A Social Revolution: The 10 Most Influential Internet Moments of the Decade

Jan 15, 2010

Remember when cell phones and high-speed internet access were still rare? These days, many Americans can barely remember what they did when their car broke down before cell phones or how they looked anything up on the internet before Google. With the first decade of the new millennium coming to a close, the Webby Awards announced the 10 most influential internet moments of the decade on Nov. 18-finding the websites, technological advancements, and more that have transformed not only the way we live but also the world around us.

"We really focused on moments and events that had major impact on not just business, but the lives of regular people throughout the world," said Webby Awards executive director David-Michel Davies. "All of them really demonstrate the overarching trend of the decade; the internet evolving from an experiment into one of the most popular communication platforms the world has ever seen."

If there is one theme that emerged from the list, it was that of a shift toward a more social, user-generated content-based web. Davies believes that what we are seeing is the "emergence of a culture of information sharing-where we get as much information from each other as we do from media. ... We see how participation from individuals around the world is the key driver of innovation online."

The list kicks off with the 2000 expansion of the free classifieds site craigslist.com, which was originally a San Francisco Bay-area phenomenon. The site branched out in order to provide listings in more than 50 countries and altered the classified ad business forever. Also in 2000, search engine giant Google launched its "self-service" ad program, AdWords, to all businesses.

The free encyclopedia, Wikipedia, joined the digital force in 2001, allowing users to edit content collaboratively and forever changing the way the students conduct research. Google opened the door to what developed into an online social revolution. "We reach out to each other, not to the brands, for our information, our recommendations, our insight," says Cynthia Francis, CEO of Reality Digital, a provider of enterprise-scale digital media technology and services.

The demise of file-sharing harbinger Napster, Google's 2004 IPO, and YouTube's role in what Webby calls "an online video revolution" starting in 2006 all make the list. Webby credits this video revolution to "a perfect storm of faster bandwidth, cheaper camcorders, and the groundbreaking use of Adobe's Flash 9 video player by YouTube."

The year 2006 was marked by two major shifts in the world of online social networking: Facebook extended its availability to all users who were at least 13 years old and had a legitimate email address, and Twitter creators took control of the company back from investors and readied for its meteoric rise to stardom. "People have always sought out opinions and recommendations from their friends and other trusted sources. So the idea of sharing information amongst ourselves isn't new, but being able to access that type of information so easily at any time for every facet of life is a development that will shape the world for decades to come," says Davies.

According to the Webby site, 2007 was sort of the year of the app. With the iPhone's debut, Apple sold half a million devices in the first weekend and kicked off a smartphone frenzy. The Webby Awards says an estimated 1 billion new users will come to the internet for the first time through mobile devices. One again extending the "social bonds" of the web, according to Francis, "Smartphones have extended the value of the internet by taking it out of the office and home and putting it on 100% access."

However, the new sociality of the web became about more than just constant status updates with the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama and the 2009 Iranian election protests-which round out the top 10. Online fundraising and the use of social media dominated the Obama campaign and contributed in no small part to his eventual win. On the other end of the election spectrum was the uprising in Iran over the controversial results and the "Twitter Revolution." The social networking site played a major role in the organization of demonstrations.

Looking forward, even Davies finds it hard to speculate how these particular moments could shape the future. Davies said, "[Facebook and Twitter] didn't even exist just a few years ago, and today they are extremely popular. ... The thing that will probably have the biggest impact on the future might not even exist yet."

(www.webbyawards.com; www.facebook.com; www.twitter.com; www.google.com; www.craigslist.org; www.wikipedia.com; www.apple.com; www.napster.com; www.youtube.com)