack. And take a gander at HousingMaps.com: It's a so-called Web mash-up that uses Google Maps to pinpoint where Craigslist rental listings are located in local communities.
Not surprisingly, shopping dominated the voting in the @Play category. But the winner was unexpected: MightyGoods, the shopping blog, with 76% of the more than 2,300 votes. It's a great site, of course, but it's a little weird that Amazon garnered only 17% and eBay just 5% of the votes. Maybe their fans were too busy shopping to participate. We like them all, but recommend not missing lesser-known sites, such Etsy, which has very nice handcrafted goods, and FatLens, which makes searching for sports, concert, or theater tickets a snap.
Humor also draws a lot of attention, and we were pleased to see that the twisted humor at a site we love -- defective yeti -- topped the reader poll, with 48% of the votes. Folks also flock to music sites, though it's surprising that Apple Computer's (AAPL) iTunes Music Store garnered only 39% of the votes, noticeably less than Yahoo Music's 50%. The editors, a somewhat more adventurous bunch, like newer, personalized services such as last.fm, Pandora, and Mercora.
HELP WANTED. Somewhat unexpectedly, readers who voted in the @Work category preferred some sites that haven't captured headlines so far. At the tech-news site Digg.com, which got nearly 70% of votes -- way ahead of such luminaries as CNET's (CNET) News.com and Slashdot.org -- readers submit links to stories from a wide variety of sources and then vote which ones should be on the home page.
Likewise, while Yahoo's HotJobs captured the lead in favorite job-hunting sites, with 36% of votes, the lesser-known SimplyHired got a significant 25%. The editors have been warming lately to LinkedIn, which got 15% of votes, because it seems to be attracting a critical mass of people who can work through their online networks of contacts to find jobs and job candidates with relative ease and speed. "In 2004, people said, 'O.K., it's not social networking, but what is it?'" admits LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman. "Now people are saying, 'I get it, it's a business tool.'"
And don't miss some of the editors' picks in this category, such as the illuminating blogs BuzzMachine and Scobleizer, by a Microsoft blogger. Also worth checking out is the entire Collaboration group, including the likes of Basecamp, a group project organizing service, and Socialtext, whose "wiki" service lets people share group workspaces online.
SITE OVERLOAD. The sites in Public Domain didn't seem to garner as much interest as some of the other categories, despite the inclusion of the otherwise wildly popular MySpace. Maybe people have already settled on what news and political sites they like. The most notable vote-getter: Freecycle, whose network of community recycling sites dominated their category despite an upwelling of controversy in our TechBeat blog over the group's direction.
Not the least, readers found many sites in the Toolbox category very appealing. No surprise that blogging services dominated, with nearly 2,100 votes -- mostly for the popular personal-blogging service LiveJournal. It's also apparent that wireless services, such as the cell-phone-based social-networking service Rabble, are starting to take off. The editors recommend checking out JotSpot, where you can create your own simple software applications. The more daring might check out Greasemonkey, software that lets you install mini-programs on your browser to customize your Web experience.
This wealth of sites is a mixed blessing. Some people wrote us to groan of Web overload from all the choices. Andrew Brudtkuhl, a software engineer at Data Builder, a document-software maker in Des Moines, Iowa, says he has had to cut way down on his blog reading and Flickr browsing to leave time for other things, like eating and sleeping. "I'd like to see someone make an application that encompasses everything I do and filters all that information," he writes. So would we. If you find it, let us know. By Rob Hof in Silicon Valley