Marge Simpson: This [snowstorm] is terrible! How will the kids get home?
Homer Simpson: I dunno, Internet?
Contrary to popular experience, it actually is possible to navigate the flurry of gratuitous websites on the Internet to reveal the occasional hidden gem that doesn’t waste your precious time (or, effectively does, if that’s what you’re going for). In instances even more atypical, useful -- even really useful
-- sites are uncovered by steadfast individuals in their online quest for meaning, purpose, and really hot deals.
Since it’s been said that the more hours spent on the Internet, the more stressed, lonely, and depressed people feel (and, arguably, that’s at least partly related to the endless hours it takes to find the proverbial useful needle in the useless haystack), we at Minyanville went on a quest of our own to unearth a handful of sites you may never have heard of, but that just might be of incredible assistance.
Whether it’s finding the best shopping deals online, simplifying your media consumption, or managing your travel, the web is full of solutions to your everyday problems, including ones you didn’t know you had. Here are some of the best: 1. BillShrink
Tell BillShrink a little about yourself and you’ll end up with cash in your pocket. That’s because the site’s goal is to save you money by collecting some information -- such as how quickly you pay off your Visa
(V) card, or how much texting you do through Verizon
(VZ) -- and then presenting comprehensive, unbiased lists of credit cards or cell phone plans that are better than what you’re currently using. The site also lets you shop for lower gas prices and rates on savings accounts and CDs, which it does by scanning millions of data points and constantly recalculating your needs against all possible product combinations. Visit the FAQ page to learn exactly how they pull it off. 2. Meebo
If trying to memorize the different screen names for the assorted instant-messaging programs you use is starting to usurp your brain space, check out Meebo. The site allows users to gather contacts on a single buddy list where they can chat and trade content in real-time across dozens of instant-messaging platforms, including MSN
(MSFT), Google Talk
(YHOO), Facebook Chat, and more. Currently, billions of messages and millions of links are being shared monthly, making it one of the fastest growing social-media companies on the web. 3. Boxee
Replace cable television with no remorse! Boxee unites movies, television shows, music, and photos from the Internet and your hard drive into a single interface that’s optimized for a TV and a remote control. You can access a wide range of entertainment from Netflix
(NFLX), CNN.com, YouTube, and CBS.com; use Pandora to create and listen to custom stations; play the media collection you’ve built on your hard drive; and share what you’re into with friends, all from the comfort of your couch. The software is free and easy to install in Windows, Mac, or Linux, and the cable needed to connect a computer to a high-def TV is under $20. 4. Woot
It’s possible you need “today’s Woot” -- that is, the only item the website is featuring for sale right now (go ahead, check). Woot.com is an online store and community focused on selling primarily electronics and computer hardware at low prices -- one product at a time. A new item -- such as the Leapfrog Didj Custom Educational Gaming System for sale as this article goes to press -- is released every morning at 12 a.m. central time, and is shipped to buyers via FedEx Ground. If the product sells out during its run, a new item doesn’t appear until the next release time. There’s plenty you need to know before you buy, such as the no-returns policy (“if you have buyer's remorse, sell it on eBay”) and lack of customer service, but the droll explanations make it almost fun to be told that “if the item doesn't work…it’s probably your fault.”5. Dirpy
If during your YouTube foolery you stumble upon the most awesome acoustic version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” you’ve ever heard, Dirpy.com will convert it to a high-quality mp3, as well as allow you to download the video directly. Though there are a number of flv to mp3 converters out there, users rave about Dirpy Studios’ valuable features, including real-time transcoding, the ability to specify the portion of the audio you want to download, options to specify the file name, title and artist, and the advertisement-free experience. 6. Shop It to Me
ShopItToMe.com would like to apply to be your personal online shopper. And it’s got solid credentials, including the ability to get you apparel from brands like Prada, Armani, and DKNY, which it does by scouring the websites of leading retailers like Nordstrom
(M), Banana Republic
(AMZN), and Bluefly
(BFLY) so you don’t have to. Just create a wish list, select your brand, your size, and other preferences, and then wait for a Salemail -- a weekly email summary of bargains and relevant sales -- so you can shop till it hurts.
Buy airline ticket from Delta
(DAL). Book room at Las Vegas Sands
(LVS). Rent car from Avis
(CAR). Gather directions from Google Maps. Make reservations at Joël Robuchon. Visit TripIt.com so as not to have nervous breakdown before fun begins. Why? Because TripIt’s job is to turn chaos into order by making it easy to organize all those trip details into one master itinerary -- even if you made arrangements on multiple travel sites. You can include maps, directions, and weather in your itinerary; book restaurants and activities; check in for your flight; and organize your receipts. Then you can access it all online or from a mobile device, or share it safely with a friend -- and you won’t end up needing a vacation from your vacation. 8. Zilok
If you’re not using that squash racquet you purchased, yet are certain you’ll start your exercise regime soon, why not make some cash on it while you’re waiting for tomorrow to come? Zilok is a centralized online marketplace that allows anyone to rent, or offer for rent just about anything -- from Coach handbags to Playstations, to Ford pick-up trucks. Owners who want to rent out their stuff can recoup money they spent on an item in just a few rentals; renters can save money by renting instead of buying items they rarely use. With categories that include Autos, Tools, Luxury, Leisure, and more, you can get just about anything you need from someone near you. Just make sure you give it back.
Online stores like Staples
(SPLS), Barnes & Noble
(BKS), and 1-800-Flowers.com
(FLWS) try to give consumers a fair shot at saving by offering a “coupon code” field at checkout. But the challenge for shoppers is to not let that deal get canceled out by the amount of time they spent searching for said code. Enter CurrentCodes -- a no-nonsense, no-clutter coupons and discount-codes database with no complicated navigation, no image-heavy graphics, no hype, no ads, and no useless or expired deals. The only job of its staff is to comb the web for all available coupons and codes and verify their accuracy. When you start saving big, you’ll learn to love the site’s boring design. 10. CrossLoop
Here, “Everyone Helps.” A virtual help desk, CrossLoop is a remote desktop application and marketplace that allows anyone to help fix computer problems for other people, anywhere in the world. If you can’t get rid of that pesky error message that keeps popping up on your PC, you can give a helper a single-use code so he or she can control your computer remotely and figure out the problem. If you’re the geeky one, make some extra money by helping a technology-challenged dad find his way out of an Excel spreadsheet. Just hit the marketplace to set your own rates and determine your services. Computer crisis averted!