In just a decade the World Wide Web has grown from a physicist's research project into a gargantuan marketplace contributing hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs to the nation's economy.
According to market research firm Cyveillance, three billion Web pages are now out there for your perusal. Some are more surf-worthy than others.
In recent years a number of organizations, publications and Web sites have made qualitative designations of the best Web sites. Such designations are necessarily subjective and sometimes idiosyncratic, but useful nonetheless.
If you're looking for specific facts, you're best off drilling down directly with a search engine such as Google. But if you're browsing categories of information, you're often better off visiting sites that have been chosen as the best by someone, rather than clicking to sites listed by portals such as AOL, Yahoo or MSN.
Sites may be prominently listed by portals solely because they have business relationships with the portal, not because of the quality or comprehensiveness of the site.
Here's a roundup of some of the top outfits that have selected top sites. Exploring these selections can be useful not only for perusing the content available, but also, if you're in the business of creating Web sites, for getting ideas.
* "The Webby Awards." Awarded by the 350-member International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, the Webbys are the Oscars of the Internet. See who won this year in the 27 categories, from commerce and science to activism and music.
The Webbys also have a populist component, the People's Voice Awards. This year more than 100,000 surfers voted for their favorites.
* "Best of the Web." The editors of PC World magazine, the most widely circulated consumer-oriented computer magazine, identified what they consider the best 64 sites in 32 categories, including career information, Webmaster tools, health and entertainment.
* "The Top 100 Web Sites." The editors of PC Magazine, a biweekly publication targeting computer professionals, also published their choices of the best Web sites, in this case 100 in 20 categories, from small-business services to lifestyle. .
* "Readers Rate the Web." More than 3,000 technologically savvy readers of PC Magazine Online chose the 53 best Web sites in nine categories, including investments, banking, shopping and travel.