I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This blog’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces even earlier than that, like some digital dinosaur hauling its hunky heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp.
With a quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the Interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the online world. And being a community-oriented sort, I’m happy to leverage my online explorations to share a roster of the websites that moved me most over the past year, in the hopes that you might find them engaging and entertaining as well.
Before I get to this year’s roster, though, I do have to note and acknowledge that my long-time, most-favorite website went dark this year, after author Rick Harris died of cancer this past April, way too young, leaving his Thoughts on the Dead website behind as an epic example of how fine writing can build worlds, and communities. Honestly, for as long as I’ve been online (which is a long, long, long time), I’d likely cite his written work, and the community he built, as perhaps the greatest thing that I’ve loved and embraced and endorsed through this, our digital era. He was a true once-in-a-lifetime genius, and I miss him and his writing, a lot. More thoughts (or “Thoughts”) on that, if you missed them when I first posted them, here.
A couple of other long-time favorite sites have either gone dark or sporadic in 2021:
- Rob Madeo‘s Keyboard Krumbs: At the time that I am compiling this list, Rob’s site seems to be consistently returning a “Nothing To See Here” response to hits from my browsers. That’s happened before, and it may just be a short-term hosting thing, or it may just be a super-good writer deciding that he’s had enough of this online nonsense, and choosing to spend his time and creative energy elsewhere. (I embed a link to his site above, even though it is broken as I do so, in hopes that it will return at some point, either as an archival resource, or as a going concern). As noted years ago in the link from his name above, I hold Rob in very high acclaim as a guy who can say a whole lot with a very small amount of text. I seriously see that as something to which I should and could aspire, but I’m just too damn wordy, so I’m doubtful that I’m going to ever rise to his level of brilliant concision.
- Mimi Smartypants: Another long-time favorite who has appeared on my “Best of the Web” lists many times over the years. Her site is still live as I type today, but she’s only infrequently posting at this point, such that it’s a thrill whenever one of her new missives arrives. (We got one this week, as it turns out, hooray!). I have loved her writing for many, many years, but the sense of awe and respect that I feel for her work was amplified dramatically during the four years when we lived in Chicago, when I was a bus and train-riding fool, making her references to those always-interesting modes of transport, and the work and residential neighborhoods they connect, all the more brilliant and real for me. Not to sound like a weirdo stalky guy, but she used to write about L stops and bus routes that I also rode regularly, so it was satisfying on some plane to know that she might have been sitting behind me some days, describing what I was looking at and seeing and smelling better than I ever could have.
I’ll be first in the fan-boy line when and if Rob and Mimi make a big, splashy return to regular web posts, but if that doesn’t happen, then I doff my cap to them both for the years of grins and giggles that they’ve provided me. And having acknowledged Rick and Rob and Mimi as part of a most respectful preamble, I now move on to the ten websites that are live and active as I write this post, and which provided me the greatest quantities of giggles and joy and thoughtful thoughts and entertainment over the past twelve months. I hope you will give them all a look-see and (where appropriate) a follow, as they’re all worthy of your support and engagement.
- Going Medieval: Dr. Eleanor Janega offers (in her own words) “Medieval History, Pop Culture, Swearing.” I love all of those things, and I adore her site, which brings history to life, while illuminating and (often) eviscerating modern stupidities that are anchored in misunderstandings of the past. Great writing and great fun. My Website of the Year for 2021, for sure.
- The Haunted Generation: I spend a lot of online time mucking about with folks in the British Isles, but few things make me wish I were English more than this site. The creators deftly explore cultural and media tropes from the years of our shared childhoods, and their work is educational and entertaining in equal measure, especially if you are drawn to the weird.
- Aphoristic Album Reviews: I love a good music-nerd list, which is an “a-DUH!” statement for anybody who has read this site for more than two weeks. Aphoristic sits sweet in my current reading pantheon as the work of another list-making fiend, whose tastes overlap with mine regularly, so I feel smart being able to meaningfully respond to his great work.
- Art & Crit by Eric Wayne: In my experience, there are folks I admire as tremendous artists, and there are folks I admire as tremendous art critics, and the Venn Diagram of those two communities has but a tiny over-lapping sliver. As small as that sliver is, Eric Wayne sits within it, a super creator, and a super analyzer of others’ creations. Great reads, always.
- The Blue Moment: Richard Williams was a long-time writer, editor and/or on-screen personality for Melody Maker, The Times, The Old Grey Whistle Test, and many other music-adjacent outlets, making him one of the most-influential music thinkers to emerge from Britain in the latter part of the 20th Century. His website offers more of the same, gloriously, thankfully.
- The Fall Online Forum: While the amazing musical group that originally inspired the creation of this site are no more, (see here), the community built to celebrate them (and countless other topics of interest) churns on, and I’m happy to have it as my current “Serial Monogam-E” site of choice for real-time Internet interaction, other social media be damned to hell.
- Vinyl Distractions: Carl Johnson is a long-time web connection from our Albany days, and I have deeply enjoyed his My Non/Now-Urban Life and Hoxsie! websites over the years. His latest offering is basically an online tribute to his record collection, and, of course, that tickles me to no end, both in terms of what he owns, and how he writes about it.
- Ramblin’ With Roger: Another friend from Albany days, Roger Owen Green is a super-long-time daily blogger of refined tastes and interests, many of which closely align with my own. Roger also brings his formidable librarian skills to organizing his information, and that’s a noticeably great thing in the mostly mucky mire of poorly-curated online experience.
- Messy Nessy Chic: One of the most-interesting sites online, and also one of the prettiest. Nessy’s every-Monday “13 Things I Found on the Internet” series is a weekly highlight for me, and her/their articles throughout the week are almost always interesting, educational, and visually sumptuous. A fine creative and commercial aesthetic here, worthy of emulation.
- Chuck The Writer: Chuck Miller is yet another friend from Albany days, and like Roger above, he is a long-time daily blogger, so you always have something(s) new to read from him, no matter how long you wait between visits. Chuck is also a tremendous champion and advocate for online community-building, and I deeply appreciate his fervor on that front.