The Best in Free, Open Web Content - Co-op Week

By Matthew DeMello

Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the HitRecord SXSW event in 2010. Photo courtesy of David Brian Photography.

We denizens of the internet may no longer consider the information super highway as something to relish. In the 21st century, searching for a service, a new job, or even a future companion is often inconceivable without some form of online assistance.

Still, the existentialist anti-technology crowd has a point when they bemoan the general vapid activity most engage in via the greatest communications tool humanity has ever devised.

However, let’s say you’re someone who is faithful that our newfound interconnectivity doesn’t represent the worst in us. Nevertheless, when you log on to your nearest glowing, interactive rectangular screen, you still can’t think of anything better to do but cruise Facebook for long lost friends or YouTube for cat videos.

Trust us when we say the internet is (still) a vibrant place. The web offers plenty of access to high achievements in human knowledge and creativity. Here are a number of open-sourced websites featuring free content that make way better use of time than mindless stalking or vindictive trolling.


Open source veterans are free to skip down the page, as our first entry in the list is the obligatory “if you live under a rock” entry. And if you do, in fact, live under an online web-content rock and have no idea what HitRecord is, you may not even need to check out the rest.

HitRecord is a self-styled ‘collaborative production company’ started by 3rd Rock from the Sun, 500 Days of Summer, and The Dark Knight Rises actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Users are encouraged to upload art and media of every variety for the explicit ends of collaborating with other artists around the world.

Among the more notable works that can attribute their material to HitRecord, the two debut short films of writer/director JGL–Morgan M. Morganson’s Date with Destiny and Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo–are probably the most refined in their execution.

A cynic could deem the whole venture a bit self-serving to its creator, especially for all of JGL’s claims of HitRecord being for the internet, by the internet. Yet perhaps it speaks to the integrity of the website in providing a platform for lesser known artists to mix and mingle–and is still is so widely used yet with such little comparative fanfare.

That being said, HitRecord’s own online web series is effective in picking the highlights from such a sprawling pool of talent and giving them the necessary jolt of star power.

Other “everyman” media platforms, even those not created by Hollywood hunks, haven’t fared so well with the DIY creative (see Kicktsarter).

Open Culture

For those slightly removed from the under-the-rock crowd, Open Culture is probably the most useful website you’ve never heard of. If you’re looking to be stimulatingly entertained, or to expand your knowledge via prestigious educational materials, no web vagabond need look any further than the “best free cultural & educational media on the web.”

Log on to Open Culture any given day, and you can find a video featuring Dylan Thomas reading “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” live on the BBC in the early 1950s. Then, read William Faulkner’s resignation letter from his post master job at the University of Mississippi, or view the only remaining drawing from Maurice Sendak’s aborted attempt to illustrate JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Sure, these are items better suited for people who get a kick out of Ken Burns documentaries or overachieving former students who wish they could spend their eternity buried five-books deep in their college libraries. But hey, cat pictures aren’t exactly getting any more adorable, or interesting.

In regard to nostalgic academic types, Open Culture provides years-old course curriculums from prominent open-source friendly educational institutions (read: MIT). Chronicled disciplines range from Physics to Economics to Film.

But wait, do I really mean to suggest that anyone can gain sufficient expertise in an academic field without the help of GPA’s and arrogant professors? Or that knowledge is priceless no matter how much average college tuitions fluctuate? Welcome to a whole new world, web wanderer. Just google “self-didacticism” and prepare to have your mind blown.

How Stuff Is Made

Remember, as a child, those segments on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that would show you how everyday items were made? Yeah, that’s basically this website in a nutshell, but for social-conscious adults–though its creators prefer to be described as a “visual encyclopedia.”

Per the site’s official URL, How Stuff Is Made is an organ of the New York University Wiki page, a community of collaborators dominated by students in Engineering, Design, and Art, with some guidance from faculty.

Though don’t count on business-friendly advertisements about pristinely kept and copacetic working environments. HSIM prides itself on objectivity and producing content distinctly for its “pedagogical value.”

For those capitalist-activists who like to be conscious about where their money goes when they purchase some toilet paper from the grocery store, content featured on HSIM is both practically informative and socially captivating.

Open Source Shakespeare

The last time I paid for a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, I thought coughing up $20 was a steal. Turns out, you can find every last word ever scribbled by the Bard in ones and zeroes thanks to a number of internet sources (Open Culture also provides this basic access).

Open Source Shakespeare is a little rustic in presentation but still represents the best-articulated and most comprehensive online guide to the only Elizabethan playwright who matters.

A copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged will also cost you the grand old price of nothing–so long as YouTube never realizes the Reduced Shakespeare Company version of the hilarious three-man stage show is available in its entirety here.

Yet another way to spend at least an hour and twenty-eight minutes of your time not googling what a Kardashian did this week, but still laugh your ass off.


Very many Wikipedia satire pages exist across the World Wide Web, and for the English-speaking universe, Uncyclopedia takes the cake for sheer wit, comprehensiveness, and general entertainment. Though even with 30,000 articles in the database, don’t expect well-crafted humor on just any subject. Uncyclopedia basically exists in its own universe of internet humor, pulling at elements of the Wikipedia world like taffy the same way The Onion does with mass media and current events.

Uncyclopedia’s notorious site-wide pranks are voted on by the great body of contributors and range from riffs on special announcements to changes in their wiki-rules.

Personal favorite entries include a news entry “Giving you the lowdown on ants” and their guidelines for “Pee Review,” a play on Wikipedia’s “Peer Review” rules. The order of “Pee Review” is maintained by a user who goes by the callsign “R Kelly” for the purpose of “anything from bringing a doomed article back from the brink of damnation to improving upon a completed article written by Jesus himself.”