Arguably, 2008 was the year of Twitter, Facebook, and Hulu. Come January of next year, I wonder what Web sites we'll agree were the ones that really mattered in 2009. In fact I'll do more than wonder: I'm going to stick my neck out and try to make a few educated predictions. And I'll choose them from among the sea of new or up-and-coming sites you may not even have heard of yet.
While most are flying below the radar today, these ten Web sites and services have a good shot at emerging as the fastest growing and most buzz-worthy of 2009.
Back in May 2008, we predicted Hulu's rise to prominence, and it has fulfilled our expectations. This was a huge tactical win for NBC Universal, which owns part of Hulu (along with News Corporation). CBS is not taking this lying down. In its takeover last year of the tech Web site operator CNET, it bought the rights to the TV.com URL and has now added a good amount of full-length prime-time shows and movies (not just clips) to the site from major content partners like Sony (a wealth of great premium content), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and PBS. Content from CBS-owned Showtime is available there too.
TV.com relaunched with full-length programs (movies and prime-time TV shows) early this month. Before that, the site offered only promo clips, cast profiles, interviews, and discussions--yet it had 16.5 million viewers per month even then. That number should begin climbing steadily over the course of 2009 with all the new video content.
Still, TV.com is no Hulu. Why? The video quality, even the HD stuff, just can't match the surprising clarity of Hulu's offerings. That will have to improve if CBS wants to dethrone Hulu as "Web video central" this year. (http://www.tv.com/)
Qik provides a platform where you can easily stream and share live video from your mobile or cell phone camera. When visiting the site, it's easy to find live video streams being shot by Qik members from around the world. This is great for family stuff, like Grandma in America watching her baby grandson in Italy in real time, for example.
After you are finished streaming your video live over Qik, the video is automatically archived at the site. And, if you set it up to do so, Qik sends the videos to YouTube, your blog, or to your page on Facebook. Using Qik does not require a fancy smart phone--an inexpensive Java-based cell phone will do. Qik has found a niche and is exploiting it well. I'm predicting that many more video enthusiasts will flock to Qik this year because of its simple, straight-forward design and ease of use. (http://www.qik.com/)
With the Internet video landscape becoming large and more scattered, many of us would welcome a well-designed tool to help us make sense of it all. Boxee gathers video from all over the Web (Hulu, YouTube, CNN.com, and many others) and puts it in a very neat and easy-to-use interface that can be accessed on your PC or on the TV in the living room. This creates something like a programming guide for Internet video, such that you don't have to surf around to different video sites--all your favorite Web video is right in front of you. Boxee also accesses and organizes the video, images, and music that you have on your hard drive.
As Web video destinations become more numerous and diverse, they all must effectively answer the user's basic problem--"What do I watch when I don't know what I want to watch?"--in order to keep the eyeballs. Boxee's main means of doing this is letting you get viewing suggestions from perhaps the best source you have--your friends. You form friend groups with other Boxee users, and you can see what they've been watching or they can proactively suggest stuff to you.
The current version of Boxee runs on Intel-based Macs, Apple TV, and Linux machines (it works particularly easily on Ubuntu distributions). A Windows version should be ready soon, Boxee says. (http://www.boxee.tv/)
Blackberry Application Storefront
Research in Motion had a big year in 2008, releasing smart phone after smart phone in a valiant effort to keep all those "CrackBerry" addicts from jumping ship and buying iPhones. The devices and the software that runs on them have become sexier-looking more entertainment-oriented; RIM has added an element of fun to a device that's traditionally been a business tool.
RIM is also taking a page from the iPhone playbook by opening up a store for independently developed BlackBerry apps, called the BlackBerry Application Storefront. Current BlackBerry users (and prospective ones) will no doubt be eager to see what those new apps look like; and it's a safe bet that the site where they are displayed and sold will be a popular place on the Web in 2009.
However, the Storefront isn't open yet. Keep an eye on PCWorld.com or the BlackBerry signup page on the Storefront for updates.