No more Website of the Week?

In case anyone has been wondering where the updates have been recently, or when I'll be back on the radio, I thought it was probably time to explain what's going on.

Eagle-eared listeners will have noticed that Website of the Day quietly morphed into Website of the Week at the start of this year. And equally quietly, we wrapped up Website of the Week on the radio on Friday October 17th.

The feeling was that after almost 9 years, the feature had run its course. While there are always new sites to talk about, it's become harder and harder to find non-commercial sites which offer something completely new and different, but still have a broad appeal for Steve's afternoon audience. So Steve suggested (and I agreed) that while it was still enjoyable (for us at least, and hopefully for you as well) we should shelve the feature before we start to repeat ourselves.

When we first discussed ending the on-air feature, I thought I might keep posting a few good webby discoveries on this site… BUT we're now one month on, and I think the fact that I've not had the time (or to be honest, the inclination) to post during that time, means that it's unlikely to happen at all. But Never Say Never and all that… so if I do change my mind then you may see a few more updates here one day.

In the meantime this site will stay online as a complete searchable and browsable archive of all the sites we featured on the show from May 2004 to October 2009. And there's always Website of the Day – The Book which is a couple of years old now, and consequently very cheap. Still a good read though (I would say that, but it's true!)

As for what I'm up to next, I'm off to Radio 4 for the first few months of 2009, to work on the very excellent Saturday Live and learn how to make speech programmes.

Thanks to anyone who's ever sent me a suggestion of a site I could feature. The feedback and suggestions have always been very much appreciated. And if you've never been in touch but have ever enjoyed listening or clicking on any of the links I suggested, thanks for that too.

Cheers
Miles

Autumn 2009

The World’s First Sat-Com (and Talking Pets)

>> 230 Miles Of Love

This is almost certainly a world first. 230 Miles Of Love is a sat-com; a series of comedy sketches about the M6 which are distributed by sat-nav.
Each sketch is an mp3 file, which you download from the site and add to your sat-nav in the same way as you install any map updates. Drivers on the M6 will hear each sketch automatically as soon as they reach relavant points on the motorway. (But you can listen on your computer or mp3 player even if you’re nowhere near the M6).

The downloads are available in pre and post-watershed versions. The fruitier language is bleeped out on the former version.
The site is free-to-use and is being used as a way to raise profile and awareness for disability charity Motivation. Listeners who enjoy the sketches are asked to consider making a donation to Motivation.

>> Talking Pets

This is clever – and fun. Upload a photo of your favourite cat or dog, choose from a range of voices, add accessories (like hats or sunglasses) and type in a short sentence. Then a bit of web-based sorcery will animate your pet’s mouth, and you’ll see and hear it speaking the words you have just typed.
You can email the results to a friend or just enjoy the results for yourself. For many of us, this is the closest we’ll ever get to an appearance on The Nation’s Most Talented Pets.

Cheap train tickets, Comedy videos and zoomy 3D photos

Something useful:

>> The Train Line Fare Finder


This new tool helps you find the cheapest long distance rail tickets for your chosen journey if you can be flexible about when to travel.

Something funny:
>> Funny Or Die

Will Ferrell’s hugely successful comedy video site
launches in the UK with support and exclusive clips from Matt Lucas and David Walliams.

Something whizzy:
>> Cool Iris

This is a small download which changes the way popular photo and video sites (including Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Picasa, Flickr and Photobucket) appear on your screen. With Cool Iris installed you get a very impressive full-screen 3D view of your photos which lets you quickly zoom in from a photo mozaic to a tiny detail on any photo. It’s a bit like Google Earth for your photos.

Money and Magic

>> Kublax – Keep track of all your finances in one place

A particularly timely launch for this new personal finance site. This is designed to help you keep track of all your bank, building society and credit card accounts in one place. Create a free Kublax account and enter your bank details once. The site will automatically retrieve transaction details from multiple accounts, categorise them and display them on a graph or pie-chart so you can see at a glance exactly where your money is going.

The site uses the same levels of security and encryption as online banks and will even alert you about unusual Merlintransactions which may indicate possible identity theft.  Additional features include a budget tool to help you track your spending against personal targets, plus links to deals which may save you money on the areas where your spending is currently highest.

>> Merlin’s Magic

A terrific all-animated site to tie in with the launch of BBC One’s new epic sword and sorcery series. If you have a fairly recent Windows PC and a webcam, Merlin’s Magic is a must-try and very cool feature. Download the free software and print out a copy of a ‘Merlinesque’ rune. Turn on your webcam, hold your printout up to the lens, and wait for the magic to unfold  on your computer screen.

Young Bond Game / Google Chrome

>> Young Bond: The Shadow War

Free alternative reality online game based on Charlie Higson’s novels about James Bond’s school days at Eton College

>> Google Chrome

New from Google – a web broswer introduced as a possible alternative to Internet Explorer or Firefox and designed for maximum speed and simplicity when using video sites, web mail, or online office suites.
(Currently Windows only, but versions for Mac and Linux to follow.)

Beijing Olympics

Monkey
When I mentioned Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Monkey BBC Olympics promos a couple of weeks ago, I promised to talk in more detail about the Beijing Olympics on the web this week. However I wasn’t banking on laid-up at home nursing my own (non-Olympian) ankle injury.   So here’s a swift online-only round-up to make up for the absence of Website of the Week on the radio.

There’s been plenty of online innovation for the Beeb with the launch of the 2008 Games. There was live streaming of the opening ceremony from the BBC homepage – a first for bbc.co.uk. Throughout the games, the BBC Olympics site will stream six different channels of live coverage to anyone watching in the UK. Other online highlights from the Beeb include an interactive map and a downloadable Desktop Monkey which promised users updates on their favourite Olympic sports and reminders of when events are starting.

The Guardian has a nice piece outlining the full extent of the Beeb’s interactive coverage of the games.
The official site for the games looks lovely – truly comprehensive, with nice bonus features like My Olympic Story which has featured a different story every day for the last 100 days, each one revealing one person’s unique Olympic experience.

Finally Google have launched a dedicated portal page for the games  with features including a Google Map of medals, YouTube video highlights, Google News headlines, a video tour plus 3D models of the venues and an "iGoogle gadget" that tracks medal counts to your Google homepage.

>> Olympics Official site
>> BBC Olympics
>> BBC Interactive Olympics Map
>> BBC Desktop Monkey

>> The Guardian: BBC promises ‘cornucopia of content’

>> My Olympic Story
>> Google Olympics Portal

Cambridge Folk and online Telly

>> Cambridge Folk Festival

All roads lead to Cambridge this weekend for the biggest event in the folk music calendar. Online highlights include:

– Listen again to Radcliffe and Maconie with sessions from Seth Lakeman, Laura Marling, Devon Sproule and Tunng

– Get an exclusive free download of a Devon Sproule session track (UK only)

– Video of performances from many of the headline acts appearing at Cambridge

– Mike Harding’s podcast features a full audio preview of the festival

– Full line-up details with the chance to listen to tracks from many of artists appearing

– Photos

– Folk blog featuring posts from Mike Harding and some of the biggest names in folk.

>> Blinkx remote

This is useful. An easy-to-browse (or search)guide to all the TV shows legally available to watch online or download in the UK from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five. All this information is already available elsewhere, but now you can find it all in the same place. Simple and effective!

Boat Race, British Summertime and Free Online Photo Editing

Something Sporty:
>> The Boat Race
All tributaries lead to the Thames this weekend for the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race. The event’s official site is a good ‘un with plenty of video and photos, tips on the best vantage points for spectators and links to reviews of all the pubs along the route.

Something Topical:
>> World Time Engine
Avert post clock-change transatlantic-call catastrophe with this definitive guide to what time it is in any city (or even village) worldwide. Just type in a location to find out whether their clocks have changed yet, or use the meeting planner to work out the best time to make that call.

Something Useful:
>> Photoshop Express
For over a decade Photoshop has been the tool of choice for professional photographers and designers for editing and enhancing digital photos. But at around £600 it’s not a realistic option for cash-strapped amateur photographers. This week Photoshop have launched a completely free online service which provides beginner-friendly online photo editing along with 2Gb of online photo storage for each user.

New BBC Homepage / James Cracknell

>> The new BBC homepage
When you go to bbc.co.uk the general appearance of the homepage hasn’t changed for the last few years. It’s done its job well, but has always been a bit of a compromise because the page had to offer something to everyone in the UK. One of the aims for a new-look homepage was to make the page flexible and allow people to customise both the content and appearance. A test version of the new homepage has been running alongside the old version for a few months, but this week it’s all-change with your personalised homepage replacing the old, static version.

It’s well worth having a play with the new page. Click below for links to a video tour of the new features and a more detailed guide to what has changed.

Highlights include an animated version of the old BBC 2 on-screen clock that appeared during continuity announcements, a choice of many colour schemes and up to 12 different promotional panels for your favourite content (including blogs, iPlayer, weather for your postcode, and much more).
>> Tour the new-look homepage
>> New BBC homepage: Full feature guide

Also today:

>> James Cracknell’s Sport Relief Challenge
Here’s something I had hoped to mention on air but we ran out of time. Last week we talked about the main Sport Relief site. This week I’ve been looking at the site for James Cracknell’s Cross-Continent Challenge in aid of Sport Relief. James is currently on the third day of the challenge, during which he aims to travel to Africa from the UK in less than a week – rowing the channel, cycling down through France and Spain then swimming to North Africa (accompanied by David Walliams.

James has already completed 412 miles out of his target of 1,434 miles. It’s a really impressive site, which uses sophisticated technology to track James’ exact location, and also features regular blog and video updates, a list of the music he’s listening to en route and the chance to sponsor James’s challenge.

‘The world’s biggest free music service’

>> Last FM
I’ve been a fan of this site for a few years. It’s an interesting mixture of online radio, music recommendations and MySpace-ish social networking, but until now it’s tended to appeal mainly to younger users or music geeks. This week the site has had a major upgrade which is likely to make it much more appealing even to the least geeky of music fans
Site visitors in the UK, US and Germany can now play full-length tracks and entire albums for free on the Last.fm site. They now bill themselves as ‘the world’s biggest free music service’. You can listen to each track up to three times in full. After that, you can still access 30” clips, and find links to buy that track as a download or on CD.
In addition unsigned artists can upload their own music and get payed every time someone listens to their tracks via the site. If you choose to sign up and create a profile page, Last FM will track your listening habits, create an updating list your most listened-to songs and artists and generate lists of recommended tracks and artists based on your current favourites
Also mentioned today: