​Great people make great sites

Some of the most innovative sites are the result of a single person with a good idea and the drive to see it through (plus a little help from their friends).

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

Pinboard bookmarking service
The Pinboard bookmarking site charges a one-time fee that increases as more people sign up. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

There are many very good reasons why you and millions of others turn to CNET for reliable, useful, and timely tech information. In fact, there are hundreds of good reasons: all the people behind the pages (and the videos, and the apps).

The talented individuals that comprise CNET -- the writers, editors, designers, developers, managers -- are among the best in the business across the board. I'm honored and humbled to share this space with them.

At the same time, there are some sites that are driven by one person with a good idea, and the drive to make it happen. That's the case with these five sites from Internet wizards.

A new model for archiving your Internet past

How much would you pay for a private archive of your personal web history? The going rate is currently $10.39, but it is likely to go up.

Maciej Ceglowski's Pinboard bookmarking service is priced to remain a one-person operation. When the service launched in 2009 it cost $3. As more new users sign up, the price goes up to match the increased work, or something like that. At least that's how Ceglowski explained it in a 2011 interview with Matthew Guay on AppStorm.

In addition to coming up with innovative business models (he actually credits Joshua Schachter with the concept), Ceglowski has some important ideas about the state of the Internet. His talk at Beyond Tellerrand in Dusseldorf, Germany, on May 20 explains the threat posed by Big Data more clearly than anything I've ever read.

Ceglowski made news in early 2013 for his Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud, which awarded $37 in venture capital to six different startups. Ryan Tate of Wired News reported that Ceglowski intended to show that startups don't always need a lot of money.

A cool place for tool fans

Kevin Kelly is probably best known as the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine. But as his Wikipedia biography indicates, Kelly is a guy with a lot of big ideas. One of his best, in my opinion, is Cool Tools, a site that's like getting lost in the world's largest hardware store, complete with demonstrations and descriptions from people who have actually used the tool.

Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools tool chest
The Cool Tools site is a gadget lover's favorite waste of time on the Web. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Cool Tools defines a tool as "anything that can be useful." Maybe you'll start by learning how to prevent a wheelbarrow from tipping, and then you'll scroll to a personal, hands-on review of a $15 portable spotlight.

Cool Tools hands-on review of a portable spotlight
The user reviews on the Cool Tools site give you a personal impression of the product. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The topics range from the best work boots to the Footbike bike/scooter hybrid to the best Wi-Fi access point. As the site's archive explains, Cool Tools started as email messages to a handful of Kelly's friends that included reviews of various products. Since 2008, the site has featured user-written reviews, now edited with care by Mark Frauenfelder.

A submission form is provided if you'd like to add your unique perspective about one of your favorite gadgets or gizmos.

An independent analysis of everything wireless

If you spend much time on Dailywireless.org, you get the impression Sam Churchill knows more about the wireless industry than any 100 people wearing a press badge at the last CTIA conference. (No, I wasn't there -- it's hyperbole.)

For example, Churchill's image-rich story about self-driving cars points out the benefits of shared driverless vehicles and the trend away from car ownership and toward mass transit. Churchill follows that up with an honest appraisal of the benefits of using rooftops in urban areas to house small-cell base stations.

Dailywireless.org: Rooftop Small Cells
Sam Churchill's Dailywireless.org goes in depth on the latest wireless technologies. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Dailywireless.org's archives include thousands of articles on such topics as GPS, space and satellites, and grassroots wireless. The archive is also searchable by month back to 2002, and Churchill provides links to dozens of tech sites.

The best of the worst of the Internet?

If you've ever asked yourself, "What's the point?" you'll probably get Distractify, a site that seems more pointless the more time you spend on it, yet the more pointless it becomes, the more time you spend on it.

Creator Quinn Hu started on YouTube as a teenager and now claims to have more than one million followers. (If I had a million followers, I think I'd call a cop. Wait a minute -- I do have a million followers: they're called "websites.")

Hu also claims to know about virality, and I tend to agree with him about that. I mean, there's eye candy, and then there's eye superglue.

I'm certainly not going to make much of an attempt to describe Distractify. I know you never thought about what your favorite movies would look like if they had been made decades earlier, but once you take a look (maybe against your better judgment), you won't be able to shake the concept out of your noggin.

Distractify's make-believe movie posters
I was about to write a caption, but something caught my attention. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

And yes, there are animals, and more animals, and more animals. And yes, they're too cute.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that's art

There are people who live for comics. I'm not one of them. Oh, I read the funny pages in the daily newspaper (Remember daily newspapers?), but generally I prefer live action and plain text -- sometimes at the same time.

Even a lukewarm comic fan such as myself appreciates the odd beauty and unsentimental humor of Benjamin Dewey's Tragedy Series. This is yet another site that is beyond my meager powers of description, and I don't mind saying it.

Tragedy Series #252: The Oracle
Benjamin Dewey's Tragedy Series is that rare thing on the Internet: Unique. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Not long after I discovered Dewey's site, I learned that the Tragedy Series is scheduled to end with the publication of the 500th tragedy this summer, as Josh Rosman reports on the Oregon Public Broadcasting site. OPB also features a video interview with Dewey.

The series has a Victorian look but a thoroughly modern irony. It's dark, but not in a particularly threatening way. It's also hysterical, in an understated way. Darkly ironic, hysterically understated -- that's all I got.

(For a look at what I've been cooking up in the lab, visit DennisOReilly.com. Just remember to keep your expectations low. I'm no Ceglowski, Kelly, Churchill, Hu, or Dewey.)