If popularity were a reliable indicator of a product’s greatness, the Big Mac would be the world’s best burger, Coca-Cola would be nutritious, and Microsoft wouldn’t have to spend billions to convince you to buy its software. Savvy computer users know that sometimes the best program is the one you haven’t yet used. So when we set out to find the ultimate online apps, we skipped the big sites that everyone already knows.
Sure, you can track your schedule with Google Calendar, watch videos on YouTube, and share pictures with friends on Flickr, but while these popular web apps certainly serve up great features, none of them is perfect. Meanwhile, the Internet is brimming with underdogs that are dreaming up some kick-ass new concepts—and putting them into action right now.
The rise of easier-to-use web development tools like Python and Ruby on Rails has caused an explosion of cool new web services that do everything from organizing your thoughts to tracking airfares across multiple travel sites to replacing your entire Office suite—and almost everything is free. Even as you read this, the world of web apps is expanding with cool new sites that take the features of your favorite old standbys and give them new, innovative twists. Some are terrible, but many are just plain brilliant, and we’ve narrowed down the field to 15 apps that will fundamentally change the way you use the web.