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The Year Online

We saw innovations in real-time search, streaming video, and an operating system for the cloud.
December 23, 2009

This year will be remembered for cloud computing, real-time search, and the appearance of Google’s Web-based operating system.

Real-Time Search

The Web’s dominant search company, Google, got some serious competition in 2009. Thanks to a long-awaited technology-sharing deal with Yahoo and a focus on product-related searches, Microsoft’s revamped search engine, Bing, began nipping at Google’s heels (“What’s Microsoft’s Bing Strategy?”).

The physicist Stephen Wolfram also shook up the search-engine scene by developing a “computational knowledge engine” designed to provide all sorts of useful information via a search-like interface (“Search Me,” “Alpha and Google Face Off,” and “Wolfram Alpha Braces for Overload”). The arrival of Wolfram Alpha also forced Google to explore a more sophisticated approach to presenting meaningful information from online databases (“Google Unveils Google Squared”).

In the battle to gain an edge, both Google and Microsoft turned their attention to the “real-time Web” and this year’s hottest Web company, Twitter. Keen to tap into the freshest online information, these search engines began delivering seconds-old snippets from Twitter, as well as other sites in their results (“Google Takes Search Real-Time”). Several startups also hope to tap into real-time online activity (“In Search of What Everyone’s Clicking”). But collecting real-time information and presenting it in meaningful ways remains a tricky challenge, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained during recent a visit to Cambridge, MA (“Searching for Real-Time Search”).

Faster search is just one sign of a general increase in the speed of information flow across the Web. This year Internet experts revealed new protocols for collecting bits of related information no matter where they appear online (“Who’s Talking About Me?”). Others focused on analyzing the huge quantities of data being produced at any given moment (“Startups Mine the Real-Time Web”).

In Search of Context

With so much interest in mining Twitter posts, the trustworthiness of online information was another hot issue. Several research projects and startups have revealed ways to automatically determine who can be trusted to provide accurate information on a particular topic (“A Smarter Way to Dig Up Experts” and “Computers Can’t Answer Everything”). Researchers have also developed ways to add context to information posted online. In this area, Wikipedia has come under particular scrutiny (“Who’s Messing With Wikipedia?” and “Adding Trust to Wikipedia, and Beyond”).

A Web OS

Even as Microsoft encroached on Google’s turf, the search giant took a bold step into Microsoft’s backyard. Google’s browser, Chrome, evolved into a complete operating system, as the search giant continued to press into ever-broader areas of computing technology (“An Operating System for the Cloud”). The Chrome OS isn’t yet available to the public, but there have been some early indications of the radical approach that Google has taken (“Hints of How Google’s OS Will Work” and “Google Gives a First Look at the Chrome OS”).

Google’s vision relies on the power of Web applications and sophisticated browser technology. New browser features will make it easier to work both online and off, to handle heavier processing tasks, and to incorporate multimedia into the browser without plug-ins (“An Upgrade for the Web”).

Cloud Computing

Businesses everywhere were still fascinated by the promised convenience and cost savings of cloud computing (“Technology Overview: Conjuring Clouds”). But as companies began adopting the technology this year, kinks that still need to be worked out revealed themselves (“Industry Challenges: The Standards Question”). Companies have found it difficult to move data between different cloud services, even though some startups are now offering solutions (“Virtual Apps Drift Into the Cloud” and “Moving Data around the Clouds”). Security has been another worry (“Vulnerability Seen in Amazon’s Cloud Computing”). And some companies turned to different kinds of cloud computing that offer greater security and control (“A More Secure, Trustworthy Cloud” and “Big Blue Sees Clouds on the Horizon”).

Content Transformed

Another of the year’s big trends was the growth of online streaming media. This is one reason that downloading copyrighted material over file-sharing networks seems to be on the way out (“Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Usurped by Streaming Video”). Much excitement was also generated over a streaming media project called OnLive, which promises to bring high-end video games to users whose devices don’t have the processing power to handle the advanced graphics (“Moving Video Games to the Clouds”).

Companies in a variety of media industries have also looked for ways to use piracy to make money off content (“Embracing Piracy”). And the music industry sought entirely new ways to sell music online (“Can Video Games Be the New MTV?” and “What Will Happen to Lala’s Music Plans?”).

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