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Our Favorite Websites

What makes a great website? Sure, there are basics like quality navigation, layout, design, and content, but there’s also personality, smarts, and the ultimate barometer: does it have that special something to make you return?

There’s a wide array of content and style to the thousands of web sites floating around, yet they all co-exist in the same space. When you find one that hits all the right buttons – and it can be completely different from your other favorite destinations – chances are you’ll be a fan for a long, long time.

Here’s a short list of what we feel are some of the best sites on the Web that fit the above criteria, ranging from e-commerce to fan-made experiences to professional news.

The Onion A.V. Club – The Onion A.V. Club is, far and away, the best pop culture/arts periodical in publication today. It features a stunning collection of interviews with comedians (Louis C.K., Tracy Morgan), rock legends (Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe), filmmakers (John Carpenter, Christopher Nolan) and more; reviews of albums, movies, books and comics; a lively community of readers who comment in droves on stories; lengthy dissections of television shows in its “TV Club” section; “Random Roles,” where actors discuss parts they’ve played over the course of their careers; and lots, lots more. The writing is smart across the board, and there’s always some new feature popping up that’s creative and fun (I particularly love Pop Pilgrims, a video series where the A.V. Club travels to actual places that have a place in pop culture history, such as the Chicago towers that are featured on the cover of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). The best part: it’s updated pretty much throughout the day, on a constant basis. Essential. – Dan

NeoGAF – This one is a little niche, and it maybe stretches the definition of “website,” but in terms of popularity, usage and content, it’s astonishing. NeoGAF is a videogame message board. That’s it. But it’s the place to go if you’re into gaming. News breaks here first (“leaks” may be more accurate a term), industry professionals are known to lurk or even post, it’s moderated tightly and professionally, and it’s filled with fun topics like people posting photos of their collections, media setup, rare gaming finds, shopping hauls, and more. The comments and discussions – the core of the NeoGAF experience – are often lively, very funny, and just a little crazy. Together, it all makes for a good time, and the very best destination for gaming news and discussions on the planet. – Dan

X-Entertainment – Never mind the unfortunate you-may-be-getting-a-call-from-your-IT-department website name and URL; this site is a gem. X-Entertainment is part-time machine, part-autobiography, as it features one man’s recollections and explorations of 1980s pop culture, including cartoons, commercials and toys, and what they mean to him. You’ll be delighted and amazed at the screen grabs of He-Man commercials and the lengthy essays on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and you’ll wonder how you ever missed Garbage Pail Kids Tacky Snappers. What’s best about this site, however, is its honesty; there’s a love for lots of this junk that charmingly shines through in the writing, but there’s also an acceptance that a lot of what we loved when we were kids was, indeed, junk. Check out X-Entertainment’s blog for its latest content. – Dan

Nike – Makes you feel like you’re in a Niketown store. Easy to navigate, see what’s new, find clearance deals and check out, and the highlighted free shipping offer (over $100) is appreciated. Clearly my fave e-commerce site, and they have the best customer service call-in group this side of Zappos…must be a foot thing! – Cliff

ESPN – As a sports nut, I would be remiss to not mention ESPN as one of the top online destinations that I frequently visit. The navigation is easy to follow and it’s the premiere source for breaking news on all things sports. The combination of its use of video and images to complement stories make every visit engaging and entertaining. Whether I’m there for the latest trade rumors, or to update my fantasy team each week, ESPN always gets a daily visit from me. – John

Mashable – So you like technology and social media? You better know Mashable. It has grown into one of the leading sources of information for all things digital, and with their constant stream of stories, it is no wonder. They’ve done a great job of including various social elements as well making it easy to not only read the information, but also share and add your two cents very quickly. The site is divided into sub topics which makes it incredibly easy to use and find exactly what you’re looking for. The writing is great, and breaks down sometimes complex information into everyday language that is easily digested. – John

And that’s our short list. What do you think? What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments section below.