The Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. The essence of what is happening right fucking now. Before, the zeitgeist was something slow that you could rough out before it was gone. Now it is lightning striking a lake of gasoline, all evidence blown away before you had any idea it was happening in the first place.

While the web has sped up the zeitgeist considerably, it has also given us new ways to track it. Here are a few of my favorite ways to let the zeitgeist wash over me.

My oldest, and still favorite way to track it is the LiveJournal Image Stream. The 50 most recent images posted to LiveJournal on a page you manually refresh. Most of LiveJournal belongs to the old Warsaw Bloc these days, but when something happens of world-wide importance you can watch all of the images line up. When Benazir Bhutto was shot, I knew before CNN lead with the story because of this.

Twitter is also really useful in keeping track of this sort of stuff, too. My two favorite bits are visualizers that show you what’s going on through Twitter.

Twittervision is a Google Maps/Twitter mashup that shows you where each tweet is coming from. I’ve shown this to a bunch of people and it never fails to impress.

Pingwire is a live stream of all the images being posted to the free Twitter image hosts. Leave it on for a few minutes and come back, you’ll be amazed at what people are taking pictures of. (You’ll also learn that if some one is going to take one naked/half-naked picture of themselves, they are going to take several.)

Lastly, we turn to the omnibeast Google. Google’s trending hot topics. The top 100 search strings for the US that day. It is both horrifying and enlightening at the same time.