The 15 Best Places to Waste Time on the Web

It’s first thing in the morning and you’re at the office. You’re sipping your coffee and sifting through e-mail, but you’re not quite ready to delve into the real work of the day. So what are you gonna do? Fire up your Web browser and distract yourself by wasting time on the Internet.

Ah, but where to start? In the name of science, we culled through hundreds of bookmarks to determine the best sites for spitting in the face of productivity.

But first, some ground rules: We’re including only browser-accessible destinations (so no World of Warcraft or Google Earth), and for the most part, we shied away from anything overly obvious or highly specialized: No straight news, fantasy sports, Web mail, shopping, matchmaking sites, stock quotes, or discussion forums for your 1982 Camaro. We also tried (though this was tricky) to recommend sites that might be conceivably accessible from work: No adult content, poker, or games that can’t easily be closed when the boss strolls by.

Consider yourself amply warned: Don’t read this story if you plan on getting anything done for a while.

15. What Would Tyler Durden Do? When all else fails, there is always celebrity gossip. Paris, Lindsay, Britney, and the whole gaggle of train-wrecks-that-just-won’t-quit make for easy pickings on sites like Defamer, The Superficial, and IDontLikeYouInThatWay. All of the sites tend to carry nearly the same stories every day, but WWTDD (adopting Fight Club’s imaginary antihero persona as blogger) has the cruelest write-ups and the biggest pictures. Meow.

14. The king of mini browser games, Pogo‘s collection of card, parlor, puzzle, and casino-style diversions is a destination for hundreds of thousands of regular players–many of whom spend hours on end winning game tokens, graphical badges, and cash payouts of up to $5000. Real money is rare, though: Most users are happy to play dominoes, backgammon, cribbage, or dozens of other games, alone or against live opponents, just for kicks. Many games are free. Club Pogo members pay $40 a year for access to everything (over 100 titles), ad-free.

13. HOT or NOT Remember this rate-how-hot-my-picture-is phenomenon that actually inspired a TV show? Well, is still around and, judging by the continued influx of pictures and the frequency with which users check their ratings, it’s still extremely busy. (In fact, the site now contains more than 25 million user-submitted photos.) But what makes hotornot such an apt time-waster is that you can get virtually endless content delivered quickly with a single click. It may not be very worthwhile, but you have to give it points for sheer quantity and ease of navigation. Copycat sites are legion, from GothOrNot to PetsInClothes.

12. Every day, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants patents for some pretty oddball ideas and inventions. And every day, gives us a humorous take on the best of them. Yes, they’re all real patents.

11. Yes, it’s another gaming site, but this one has a twist: Users can win up to $10.7 million in real money by playing games here. Moola gives you a penny when you sign up. You then put that penny on the line against other Moola users in games of semi-skill/semi-chance (like a modified version of Rock Paper Scissors, each of which takes a few minutes to complete). The winner takes the cash and moves up the ladder. The loser gets another free penny and starts over. Win 30 times in a row and cash out for millions, though that may actually be impossible: My personal high mark is $1.28, though some players report taking home thousands to date. Bad news: It’s currently invitation only, and you have to know someone who’s already a member in order to get on the site. Oh, and you have to watch a short video commercial before each game, but that’s a small price to pay for a free penny.

10. Rotten Tomatoes Of all the movie review roundup sites, Rotten Tomatoes has the largest variety, often featuring hundreds of links to reviews for any film. Every movie also gets a discussion board (they’re frequently packed), plus stills, trailers, and box office info. A recent update to the site even rolled out Rotten Tomatoes-hosted blogs to anyone who wants one. A visit to Rotten Tomatoes can eat up an entire afternoon or more. If you’re passionate about movies, and your information needs go beyond what can be found in the credits, see our number 4 pick.

9. RuneScape At press time, Runescape had been in the Lycos 50 for 19 weeks, outranking Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and even Christmas. Launched in 2004, RuneScape is inarguably the Web’s most popular browser-based MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). It features nearly 10 million members, most of whom play the game in its free incarnation. Gameplay is familiar: Point and click to run around, kill stuff, collect gold, and complete quests. Learning the game is easy. Mastering it can take months…which is precisely why it’s on the list. For a more sarcastic, low-tech take on the online RPG, check out Kingdom of Loathing.

8. Classic ’80s Arcade Games If you have the kind of job where you can get away with playing Pac-Man without raising eyebrows, well, more power to you. You’ll definitely want to take a spin at TripletsAndUs, Miniclip, and UltimateArcade, which recreate ’80s classics in Java and Flash, and offer copious arcade interpretations of their own as well. Of course, these sites are just the beginning of free online gaming. If you can’t find a new Web-based game to play every day of the week, you aren’t spending enough time at our number 3 and 6 picks.

7. Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D Beta Microsoft recently added some pretty impressive 3D capabilities to its existing Live Search Maps service: You’re now able to bring up a virtual globe view, akin to Google’s Virtual Earth application, and idle away the time zooming about the world.