To David's page
       
 
   



This page is a range of reviews of websites which do interesting things, or develop the uses of the web in clever (or useless) ways. It is usually limited to sites which use the normal capabilities of a web browser in innovative ways -- rather than ones that require you to download unusual plugins before they will work. For information about external websites which contain information and analysis for students of new media, see the web guide and web statistics pages. Visit book reviews too.

You might think there's no point in reading reviews of websites because there's so many good ones in the world, and you might as well wander round cyberspace yourself instead of reading my thoughts about a selected few. If you feel that this is a good point, at least look at the rest of NewMediaStudies.com first. If you like reviews anyway, then carry on...
 

 

Stickernation.net

Another of those great but simple ideas. At stickernation.net, you can dowload stickers and print them out onto A4 self-adhesive paper, and there you are -- free stickers! They download in Adobe Acrobat format, which comes into its own here, as (for once) the precise layout which that format offers is necessary and helpful.

The sheets are laid out with (usually) 16 stickers per sheet, so you get super value and no wastage.

The site is very well designed. Look out for the animation on the main menu page, showing a sticker flowing from computer to printer to lamppost. Good work, stickernation!
 

 

Customatix.com - "Shoes designed by you"

Design your own trainers online! Need I say more?! It's the greatest web business idea of the century! You can pick a basic shoe from a range and then customise the colour (and sometimes material) of every part, from different parts of the soles, to the eyelets, the tongue, symbols, etc. It's quite fun to design a trainer (or "sneaker", if you will) even if you don't want to buy it. The orange, pink and lime thing you see pictured is my own scary attempt as I rushed through the procedure. You can even put words on your shoes -- up to seven characters per shoe, which users will no doubt find accommodates many names and naughty words.

Shoes made to your own specifications sounds like an expensive prospect, but prices are around $60 - $80 (US dollars) which is the kind of price people pay for name-brand trainers anyway.

One problem: It seems they only ship to US addresses at the moment! Waaaaaaaa! Why is life so unfair?!
 

 

Too Much Coffee Man

Since I used to publish a zine myself (the story of which appears in chapter one of Web.Studies), I like to keep up with the world of independent comics and zines, so when I saw a copy of Too Much Coffee Man comic in London recently I had to get it. And naturally, there's a website too. Produced by Shannon Wheeler in Portland, Oregon (where?), Too Much Coffee Man is not exactly a superhero, since he drinks too much coffee, smokes, and isn't either super or heroic. His head has a big coffee cup on it, as you, er, would expect. Wracked with self-doubt, boredom, and other modern ills, TMCM stars in an extensive series of 'adventures', many of which appear here on the website. Really you should order the comics online, though -- which you can do here too -- or Shannon will remain an impoverished genius forever. There again, self-publishing your own comics was never a money-spinner, so maybe, once again, we find the internet providing the answer to these problems. However, as all publishers and readers of zines will tell you, you can't beat the nice paper and ink productions which you can read so easily on the bus, in bed, or whatever.
 

 

The All Seeing I Internet Radio

I know, you find the idea of internet radio funny because it reminds you of this Onion story ('The highly touted "Internet Revolution" took another major step forward Monday, when Compaq unveiled a $4,995 multimedia computer system that enables users to download files containing network-television programs and display them on a computer monitor...'). The joke, of course, being that people are working extremely hard to get the internet to do things that TV and radio have been doing perfectly well for decades.

But you do now get extra choice. When I was little all you had was BBC Radio 1 with useless 40-year old DJs. Now with the internet you can have people from The All Seeing I, the most excellent band, playing you their own DJ mixes. In slightly sludgy RealAudio format. Oh well. The other thing about the internet is that quality standards improve quickly. Good.
 

 

The Sixth Sense

It's a very good film, so I thought I'd review the website, which was bound to be an intelligent, atmospheric experience to mirror the movie. Especially since they must have put shed loads of money into the marketing. Right?

Wrong. I've included it here because it's so poor. It looks horrible -- that's the main page pictured above. Very imaginative. One of the main sections is 'photos' which boasts not one but -- count 'em -- two pictures from the film. Or you can click 'synopsis' and get to... er, the page you're already on, which includes a paragraph summarising the film. Wicked. Most ingeniously of all, the site gives you the opportunity to send it your review of the movie... which then vanishes, and you can't read anybody else's reviews either. New standards in uselessness are set here.

Filmmakers please note -- don't make websites like this. It's additionally ironic because in autumn 1999 people are talking about The Sixth Sense as the big-budget friend of The Blair Witch Project, but of course Blair Witch, in spite of its relative poverty, had a much better Web experience behind it. Fail.
 

 

Leftfield's Phat Planet remixer

This is what the internet was invented for. Remix your own version of Leftfield's Phat Planet on this web-based mixing desk (the application is in the 'extras' section of the Leftfield website). You need a computer with speakers for this, obviously. If you were really Leftfield you'd have bass bins the size of the pyramids, of course, but your diddy PC speakers will have to do.

You can switch in and out the famous Phat Planet bassline, as well as a bongo pattern and breakbeat loop. You can also add hi-hat, synth, flute, clap, vocoder and bass to the mix. With the mouse you can grab the wave pattern of the loop patterns and change them. And you can record and save your masterpieces. It's quick to download too. Web application of the year!
 

 

VR Leeds

Our home city of Leeds, UK, boasts "The world's first VR cityscape" (described more cautiously elsewhere as "The UK's first VR cityscape"). Whatever, it's good. You pick from well over 100 locations on a map of Leeds, and then from that spot you can spin 360 degrees around a panorama. You can zoom in and out, and drag the movement with your mouse. The scenes are static, but flying around in them is fun. It uses the Quicktime plugin which is pretty common.

For example, pictured above right is the spot close to the Corn Exchange. Spin left and you're about to get run over by a bus. Spin right (or just keep going left) and you can see Art's Cafe and the nice new noodle bar Norman. And pictured right is Park Square, by the new Pizza Express, which it is nice to wander around here because usually in real life you're not there except at night.

You can go to parks and the waterfront [pictured below right] and the shops... (presumably this will be developed so that you can actually buy things). You can even go around the Royal Armouries, which is extremely expensive in real life (apparently -- not that I want to go), so the VR alternative saves pounds too! Admittedly your children might be disappointed if your 'trip' to the Armouries took place in front of the computer. But this is not certain. There's fun to be had wizzing round these locations by mouse.

VR Leeds looks nice, and I think is good even if you've never been to Leeds. "But what's it for?", someone asked me. Ah, well. I think pure pleasure must be the answer...
 

 

The Matrix

This site has all the usual gismos of a flashy movie site (or, to be technical, a Flashy movie site), with a photo gallery, stuff about the special effects, interviews, film credits, a downloadable screensaver, and so on. Somewhat more interesting than these, though, are the game and the comic strips.

The game

In the movie, as you may know, there is a scene where Keanu and Carrie walk down a hallway with lots of guns shooting everybody. Hmm, tasteful. It seems a bit like a video game in the film. And so on the website you can indeed play it as a Shockwave game where you move your sights around the screen (from a static location) and shoot the large number of blokes who jump out from behind pillars and shoot at you. It's not very clever, then, and not very interesting either. What's more, it's almost identical to the game on the Payback [movie] website, except with different scenery. So this isn't a very inventive new use of the web to enhance the movie-going experience. Whereas...

The comics

This is much more creative. The Washowski brothers, directors of The Matrix, are comics artists themselves, and they've got various other well-known artists to write comic strips set in the universe of the film. So people who liked The Matrix can enjoy further stories. If what you liked about The Matrix movie was its graceful action sequences then you might think that the static comics are something of a disappointment but, er, there's no pleasing some people...

Putting comic strips onto the web is not technically advanced -- you could do it with the earliest browsers -- and basing comic strips on films is nothing new either -- remember Star Wars Weekly and all those Aliens comics? So it would seem to be the fact that these are given away free on the movie website that makes it a winner.

But if you have billions of pounds lying around it must be easy to commission great web content. What about some unsung penniless heroes? Well...
 

 

Exposure

This website for young filmmakers boasts a brilliant analysis of movie structure in the form of Shark Attack -- a scene by scene reconstruction of Jaws... in Lego. Since Mr Spielberg would not have let them use actual movie stills, they recreated the whole thing with the popular Danish construction toy (and some excellent photography of their own).

It's beautiful, and it's actually educational too. Super.

Needless to say, Exposure's Blood and Bullets guide has also been compiled with an eye for detail -- and an arm full of tomato ketchup. All the information you need to stage your obligatory movie shoot-out is here, including some complicated stuff with pumps and wires.
 

 

Adbusters

This is a well-known but still interesting site. Adbusters are best known for their spoof ads, which are produced to the same standards as expensive corporate ads, but subvert the message of various campaigns. You can see a gallery of the ads on this site.

What's the point of having these ads stuck on a website where no-one will see them except people looking for them, you ask. Well, thankfully, the site tells you how you can give money to Adbusters so that they can put the ads in regular advertising spaces too.

Furthermore, they have a page called How to create your own print ad which gives you the low-down on how to do it yourself.

They also have campaigns like the Media Carta, against corporate dominance of media production, and downloadable video 'Uncommercials' promoting the Adbusters word.

Adbusters is like the military wing of Noam Chomsky's humour department, and guaranteed 500 times more fun than the McDonalds website.
 

 

Greenpeace

Another well-known site, because Greenpeace were one of the first organisations to launch a groovy website, in the mid-1990s, with crazy things like pictures and so on.

Which perhaps is unsurprising, since the whole point of Greenpeace is to be media-savvy and to get their images out into the world, because, of course, unlike those charities which spend their money on feeding people or fixing crises, Greenpeace basically spends its money on bringing issues into the public eye. So you'd expect a good website, wouldn't you?

Their online International Picture Desk displays photographs of protests as they happen (almost), and there's lots of well-presented maps and diagrams showing what's going on in the world.

Greenpeace have masses of photographs and video and it was disappointing to see that they don't have an enormous archive of all of it on this site -- which you would have thought would be in line with their objectives -- but maybe they're working on it...
 

 

Marvel Cybercomics

Hurray! I have always liked the look of Marvel comics even though I never really got into them and didn't have fifty thousand pounds to spend on the long and complex series they put out. Happily the internet, natch, has prompted Marvel to make some special 'cybercomics' using Macromedia Flash in a very neat way. The files are quite big, but you can start to read them early in the download -- that's streaming media for you -- and it's terribly well done. These will probably change over time, but when I visited there was a Daredevil story written by Kevin Smith (yes, the guy who directed Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy) and a Blade story tied into the Wesley Snipes movie of the same name.

The only price you pay is a couple of minutes in the boring registration process (first visit only) and then the Marvel world is your oyster. It's much more than an advert for the print comics. How strange to think that in the past people always had to pay money for entertainment like this.
 

 

VW Beetle

A car site sounds boring, but this curvaceous site is an effective, attractive promotion of the redesigned Beetle. You can admire the car from every angle, and all that kind of thing, but they have also been clever enough to come up with a pleasant, peaceful (!) game which is very much based on the legacy of the car itself.

Flashing Lights is based on the tradition of Beetle drivers flashing their lights at each other. You get points for doing that, and lose points for flashing at other cars or the police. Okay, so it's not Tomb Raider, but it's simple and it's free.
 

   

 
[Other reviews will appear here soon]

Back to main page