For the ten-year span that started in 2000, turbulence was the name of the game in high tech. Fortunes were made and lost, everyday users took control of the reins, and technology-watching became a spectator sport. It was a chaotic time, but it was seldom dull. Here, then, is a look at the decade that was: the highlights and lowlights, the booms and busts, the fizzles and sizzles.
1. Y2K Fizzles: 2000 started not with a bang but with a whimper. Dire predictions of computer systems going haywire, mass power outages, travel disruptions, and maybe even a run on squirrel jerky simply didn't happen, as the Year 2000 Problem turned out to be more hiccup than heartbreak. Did all the Y2K-bug-squishing task forces save us from disaster? Or was the whole affair not quite as dire as advertised? We may never know for sure. So let's raise a glass and offer a New Year's toast to one of life's eternal mysteries.
2. Dot-Bomb and the Death of the Build-It-and-They-Will-Come Business Model: In the late 1990s, the stock market--fueled by investment in high tech--was on a roll, new tech companies were launching every day, and even Alan Greenspan's talk of "irrational exuberance" couldn't dim our enthusiasm. Venture capitalists were pouring money into shaky new Websites. The sites scaled up as quickly as possible, even without a demonstrated revenue stream or business model. By mid-2000, the dot-com bubble had burst, taking the economy and many people's livelihoods with it. Boo.com, Pets.com, Webvan: It was fun while it lasted.
3. Google Wins: What started as a search engine has morphed into an all-encompassing ecosystem that touches--and in many respects dominates--the online universe. By the early years of this millennium, Google (armed with its proprietary, all-knowing algorithm) had already lapped the competition. The launch of Google AdWords (2001) and Google News (2002) set the stage for a massively successful public offering in 2004. Then the G-men really started pouring it on, with a string of cloud-based productivity boosters such as Gmail, Google Maps, Picasa, Google Apps, Desktop Search, Google Earth, and more. With the addition of YouTube in 2006, the Android platform in 2007, and Google Voice and Google Chrome OS in 2009, the company doesn't have that much territory left to conquer. For 2010, I suggest buying naming rights to the country and changing it to the United States of Google. That has a nice ring to it.
4. Social Media Surges: Remember Friendster, the social network introduced in 2002? Piles of people signed up, invited friends to join, and then spent the next year figuring out what to do there. MySpace also had its day, only to be supplanted by Facebook, which crossed the 300 million user threshold earlier this year. With all the "friending" going on out there, is it possible that Facebook et al. have made the world a friendlier place? Probably not. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, "unfriend" was 2009's word of the year.
5. Apple's Great Comeback: When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, prospects were bleak. What a difference a decade makes. With the introduction of the iPod in 2001, Macs running on Intel processors in 2006, the industry-defining iPhone in 2007, and the iPhone App Store juggernaut in 2008, Apple has become a force to be reckoned with, while Jobs has been hailed as the conquering hero in a black turtleneck.
6. The User Takes Control: When Time tabbed "You" as the Person of the Year in 2006, they were clearly on to something. Bloggers, citizen journalists, everyday experts, and anyone with a cell-phone camera put a hurt on the top-down model of information dispersal. For a while, this potent mix of user-created content, high interactivity between sites, and rich user interfaces was dubbed "Web 2.0." The term eventually lost steam; the activities it described did not. From Digg, Flickr, Wikipedia, and Yelp to protestors tweeting the political unrest in Iran, the "wisdom of crowds" was the "aha!" experience of the decade.