REPOST: The Ten Best Art And Culture (General) Websites In The World
Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 01/04/2003.
Obviously, it's the old site that picked up this ranking on Nedstat. A few years later, they started feeding shitty adverts out onto my page via the hit counter, so I ditched them and moved to eXTReMe, which continues to monitor the dwindling traffic to this day.
Nedstat, meanwhile, appear to have abandoned the free hit counter market, and passed their existing counters on to Motigo Webstats. All the statistics info linked to in this article is therefore now their fault. (Not that many of the sites here are still using it.)
It's probably Fernsy's fault, in the end. He wrote to me back in January 2002 to plug his website, World of Fernsy. The site was enjoyable enough - an idiosyncratic mixture of personal musings, in-jokes, links and (ulp) poetry - but it took me a little while to work out why he'd chosen to tell me about it.
Eventually I noticed a small blue graph icon on his front page, and it all made sense. Fernsy, like me, was using Nedstat to track who was visiting his website, and how they got there. I've been collecting usage statistics [dead link] with it for three years now: it's fascinating to see how access to the site goes up and down at particular times of the year [dead link] (the termtime peaks lead me to suspect a lot of you are wastrel students), and amusing to observe how many people come here blatantly looking for porn [dead link].
But Fernsy introduced me to something I hadn't really thought of before. When you register with Nedstat, you have to allocate your site into one of their pre-defined categories. Neither of us, apparently, could think of a better description than the somewhat vague 'Art And Culture General'. But the thing is, Nedstat take these categories and make daily charts of the ones with the most hits, which is how Fernsy tracked me down in the first place. And after a year of noting how regularly I was hitting the top ten of the Art And Culture General listings, it seemed like a nice idea to write a piece about my nine closest neighbours in the chart.
But Dame Hubris is an evil, malicious whore. And within days of trailing this piece on the front page as "The Ten Best Art And Culture (General) Websites In The World, and why I'm only number seven", a bunch of penpushers conspired to knock me out of my rightful place in the top ten. Since they're doing this by having entries in the chart for six separate pages on the same site, I'm invoking applied mathematics and saying that those six should only count as one, so I'm still technically in that top ten. Really. Anyway, with that somewhat dubious proviso, here are those nine neighbouring sites in approximate decreasing order of popularity. Bear in mind that this is drawn from a wholly unscientific period of observation during March 2003, and that other sites such as vampyres.tk and portmeirion.org.uk [dead link] show up in the upper reaches of the chart every so often.
1 Naked Blog
typical search keywords: naked, hilary, duff, men, nude
Tsk. Some people will obviously call their site anything just to get the wrong sort of attention. Still, it seems to have worked in the case of Peter, the fifty-something gay bloke from Leith who writes this weblog. He's topped the Nedstat chart fairly consistently since August 2002, when Naked Blog made it onto the shortlist for the Best British Blog competition organised by The Guardian. He sometimes gets a bit ranty about the arts, and holds no truck with the Southern jessies who invade his home every summer for the Edinburgh Festival (oops...), but on the whole he's a friendly and entertaining read. Like every other blogger in the world at the time of writing, Peter has Got His War On, and is currently providing a humanely sceptical view of what we're being told about it in the media.
2 Calligraphy [dead link]
typical search keywords: calligraphy, alphabet, www.caligraphy.uk.com, writing, hieroglyphic
As I mentioned above, this is the site that's recently blown this chart wide apart, and they've done it by CHEATING. This page is the main index to the site, but they've also put Nedstat counters on each of the half-dozen or so internal pages too. So all of these pages pop up regularly within the top ten, even though they're all part of the same site. Pah! Apart from that, this is actually quite a nice piece of work, featuring both a history of the art of calligraphy and helpful hints on how to get started yourself: choosing and using your pen [dead link], examples of alphabets [dead link] to copy, and a gallery of artworks [dead link]. Grumpily, I'll have to admit that the site's well designed, it's easy to follow, and it appears to be an ideal introduction to its subject. I'm still miffed, though.
3 Flash Eternal
typical search [dead link] keywords: tattoo, flash, tattoos, eternal, free
Isn't the internet educational? Here's something I didn't know before I started researching this piece. When you wander into your neighbourhood tattooist pissed on a Saturday night, and point drunkenly at a book of designs to say which one you want gouged into your flesh... well, those designs are known as 'flash'. Hence the name of this online community of tattooists, which has everything you could possibly need. There's an online shop offering everything from needles to teach-yourself videos, a message board where people give each other advice, and - probably most useful of all - links to several thousand free pieces of flash scattered all over the internet, allowing a tattooist to build up their portfolio quickly. There's also an entertaining collection of the crappest flash sites they've found to date ("link was too slow to review... I might try again as soon as Russia has more than a 2400-dialup-connection").
4 Kappa Phi Lambda
typical search [dead link] keywords: kappa, phi, lambda, Lambda, Phi
Look, I'm British. I don't have a clue about all this sorority/fraternity bollocks that you Yanks indulge in at college, other than what I've learned from National Lampoon's Animal House. Luckily the ladies of Binghamton University, who originally founded Kappa Phi Lambda in 1995, have an online mission statement: "Kappa Phi Lambda exists to further educate individuals about Pan-Asian culture while keeping our own identities. We aim for academic excellence, to keep in mind the importance of education and learning as the key to strength, awareness, and fulfillment." So there you go: high on social responsibility, low on toga parties. And there's plenty of evidence of that on the site, which documents their community service, cultural awareness activities and philanthropic work. Unfortunately, all the gallery [dead link] links appear to be dead, so you can't see them doing it.
5 Watch Me Grow My Beard [hijacked link]
typical search keywords: beard, grow, to, a, how
Blogging is the kind of activity that the Art And Culture General category was made for. But when the world and his concubine are all putting their minute-by-minute thoughts down on the web, you need a unique approach to get the punters in. Like, for example, deciding to grow a beard, and keeping an illustrated blog of its progress for three months. Which is exactly what the owner of this site did in the autumn of 2002, finally shaving it off just before Christmas. The blog may be over, but the archives [dead link] remain: 86 days of photos (carefully cropped and pixillated so we never really get to see anything apart from this guy's beard), accompanied by some gloriously rambling essays on all manner of facial hair-related topics, from the dubious link between beards and terrorism [dead link] to the principles of facial Feng Shui [dead link].
6 Letteri Cafe
typical search keywords: de, fotos, gitana, tu, johnny
Now for a more traditional blog - this one's Brazilian, judging from the URL. Happily, a Portuguese-to-English translation is available via Babelfish, with the usual caveats about the damage its fractured attempts at syntax can inflict on your sanity. Of the recent entries, I was particularly taken by a spiffy photo of Bogart staring at Marilyn Monroe's tits [dead link], and an original lobby card from Duck Soup [dead link] (accompanied by some of the author's favourite Groucho Marx quotes, translated into Portuguese - "case-se comigo e nunca mais olharei para outro cavalo"). If there's a problem with Letteri Cafe, it's that it's very graphics-intensive - at least half the screen space can be taken up with embedded images, so expect a long wait before you see anything on screen other than a background and title banner. The pictures are generally well worth the wait, though.
7 Kai-Ming Wong Art Gallery
typical search [dead link] keywords: %A4%A4%B0%EA%B0%EA%B5e, %BCg%A5%CD, %E7%8E%8B%E5%95%9F%E6%98%8E, %E9%92%A2%E7%90%B4%E7%BD%91, KM
Not the most useful set of search keywords, I'll admit. But I'm guessing those hex codes would translate into meaningful Chinese characters if you tried. This site's beautifully designed like a real art gallery: I'm assuming this building [dead link] doesn't exist in real life, but if it does I sure as hell want to go there. Clicking round the individual rooms displays assorted sketches [dead link], paintings [dead link] and photos [dead link], presumably all by KM Wong himself (or herself?). Sadly, the information page is tantalisingly blank, so the only other thing we know about Kai-Ming Wong is that he/she plays the piano as well. Rather nicely too, if the MP3 of Autumn Leaves is anything to go by. [Curiously, Autumn Leaves is the only link on the piano page that doesn't work any more...]
8 Amour Du Net
typical search keywords: poeme, pour, d'amour, amour, sexe
Ha! Finally! Some filth! Well, yes and no. The site itself is perfectly charming, as it's a message board entirely dedicated to French love poems. Writers can submit their poetry for public scrutiny: readers can rate it like it's AmIPretentiousOrNot.com, and email the authors personally if they want to privately discuss issues raised (ahem) by the work. Again, us non-native speakers are reduced to using Babelfish for an English translation, which is probably doubly inappropriate when it comes to poetry like this: "Shit, says to me it is what your goal / which being immonde es=tu / do not have you the right to come all scrapper / and to set out again while leaving me ploughed up on the floor". Still, the site's motives seem to be thoroughly honourable, so it's a shame that they can only keep it going with hardcore banner ads promising "sodomies penetrations ejacs faciales ethnies fetichisme fist fucking insertion d'objets". View with caution.
9 Apokrisi - Greek Events In London [dead link, now moved here]
typical search keywords: in, london, events, greek, apokrisi
The subtitle says it all. You're in London? You want to see Greek events? Then you come here. Unfortunately, in an attempt to make the front page look as uncluttered as possible, the links are so carefully disguised that you may not actually realise there's anything here beyond the index. Here's a hint: click on the name of each month to get a full-sized daily calendar. Thus, for example, in April 2003 [dead link] you've got a play by Aeschylus at the Bridewell Theatre, performances by the band Mikro [dead link] at various small venues, and seasons of Greek movies in both London and Cardiff (yes, the listings do frequently venture outside the capital). You can also join the 1500 members of their events mailing list [dead link], locate all the major Greek cultural venues in London [dead link], or look for Greek flatshares and so on via their message board [dead link]. Just keep clicking across the front page and you'll find all that eventually.
10 The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey
typical search [dead link] keywords: spank, the, monkey, Spank, Monkey
And this is where we came in. Thanks to all of the above websites, I'm nowadays to be found languishing somewhere in the awkward teen positions in Nedstat's chart. But, if you think about it, that shouldn't be the case for too much longer. See how I've listed the top five search keywords for each page on here? So from now on, if anyone searches the web for those keywords, this very page will come up as well. Soon, I'll become the ultimate web destination for gay Greek bearded tattooists who write their own French love poetry to Asian college students by hand on the back of Chinese paintings in Brazilian cafes! I'll be number one! YEAH! In your FACE, Art And Culture General Community!
Mind you, having said that, I'll be nice about it and still keep linking back to the original sites. Being a monkey, and all.
Kinda redundant having a links section here, but you may want to explore the full glory of Nedstat's Art And Culture (General) Chart for yourselves. Why limit yourselves to the top ten?