makes a website one of the greatest?
is not an easy question to answer. Even so, each of us has probably visited
some of the finest sites on the Web many times. These are the sites that
make us think, “how wonderful and amazing that such a site exists!”
in compiling the “100 Best Websites” list has been to provide
you with a collection of the most outstanding of such sites, websites
that will dazzle you with their excellence. Many of them you will have
heard of, others will almost certainly be new to you. But we think that
if you take the time to explore each of these sites, you will be abundantly
rewarded for your effort.
is a summary of the criteria we use when scouring the Internet for the
best websites in existence. Our team of editors has subjected each of
these criteria to reflection, discussion, and enlargement, but we feel
you might benefit from having a look at this simple summary.
Best Websites” list is more than the sum of its parts. We have strived
to ensure that at least one site from every major area in which the Internet
is particularly powerful is represented. Taken together, the sites constitute
a very potent collection! We hope it will be useful to you.
is a summary of the 21 criteria we use in refining the
list of “100 Best Websites”:
Criteria: all the sites in our list should score high in each
of the following categories. These criteria are listed in no special order:
they are weighted roughly equally in considering any candidate site (with
the exception of the first and most general of the criteria).
Excellence: Is the site simply the best available in its
category? This is the least specific and most important of the criteria.
Having selected a subject area in which the Internet is especially
powerful (such as news, free speech, entertainment, etc.), is there
no better representative website of that subject area anywhere on
the Web? Of course, the criteria that follow give a greater rigor
to our answer to this question, but we should always keep this “overarching
gestalt” in mind.
2. Content Richness: Is the site rich in content?
Here, we must take care to distinguish great websites from good websites
about great things! We might think the Beatles are the greatest rock
band in history, but that doesn’t make a website about the Beatles
great. For a website about the Beatles to be great, it would have
to provide abundant, high-quality content about them (perhaps history,
interviews, a timeline, a comprehensive list of their songs, lyrics,
biographies, photos, etc.) If the most important three words in real
estate are “location, location, location”, the most important
three words in website evaluation are “content, content, content”!
3. Breadth: Does the site broadly cover a subject
area that is one of the great strengths of the Internet? For example,
we might be considering two websites about human history. One attempts
to cover the entire scope of human history, providing substantial
information about the major civilizations of humankind as well as
links to specialized historical websites for additional information.
The other might focus on a particular period in history, say, the
time if the Indus Valley civilizations of India. Each might be outstanding
in its treatment of its subject. But for the purposes of this list,
the first website, the broader of the two, would be preferred.
4. User-friendliness: Is the site intuitive and easy
to use? Does it enable the user to jump right in with very little
5. Reliability: Is the site reliable? Is it nearly
always available, and is it unlikely to "crash" the user's
browser? A wonderful site that is often unavailable is not great.
6. Wholesomeness: before “Censorship!”
alarms start going off, a little clarity is in order! For the purposes
of this list, what is wholesome is more easily determined via
negativa (by seeing what it isn’t) than directly.
The questions are pretty straightforward. Is anyone likely to be harmed
by exploring this site? Is this site likely to foster states of mind
in its viewers that could lead them to harm others? Could this site
be viewed by children with approval from loving and thoughtful parents?
As a matter of consensus, the editors of this site (a pretty broad-minded
lot who cherish free speech) have chosen not to include pornographic
websites, websites devoted to the lurid details of infamous crimes,
or websites that might reasonably be considered “the dark side
of the Net”. No sites that you view in this list should leave
you feeling that you need to take a shower or see a psychiatrist after
viewing them (except perhaps the news sites)! Is this a bias? Perhaps.
Or perhaps it is sound judgment. We can agree to disagree here if
needed (hopefully without being disagreeable), but the most important
thing is that we disclose this precept to you. We think you’ll
find that the list has not suffered for this modest exclusionary rule.
7. Freshness: If applicable, is the site frequently
updated? Obviously, this is more important in a news site or online
magazine than a site devoted to the philosophy of 5th Century Athens.
But even the site on philosophy would probably benefit from occasionally
8. Security: Is the free from signficant security
risks to the user? If it is a commercial site, does it restrict transactions
to a secure interface? If it is a site from which the user can download
things, is care taken to ensure that these things are safe for the
II. Secondary Criteria: these are ceteris paribus
or "other things being equal" criteria. It is not essential that
a candidate site score high in each of these categories, but it is certainly
desirable. These criteria are especially useful in making a final decision
among three or four outstanding sites in the same category. Unlike the primary
criteria listed above, these are listed in approximate descending order
of importance (most important at the top).
Free Content? Is the content free? This is not an
absolute requirement, but strong preference is given to sites with
high-quality no-cost content. A free site that offers 85% of the high-quality
content of its for-pay counterpart will probably be preferred to the
for-pay site (other things being equal).
10. Skillful Practices? Does the site follow “skillful
practices”? Opinions vary greatly on just what constitutes skillful
web design. Our feeling is that it is best defined with respect to
an imagined "minimal" Web user. Imagine someone using a
dial-up connection on a Pentium 133 MHz PC with a 15-inch monitor.
Further, this person is using a browser that is a few years old. This
is not the most primitive system that can access the Web, but it is
a pretty good least common denominator. Would our candidate site load
reasonably quickly on such a system? Would the main features of the
site be visible without scrolling on a 15-inch monitor with text-size
set to "medium"? (If you hold up an 8 1/2" X 11"
sheet of paper horizontally, you have the viewable area of a 15-inch
monitor. Are all the primary features of this site present within
that area?) Though this is an important criterion, we have listed
it as secondary because we are willing to tolerate a certain range
of unskillful practices if the content of a website is outstanding.
(Our consensus is that the model site for skillful practices is Google
11. Easy Access? If the site has free content, is
it easily available (without registration, passwords, or other hoops
the user has to jump through)? If the site is available only for pay,
is the "access ritual" minimally cumbersome?
12. Modestly priced? If the site is only available
for pay, is the cost modest and reasonable? How does the cost compare
with other sites offering similar services for pay?
13. Creative? Innovative? Is the site, innovative
and/or creative? Some sites redefine a whole category of how things
are done on the Web (we think Craigslist
with its anonymous email forwarding is an outstanding example of this.
Of course, Yahoo is perhaps the
superlative case). Sites which take risks and succeed in breathtaking
ways are definitely given preference, other things being equal.
14. Objective? If applicable, is the site independent
and reasonably objective? This is relevant for sites that present
themselves as objective, explicitly or tacitly: news sites, reviews
15. Aesthetic? Is the site aesthetically pleasing?
is a site that fares well by this criterion.)
16. Fun? Is the site enjoyable? Never underestimate
the value of fun! (We think a great example of this is UComics.com
17. Multimedia rich? Is the site multimedia rich
(upon demand) and skillful in its use of multimedia?
18. No annoying advertising? Specifically, does the
site shun annoying advertising? Web users can happily live without
pop-up ads, “Punch the Monkey” banners, and “Skip
Intro” videos. Other things being equal, we prefer sites that
spare us these minor irritations.
19. Persistence: Is the site likely to be persistent?
The determination of the likelihood of persistence is a bit arcane,
but we have a method that has worked pretty well!
20. Non-profit? Is the site non-profit? You will
find quite a few ".org" and ".edu" sites here.
Non-profit sites are not intrinsically preferable, but since they
do not get the same attention as their commercial counterparts, one
is more likely to find hidden jewels in their ranks.
21. Easy-to-remember URL? Can the site name be memorized
easily or “bookmarked in one’s neurons”? Catchy
names are not essential, but they do enable a user of the site to
access it from just about any Web terminal. If you're at a library
terminal and you want to visit give.org,
you'll probably remember the URL (web address), but if you want to
you will probably not remember the URL.
Copyright 2004 by 100bestwebsites.org