What sites are causing a buzz among the in crowd?

By Nick Wingfield
The Wall Street Journal


In the pre-Internet era, being a hipster meant eating at the right restaurants, smoking the right brand of cigarettes and wearing your sideburns the right length. It also meant reading the right magazines.

So it is in the age of cyberspace. Hipsters these days are as likely to slip in a mention of the latest issue of Ray Gun or Wallpaper magazine as they are to drop the names of their favorite Web sites. The shift partly reflects the fact that, for a younger generation, using the Internet is as natural as flipping through a glossy magazine.

Of course, hip is in the eye of the beholder. For certain urbane twenty
somethings, the quintessence of hipness might be Salon.com’s movie reviews. For music junkies, the latest site to warehouse songs in the MP3 digital-music format may be all the rage. With new Web sites sprouting like kudzu, one thing is certain: There’s loads more ‘zines to choose from on the Net than on newsstands.

Still, finding the latest Web sensations isn’t easy. If you’re looking for a way to impress friends at cocktail parties, here’s a list of sites causing a buzz, at least according to four people in the know — a Web editor, an Internet company vice president, a filmmaker and a public-relations executive:

JIM ROMENESKO, 46 years old, Chicago-based editor of the Obscure Store and Reading Room, a Web site that links to stories from newspapers and magazines around the country.

Kausfiles.com — Published by former Newsweek and New Republic writer Mickey Kaus, the site is a venue for Mr. Kaus’s provocative brand of commentary, frequently aimed at two targets: the media and politicians. One recent Kausfiles headline asked, “Is Daniel P. Moynihan the Devil?” while another column skewered Tina Brown’s Talk magazine.

“He counted the number of Miramax and Disney plugs there are in Talk,” says Mr. Romenesko. Miramax Films publishes Talk, while Walt Disney Co. is its parent.

Mr. Romenesko, who checks out thousands of Web sites each week, says Kasufiles.com has some of the most original reporting and commentary of any site he’s seen. “I like the fact that it’s a regularly maintained, do-it-yourself site that combines original reporting and sharp commentary.”

BitterWaitress.com — The name says it all. Bitter Waitress features gossip — call it “dish” — on the tipping habits of an array of notables, including New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, actor Pierce Brosnan, and singer Lee Ann Rimes. Are the stories true? It’s impossible to tell. Many are posted anonymously. Mr. Romenesko believes some are apocryphal, but he enjoys it nonetheless. “It’s all about minimum-wage slaves dishing out dirt about celebrities and their bad — and sometimes good — manners,” he says.

FashionDish.com — Imagine an online, frequently updated version of People magazine’s annual Best and Worst Dressed issue, and you get the idea behind Fashion Dish. One recent installment chronicled the sartorial highs and lows of the Emmy awards, complete with color paparazzi photographs.

“I don’t know a thing about dressing up, but this National Enquirer of the fashion world is a fun read,” says Mr. Romenesko. “The `Worst Dressed’ articles always make me feel better about myself.”

EMMA TAYLOR, 26, vice president of community development at Nerve, an online “literate smut” site based in New York.

Smug.com — There was a time when every new Web ‘zine seemed to have aone-syllable name beginning with the letter “S.” Think of Stim, Spiv and Suck. For those who thought that day was over, there is Smug, a witty online publication with a familiar blend of criticism, advice columns and feature articles. Ms. Taylor is drawn to the site’s media criticism — a piece examining televangelists is a favorite.

She says the site’s tone is leavened with a sense of humor and self-deprecation rarely found on other Web ‘zines. Smug’s writers, she says, are “a little dorky — they make fun of themselves. It doesn’t feel as pretentious as some.”

The Fray (fray.com) — Although it’s hardly undiscovered, this three-year-old Web ‘zine remains a favorite of Ms. Taylor’s. Founded by Web designer Derek Powazek, the Fray includes first-person essays from a regular stable of contributors, but it also is more participatory than other sites: It encourages readers to make their own submissions.

There are plenty of other places on the Internet where readers can speak their minds, but Ms. Taylor says the Fray’s focus on narrative form distinguishes it from other outlets for personal expression on the Internet — the freewheeling Usenet discussion groups, for example, which are often clogged with commercial messages.

The Fray has “created this environment that’s very respectful,” says Ms. Taylor. “People write these incredibly poetic stories.”

IARA LEE, 33, New York-based filmmaker, director most recently of
“Modulations,” a documentary about electronic music.

Phasewave.com — Depending on your sense of aesthetics, Phasewave will either dazzle you or give you a grand mal seizure. Some of the more wild graphics on the site feature psychedelic spacemen and insects. Created, according to its founders, “to promote, report on and inspire the growth of global youth culture,” Phasewave for now consists of jazzy Web graphics and animations that are likely to appeal to the rave-kid crowd. Eventually, however, the site promises to have essays on youth-oriented themes and discussion groups.

Ms. Lee likes the site’s creative use of Flash, an animation technology that allows Web sites to jazz up their pages with moving images and interactivity. Flash animations, says Ms. Lee, offer “the fluidity we were missing on the Web, where everything was so staccato.”

Vatican5000.com — This mystifying site clearly has no connection with the Catholic Church. Web surfers are drawn through a series of Web pages with cryptic slogans like “I just want someone to recognize me for the genius I am.” Ms. Lee enjoys the site’s “serendipity, playfulness an meaninglessness.”

LIZZIE GRUBMAN, 28, president of Lizzie Grubman Public Relations Inc., a New York firm representing rapper Jay-Z, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and other clients.

UltimateTV.com — A confirmed television junkie, Ms. Grubman’s Web tastes have a definite slant toward the small screen. To keep on top of the TV business, Ms. Grubman turns to UltimateTV.com, a comprehensive collection of TV listings and news. “I never have time to watch TV, but it’s a big part of what I do,” she says. Sure, there are other great entertainment-oriented sites — Ms. Grubman particularly likes E! Online, the Web sister to the E! entertainment cable channel,
which covers music, movies and celebrity gossip in addition to television. But Ms. Grubman goes to UltimateTV.com when she wants to find out about television — and television alone. The site, she says, is “everything you ever wanted to know about television.”

AsOnTV.com — Sometime it’s not easy to write down all of the facts about those weird gadgets sold on late-night television infomercials. That’s why Ms. Grubman goes straight to AsOnTV.com, a one-stop shopping center for everything you’ve ever wanted to buy on TV, including seven different kinds of abdominal exercisers.

“You always see this stuff on TV, but who remembers the number?” says Ms. Grubman. Her recent purchases include the Rotato, a device that automatically peels spuds, and the George Foreman grill, a miniature nonstick cooker.

Mr. Wingfield is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s New York bureau.

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