Most of my friends and family don’t quite “get” what my job is, but they know that it has to do with writing, the web, and advertising. Actually, come to think of it, if they understand that much, they’re doing pretty well. At any rate, as the resident web geek in my social circle, friends and family often ask me for recommendations for websites that actually add value to their lives, as opposed to becoming sucking black holes into which their time disappears.
So here are the ten websites that I recommend most often to my non-geek friends and family.
1. Mango – If you’ve ever wanted to learn a foreign language, you need to check out Mango. You can go through interactive lessons in languages from French and Spanish to Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin or even Pig Latin. Each language has 100 or more lessons–and each Lesson features many slides where you hear the language spoken by native speakers. You can replay each slide as many times as you need. (Note – This site is pretty family friendly, but I did get one report from a friend who was going through the French lessons and found one lesson included a conversation about a “cheating boyfriend.” If you have an older kid who wants to learn languages, I’d still recommend it, but scan each lesson for content appropriateness beforehand.)
2. Mint – Can’t master your family finances? Then check out Mint. In addition to being essentially an online version of Quicken or Microsoft Money, you can track your spending, get real-time notifications sent to your email or cell phone letting you know when bills are due, or when you balance drops below a certain amount. You also receive offers for discounted services (for example, if you could be saving money by switching to a different utility carrier, Mint will let you know.) Even if you’re not comfortable trusting your banking information to a third party, the blog has some great articles and educational resources for learning better money management skills.
3. Quintura Kids – Looking for a safe search engine for your kids to do their homework research? Then check out Quintura Kids. It’s been widely rated the safest search engine for kids.
4. Fact Monster – On a related note is Fact Monster, which is more like a learning destination or a kid’s version of wikipedia than a straight up search engine. Fact Monster is clearly designed to be a homework helper, and features an educational blog with content that is customized for age and gender.
5. Cozi Central – If your family calendar is more complicated than the org chart of your workplace, you might find Cozi Central to be helpful. Think of it as a “central information hub” for a wired family. Cozi is more geared to families with older kids, or families who have multiple schedules to coordinate. Cozi has two features that are real standouts–the ability to create a shopping list and then send it to your spouse’s mobile phone, and a photo collage screensaver. If you like the idea of a family planner, but don’t like having to download and install a program (which Cozi requires), you might also like Remember The Milk.
6. SpiralFrog – You like music, but you have kids, and thus less disposable income than you used to have. You also would prefer not to be sued for $200k for downloading music illegally. Bully for you. Guess what? There’s now an ad-supported (and thus totally, 100% legal) site for music downloads, with a really large library of tracks. The catch? You have to log in and renew your subscription every 30 days, or your music stops playing; and although the SpiralFrog FAQ says that you can load its songs to “some” media players, Apple’s iPod and Microsoft’s Zune aren’t among them. But still–it’s free music.
7. Chore Wars – Let’s say your family is made up of role playing game enthusiasts. Lazy RPG enthusiasts who don’t pick up after themselves. How do you both motivate your family to pitch in with the housework, and feed your mutual need to rack up Experience Points (XP)? Two words: Chore Wars. Create a character, create a party of Adventurers, and rack up points for doing chores. A funny blend of a family to-do list and a text-based RPG, like the hysterically funny Kingdom of Loathing.
8. Craft Memo – Are you a crafty mom? Need help keeping track of your projects, supplies and budget? Then CraftMemo is for you. “A flexible, easy-to-use record keeping & management system designed specially to cater for craft enthusiasts.”
9. Open Source Food and Its A Cookbook – I discovered Open Source Food a while back–and posted about it here. You can enter your favorite recipes, along with photos, and share with friends. Friend Daryn tipped me off to ItsACookBook, which is her preferred online cookbook/recipe vault.
10. The Daily Plate – Watching your diet? The Daily Plate allows you to track calories, fat, nutrients, glasses of water, exercise, and lots more. The database of nutritional information on even restaurant dishes and particular brands of food is huge, and customizable (if your current brand of wheat bread isn’t in there, you can add it).
If there’s a site you absolutely love that I haven’t included, feel free to add it in the comments below, or email it to me for a “part two” post.