Here's some of the things I do...
- Watch Delicious. Delicious is a free bookmark service that was set up and run by just one guy. It is fairly sparse and not immediately intuitive, but it is still very useful for trend watching. Go to Delicious and you will see things that people just added to their bookmarks. Click on the link that says "popular" and you will see sites that are becoming very popular. Click on the "Most Active" words on the right and you can see popular sites that are being "tagged" with those words. I often go there and click "search" and it shows me sites that people are bookmarking and tagging with the word search. I've found a lot of interesting sites with Delicious. Link.
- Watch Technorati. Technorati is basically a blog search engine and aggregator. For trend watching it is useful to look two places: Tags and Popular. With Tags, you can see words, tags, that are being used in Blogs organized alphabetically and sized according to popularity. Then in Popular, you can see "most-linked-to" news stories, movies and more. Link.
- Read Boing Boing. Boing Boing is a blog that is run by a crew of smart connected Web folk who always seem to know what is going on. Sure, 25% of the posts are of no interest to me (why all the posts about science fiction writing?) but the rest of the posts are timely and fascinating. Link.
- Read Slashdot. OK, yes, it is, as they say, "News for Nerds." And it is in desperate need of a makeover. But Slashdot is perhaps one of the smartest and most passionate communities in existence. There are always timely topics and extensive debate to be considered. Link.
- Read Google News. I realize there are a lot of News sites out there, but somehow Google hit it right. Their news presentation is right on the mark, easy to read and sift through. Link.
- Watch Alexa's Movers. After watching all the sites above, still, a bunch of really "hot" sites escape my notice. Alexa's Movers catch them. For example, today, I saw that JibJab had another film, Big Box Mart, a "jab" at Walmart, that was garnering a ton of traffic. Link. And then there is Rising Concepts new service, Frapper, that lets you create interactive Google maps, plotting where members of your community/group are located. Link. Let's not forget the Million Quarter Web Page, where you can pay a quarter per pixel to show up on the front page for ten years. Link. These three examples are all wildly popular right now, and I would have missed them completely if it weren't for the Alexa Movers. Link.