The best Scottish websites

The top 30 websites made for and by Scots

When putting together this list, we weren’t necessarily looking for the biggest or the best-known cultural websites in Scotland. We were looking for unique and interesting ideas, cleverly realised and lovingly maintained on the web. This might mean that your favourite bookmark hasn’t placed: a number of the sites in our longlist were eliminated because, although very good, they were basically just a Scottish version of the sort of site you can find anywhere. Similarly, we knocked out some great original ideas where the content was patchy or infrequently updated.

What’s been interesting is that most of these sites, from fashion blogs to online magazines, new music hubs to foodie havens, aren’t professional concerns. The most passionate, well-written and original content seems increasingly to come from interested amateurs, or at least people who started out that way. Here’s to you, digiScots.

30 View from the Stalls

Scottish theatre reviews
Independent reviews of theatre across central Scotland. Unique because the reviewers are paying punters (who go by the names Statler and Waldorf), with no affiliations to the industry. (KI)

29 Is This Music?

Elder statesblog
Stu McHugh’s long-running indie magazine was online way before music and blogging had met properly. Content-rich, regularly updated and suffused with a genuine passion for Scotland’s music. (KI)

28 Hi-Arts

Highland arts hub
Huge, comprehensive and well-designed portal to arts in the Highlands and Islands: development, interactive content, listings and opportunities. We particularly like their high-quality online journal Northings. (KI)

27 Gerry Hassan

Political animal
Scotland’s foremost public intellectual has a very attractive online home stuffed full of his articles and opinions, as well as links to other interesting sites. Well worth immersing yourself in. (KI)

26 Square Go

Straight-talkin’ gamin’
Set up in 2008 to deliver ‘succinct, readable, intelligent and jargon-free videogames journalism to the masses’. Has been doing just that ever since. Added points for a great name. (KI)

25 Scottish Food Guide

Properly good food
Wendy Barry continues her campaign for good food on this award-winning and utterly comprehensive treasure trove highlighting the best of Scotland’s independent producers, shops and restaurants. (KI)

24 Unst Bus Shelter Site

Tourist attraction. Really.
It may not be the most advanced use of technology, but the official site of Shetland’s – nay, the world’s – most famous bus stop is a thing of beauty anyway, as is its decor. (KI)

23 Daily Mash

Satirical news site
Doesn’t quite hit the heights of its model The Onion (one magnificent Liz Jones take-off aside), but still reliably brings the snark, despite coming over a bit right-wing recently. (KI)

22 Scottish Screen Archive

Utterly gobsmacking selection of archive film from the last century of Scottish history, streaming clips and full length films. History nerds beware: you could lose a month in here. (KI)

21 STV

Reliable news source
Making genuine strides in online journalism (not just broadcast) at a time when other Scottish institutions are floundering. Their local sections are great too. (KI)

20 Scots Whay Hae!

Even-handed arts coverage
Created ‘to celebrate, debate and enjoy art in its widest sense’, Alistair Braidwood’s erudite trove of ruminations on Scottish culture embraces our literature, music, cinema, theatre, visual art and more. Exploring our creative landscape and history through interviews, critiques and re-appraisals, Braidwood celebrates contemporary artists (Sons & Daughters; Doug Johnstone; Alan Bissett) and revisits vintage works (Tutti Frutti; Comfort and Joy; early Simple Minds). The result is a compelling blog and an ace, enduring cultural resource. Braidwood nailed its significance in his first-ever post, in 2009: ‘art in all its forms can give us a reason for living better lives.’ (NM)

19 Joyce McMillan Online

Arts grande dame
The reigning queen of Scottish theatre criticism’s online home is a repository not only for her arts reviews, but also her Scotsman comment pieces on everything from the Scottish elections to the Murdoch empire. It’s increasingly common for journalists to repost all their articles on blogs, but the breadth of McMillan’s subject matter sets her site apart. Housed together, these articles constitute an ongoing, evolving theory on artistic and civic ‘Scottishness’ by a vital and often overlooked commentator. (KI)

18 Caledonian Mercury

Paper-free newspaper
Thanks to contacts gained and respect earned during a lengthy career at the forefront of Scottish journalism, the team behind the CalMerc can count some of the country’s best cultural and political commentators among their contributors. With a focus on intelligent analysis and investigative journalism (remember that?) this paper-free newspaper is also exploring new revenue models based on engaging with an audience prepared to donate directly, rather than relying solely on advertising. A welcome addition to Scottish journalism at a time of continued concern and uncertainty over the viability of old models. (HB)

17 Scottish Book Trust

Writing and reading hub
The Scottish Book Trust provides a hugely valuable service to readers and writers across Scotland, as well as to the literary identity of the country; it feels appropriate that their online wing should be an equally outstanding resource. Offering everything from practical advice, to databases of publishers, agents and writers, mini video writing tutorials and guides on getting published, the mindblowingly large volume of content puts other arts organisations to shame. We especially like the audio interviews with writers, and the debate-inspiring blogs. (KI)

16 Southside Happenings

Local soul
Run with dedication and laudable amounts of energy by locals Ann Nisbet and Allistair Burt, Southside Happenings is a window on the independent shops and cafés, arts events, and non-corporate culture that still, happily, holds strong in Glasgow’s biggest district. The couple started the site because they were tired of missing out on events (and of defending the Southside against the sneers of their West End-dwelling friends), and it’s grown into an excellent source of local information on everything from weekend guides to best brunches. Particularly unique: their occasional feature focusing on creative Southsiders. (KI)

15 Song, By Toad

Local-loving blog and label
Matthew Young’s Edinburgh-based blog made the move from cultural filter to cultural facilitator in 2008 with the launch of the Song, By Toad record label. However, that hasn’t limited Young’s enterprises to just self-promotion. The site regularly streams quality music from artists worldwide, as well as showcasing Song, By Toad sessions that are filmed and recorded closer to home (a recent installment featured folk heavy hitters Mumford & Sons). Added to which, there’s a lot of entertaining rambling and ranting on non-musical subjects. A lynchpin of one of Scotland’s most fervent scenes. (HB)

14 Clear-Minded Creative

Good advice for artsy types
The most recent start-up in our list, Milo McLaughlin’s fascinating blog does exactly what it says on the tin: it helps creative people stay focused and, er, clear-minded. It’s essentially a magazine blog, with book recommendations and personal posts sitting alongside interviews with Scottish artists, designers, bloggers and other imaginative souls, and interactive workshopping posts. McLaughlin is no catchphrase-spouting self-help guru, though. The blog is equal parts personal journey and guide, and was set up as much to help him trace his own clear-minded path as to assist others with theirs. (KI)

13 My Monkfish

Foodie fanatic
Recently named Magazine Blog of the Month by BBC Olive mag, My Monkfish is a delightful site run by Edinburgh blogger Hilster – a self-acclaimed 'number-cruncher' by day and gastronome by night who posts her own baking triumphs and reviews of restaurants. Her love of food shines off the pages, whether she's waxing lyrical about baking a Victoria Sponge for her partner, 'Mr Predictable' or spraffing off – rather eloquently, we might add – about the latest openings on Edinburgh's dining scene. Yes, there are other Scottish food blogs, but you’d be hard pressed to find one more stylish and lovable. (AM)

12 Kingdom of Style

Fearless fashion blog
Whether taking on the misguiding claims of hair products or whipping up a Vogue-worthy photoshoot from a charity shop run, soi distant ‘style mavens’ Queen Michelle and Queen Marie make high fashion accessible. They started in 2006 with a post paying homage to Isabella Blow. Despite having become so influential that they’re now regulars at London Fashion Week, the site is essentially still just an (excellently designed) assortment of things they like: be that a new Scottish jewellery designer, Issay Miyake’s latest collection, or some leopard-print jeans from the high street. Great for tips on independent shopping, especially in Scotland. (KI)

11 Radio Magnetic

Alternative music platform
More than just an internet radio station (though, they are the UK’s longest running one of those), the Radio Magnetic team keep the website well-stocked with free downloads, fresh podcasts, guest list competitions and audio interviews with local artists. Ten years after starting it up, it’s still their mission to provide a platform for alternative music, and they achieve a very enviable balance of championing the local, little guy who is starting out his dubstep/electronica/Italo DJ-ing career, as well as covering the big, world-touring names, likes Battles or the Beastie Boys. (CS)

10 Reel Scotland

Valuable film resource
Run by Edinburgh Evening News film columnist and freelance digital editor Jonathan Melville, ReelScotland gives the kind of dedicated independent view on Scotland’s film and TV industry that was surprisingly lacking when the site launched last year. Multimedia content ranges from reviews to previews, interviews, news and analysis of various rumblings on the Scottish screen scene, from upcoming productions to the uncertain future of the EIFF. ReelScotland’s commitment to looking beyond the country’s two main film festivals meant it was the only site covering last year’s Inverness Film Festival and the recent Bo’ness Festival of Silent Cinema with video content. There’s an interesting focus too on Scotland’s cinematic past, particularly its many old picture houses. (MJ)

9 Last Year’s Girl

Girl about town
Lisa Marie Ferla started blogging as a teenager in 1999, and has grown-up online through various blogging sites. Last Year’s Girl, her current home, is all the things a great blog should be: well-written and passionate, with personal accounts sitting alongside wide-appeal journalism. Her collection of interviews with musicians famous and not-famous-at-all is worth clicking through for in itself, but her daily updates also include everything from well-reasoned arguments on current affairs, subjective pieces of personal writing, downloadable monthly mix-tapes and book reviews (she’s also trying to review every cake shop in Glasgow). Essentially, she’s a great pair of eyes on the world. (KI)

8 Limmy

A very dark place
There’s something very, very wrong with Limmy. His site is a miasma of creepy, looping videos, bizarre sketches and ungodly Photoshop experiments (‘Werewolf’, ‘The Birthday Card’ and ‘Homo Orgy’ being disturbing highlights). The Glasgow comedian first started getting noticed in 2006 thanks to his ‘World of Glasgow’ podcasts, which led onto two successful TV series for BBC Scotland. His website is still the perfect portal for his dark humour however – presenting an internet world that’s as twisted as the Glasgow underbelly he parodies. It’s the ‘Playthings’ section that really showcases his unique take on digital comedy, cleverly using interactive technology to set up his offbeat punchlines. ‘Heavy duty’. (HN)

7 Glasgow Podcart

This burgeoning music site was started by a bunch of very passionate amateurs. Halina Rifal and co have been hosting weekly podcasts, which now have hundreds of regular downloaders, for the past two years. Their remit is to highlight grassroots and unsigned artists from all over the world, but also to tap into the rich seams of visual art happening in Scotland right now: not just through the podcasts, but also regular blogs and live events. They’ve touted a lot of great newcomers, they’re very funny, and mainstream media sources dream of having their influence with audiences. (KI)

6 Greener Leith

Lovely local eco blog
Greener Leith is admirable in its aim to promote the area’s growth, both ecologically and economically speaking. All ads are for local businesses, and the forum is geared towards the swapping and sharing of ideas, skills and even locally grown produce. GL also has a cultural remit: a recent blog entry, sandwiched between progress reports on damaged streets and refuse collection updates, contained a group-orchestrated photo-and-soundscape montage dedicated to Victorian naturalist John Muir. None of this would amount to much if the site wasn’t so uncluttered and easy-to-use. (NB)

5 The Pop Cop

Scottish music’s Big Brother
No one can accuse The Pop Cop of shirking his job description. The anonymous blogger is a defender and inspector of Scotland’s music scene – from backing new talent and breaking news to beating a global retreat for local bands (TPC pioneered the Music Alliance Pact) – and his investigations are of note (see ‘The Collateral Damage of SXSW’ or ‘Rockness v Doune the Rabbit Hole’). Internet love can be hard to quantify, but the blogosphere spoke volumes when Google shut The Pop Cop down last year: supporters including Franz Ferdinand and The National campaigned for its return (it soon bounced back). Irrefutable proof that, while he may be Scottish, the long arm of The Pop Cop is felt round the world. (NM)

4 Les Garcons de Glasgow

Style street smarts
Les Garçons are actually photographer Jonathan Pryce and digital media man Daniel Stern, dedicated people-watchers who realised Glasgow’s ascent to a capital of cool was only missing a street style blog. What sets the Garcons apart from mere interested observers with cameras is their eye for style: these days they generally receive over 2000 hits daily, are frequently invited to collaborate with the likes of Topshop, Cruise and Folli Follie, as well as leading visual artists. They’re not so much recording street fashions as setting trends, and have grown into something more like a style bible, covering London Fashion Week shows and killingly-hip Berlin openings, as well as running styling events and fashion shows back home. Glasgow never looked so good. (KI)

3 Central Station

Creative social network
Launched in November 2009, Central Station is described by its (web) masters as a ‘hub of virtual studios’, allowing people involved in art, film and design to collaborate, make connections and share ideas. Funded by Channel 4’s 4ip fund and a grant from the old Scottish Arts Council, the site encourages users to embrace online technology to enhance their work and share it with new audiences. But this isn’t Bebo with a penchant for letterpress printing; it’s an easy-to-use one-stop-shop for the cream of the creative crop, with collections of arty resources, lists of events and opportunities and portfolio spaces for artists to showcase their skills to the wider creative world. Though it perhaps isn’t (yet) the constantly-used hub its creators wish it to become, it is a beautiful piece of webcraft that deserves to grow and grow. (LM)

2 Bella Caledonia

Caledonian brainstorming
Do the name – and the header picture – seem familiar to you? You’re right: Kevin Williamson (the man behind Rebel Inc) and Mike Small (the man behind Product magazine) named their 2007-launched online magazine in honour of the charismatic revolutionary from Alasdair Gray’s novel Poor Things. It’s perhaps a measure of their influence that Gray himself gave them a new version of his illustration for the site. What Williamson and Small have created is a forward-thinking, distinctly Scottish place for ideas. Although they’re pro-independence, the site has no party allegiance and toes no single line. Excellent articles by contributors including Gerry Hassan (see number 27), novelist Ewan Morrison and journalist-turned-MSP Joan McAlpine, on everything from Greece to Iain Banks, make a great forum for intelligent debate. (KI)

1 Blipfoto

Daily photo magic
On a rainy Sunday in 2006, Edinburgh photographer and designer Joe Tree decided it might be fun to set up a website posting a single photo every day. He started out with what he calls a ‘blurry, unspectacular shot’: just some leaves he’d seen on the way to work.

‘I expected to get bored of it quickly, but found out after a couple of weeks that not only was it quite an addictive thing to do, but it made me look at the world in a different way.’

He began to let friends know what he was up to, and almost accidentally built up a following: fans of his pictures would check in to the site everyday, nag him if he was late uploading the day’s photo, and, increasingly, ask if they too could join in. By June that year, the first version of Blipfoto was released onto the net. Five years on, it can boast of users in 160 countries worldwide, and is currently averaging 13 million page views a week. The millionth picture was uploaded this April, and Tree expects to have reached two million by the end of the year. So what exactly is it about this little site that’s engaged so many people?

‘Well, I think at first, it’s that it’s a very simple idea – you can understand it in a couple of seconds. You post one photo a day. Beyond that, what keeps people active on the site is the reaction they get. Most Blips will receive on average six comments – they’re the lifeblood of what has become a real community.’

On signing up, Blipfoto users agree to abide by the two rules underpinning the site: you only get to share one picture a day, and the picture has to be taken on that day. It’s partly this, Tree explains, that sets the site apart from Flickr or Facebook.

‘Flickr is a great site, but it’s designed to let you dump a lot of images at once. Because our users are constrained they consider their output far more carefully. If you’re only allowed to put one piece of yourself out there at a time, you spend much more time thinking about what exactly you’re saying with it. And the vast majority of people on Facebook don’t contribute anything or update their pages: they just absorb other people’s lives. Rather than just being another screen to consume passively, what Blip does is give people a shared purpose, something constructive to do which leaves a history.’

Blipfoto now collaborate with, among others, Channel 4 and The Guardian, and receive enough funding to support a small full-time staff, so the future could be even bigger. But don’t expect them to start collecting your data or hosting advertising any time soon.

‘Because we don’t have the noise of advertising our users have described Blipfoto as a calm, contemplative space. I want to keep it that way.’ (KI)

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