It seems like a long time since the year 2000. Much of the tech we take for granted didn’t exist at the turn of the century, and yet technologies such as Twitter have become part and parcel of our everyday lives.
Here are the online technologies, sites and services that future historians will see as defining the last decade.
Napster wasn’t around for very long – it launched in 1999 and was shuttered in 2001. The arrival of peer-to-peer file sharing of MP3 files blew the music business to smithereens. Napster got popular very fast and was sued by Metallica in April 2000. Had the record industry embraced it rather than fought it, file sharing might not have become the industry-killing concern it is today.
BitTorrent wasn’t designed for sharing music and movies: it was designed to speed up downloads. It just happened to be brilliant for sharing music and movies too, hoovering up bandwidth at such a rate that many ISPs now block or throttle it.
Twitter gets the headlines, but Facebook gets the traffic: the Harvard-only social network expanded to cover other universities, then companies, then the whole world, and it now has over 350 million active users. It’s the AOL of the 21st Century, but its ambitions don’t stop there: its Facebook Connect acts as an electronic bouncer for a wide range of non-Facebook sites, including Yahoo ones.
Blogs were around before Blogger, but it took blogging from a niche pursuit to mainstream activity: Pyra Labs’ 1999 invention had amassed hundreds of thousands of users during the early noughties by the time Google came waving its wallet in 2003. Its secret was simple: Blogging with Blogger was – and is – a doddle.
In truth, Twitter is less popular than Facebook – but the speed at which Facebook is attempting to copy it shows how influential it’s already become. Twitter’s genius is twofold: you can follow people without getting their permission, which means a cat may look at a king, and there’s a huge number of Twitter clients you can use to access the service. It’s the email of social networking.
Barely five years old, Flickr has transformed the way we think of digital photography. Tagging makes exploring images easier, group pools enable users to collaborate on anything from art to breaking news, and unlimited uploads means Flickr Pro accounts are among the few things online worth paying for. Yahoo bought up the site in 2005.
Wikipedia is an extraordinary achievement, a compendium of knowledge that cost nothing to create and costs nothing to access. Are there errors? Of course there are – just as there are in printed encyclopaedias. Try fixing errors in those overnight. Wikipedia is awesome, and it’s one of the single best things about the Internet.
While many virtual banks appeared and disappeared over the decade, PayPal has gone from strength to strength. It’s not the prettiest or cheapest way to wire money around the world, but it’s safe, solid, secure and enormously successful. eBay bought it in a $1.5 billion deal in 2002.
What did we do before YouTube brought us videos of cats falling off skateboards? YouTube isn’t here for that, though: it’s a media channel for dissidents in Iran, it’s the home of viral marketing, and it’s rapidly becoming a broadcaster in its own right. It’s also offering increasingly high quality: in recent months we’ve seen more and more YouTube content in HD, and now it’s moving to 1080p HD. Its brightest idea, though, was the Embed button, which enables site owners and bloggers to add YouTube clips to their sites in seconds.
Could Spotify be the Holy Grail of digital music? It’s certainly generated acres of press coverage, but more importantly it seems to be making a dent in file sharing – something the music industry has tried and failed to do for a decade. Spotify is digital music done right, offering decent sound quality, a decent collection of music and, if you go for the premium version, a superb mobile phone client that enables you to take your music with you.
Not so much because of search – although of course Google ends the decade as the King of Search – but because of Google’s other adventures, from Google Docs and Google Maps to Chrome and the forthcoming Chrome OS. What Microsoft was to the 1990s, Google is to the noughties.
(Via TechRadar: All latest feeds.)