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The Internet is growing up, and, while search is still a dominant area of research, many of the year’s biggest software stories have to do with how users are finding ways to live, play, and do business online. The Internet’s reach is growing, as mobile devices become capable of ever more sophisticated functions and companies encourage users to store ever more data in the Internet cloud.

Searching Everywhere
While Google continues to dominate in the traditional search space, the company is also working on budding technologies, such as speech recognition. (See “The Future of Search.”) Smaller players in search, including Spock and Wink, are carving out a niche in specialized areas, such as people search. (See “Searching for Humans.”) At the same time, various research projects are working on better ways to search multimedia content, including audio and video lectures and virtual worlds. (See “Searching Video Lectures” and “Better Search in Virtual Worlds.”)

Cloud Computing
Improved Web-development tools have set off a boom of creativity, as Web services spring up by the dozens. New technology is encouraging users to put their heads (and data) in the clouds of the Internet and keep them there, as Sapotek offers up a Web-based desktop and Google seems poised to offer Web-based hard drives. (See “Computer in the Cloud” and “Google’s Cloud Looms Large.”) Meanwhile, new technology from Adobe seeks to get the best of both worlds by bringing cloud computing out of the browser and into the desktop. (See “To the Web and Back Again.”)

Virtual Worlds
As more people begin to live, play, and do business in virtual worlds, there have been growing pains, as users struggle with the paradoxes of goods that seem virtual but have real value. (See “Money Trouble in Second Life.”) Regardless, some developers continue envisioning new ways of using virtual spaces. One example is online meeting rooms that provide a different way to visualize how attendees feel about the issues at hand. (See “Unreal Meetings.”) And as the virtual population grows, developers are working to make it possible to travel freely between worlds, and to host a large number of users simultaneously. (See “Moving Freely between Virtual Worlds” and “The One-World Video-Game Challenge.”)

Being Yourself Online
Users already share information through blogs and other online services. New technologies have yielded even more opportunities for self-expression, allowing users to broadcast their entire lives online and host their own live talk shows. (See “Broadcast Your Life Online, 24-7” and “The Rise of the Netjockey.”) One of the emerging issues of 2007 was reputation management. Companies have only just begun to tackle this problem, while people continue to scatter information about themselves across the Internet. (See “Managing Your Reputation Online.”)

Social Networks
While microblogging services such as Twitter kept people connected through brief, frequent messages, in many ways, 2007 was the year of Facebook. (See “The Rise of the Miniblog.”) Founder Mark Zuckerberg introduced features that sought to harness the power of the “social graphs” that users create on the social network, and businesses flocked to build new applications. (See “Building onto Facebook’s Platform.”) Microsoft bought into the innovations, but much refinement was required. Facebook’s advertising service, called Beacon, proved highly controversial. (See “Evolving Privacy Concerns.”)

Mobile
Mobile phones resemble computers more and more, but efforts to provide them with Web services and useful applications are hampered by problems with interoperability. Skyward Mobile’s platform is designed to allow the company to write applications that run on any phone–even older models. (See “Making Your Phone Smarter.”) Google entered the mobile space with Android, its own attempt at interoperability. (See “Google Announces Mobile Plans.”) Meanwhile, Tim Berners-Lee and others are trying to keep the mobile Internet connected to the Internet as a whole by developing standards that make Web pages work no matter what device accesses them. (See “Preserving One Web.”)

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Tagged: Computing, software, social networks, search, mobile phones, virtual worlds

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