The Year in Emerging Technology: 2008

While in some ways 2008 has been an exciting and historic year, in other ways it has been a year that many people would like to forget, especially those who have seen their businesses, job prospects and retirement savings shrink or disappear altogether. But when it comes to emerging technologies, 2008 wasn't just a good year, it was a very good year. The past year saw the rise of many new exciting products and technologies and also saw renewed growth in some areas that had become stale. Best of all, these technologies of 2008 aren't just limited to this year. Many of them are the building blocks that will be used to create and grow the technologies that will be important in 2009.

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Emerging Technology
While in some ways 2008 has been an exciting and historic year, in other ways it has been a year that many people would like to forget, especially those who have seen their businesses, job prospects and retirement savings shrink or disappear altogether.

But when it comes to emerging technologies, 2008 wasn't just a good year, it was a very good year. The past year saw the rise of many new exciting products and technologies and also saw renewed growth in some areas that had become stale.

Best of all, these technologies of 2008 aren't just limited to this year. Many of them are the building blocks that will be used to create and grow the technologies that will be important in 2009.

Browser War Redux

One of the best things to happen to the Web in a long time is the resurgence of the browser wars that 2008 saw.

During this year we've seen the newest version of Firefox, which I consider to be the best browser available today, impressive new versions of Opera and Safari, the penetration of the excellent WebKit engine across multiple platforms, and a promising beta of the next version of Internet Explorer.

We also saw the entry of a major new player in the browser wars as Google released its very own Web browser, Chrome, which displays some innovative interface and JavaScript capabilities.

This renewed browser war is giving Internet users more choices than ever when it comes to how they use the Web. And the new features and capabilities that this next generation of browsers are providing will help power many of the Web innovations that will come out in the next few years.

Seen Your Video

In many ways 2008 was the year that online video grew up. Traditionally seen as a forum for low quality wacky home videos, online video is finally fulfilling the promise of any video, any time that you want it.

Leading the charge in this video innovation was the Web site Hulu.com, which provides high-quality, easy to access and free movies and TV shows. Netflix also expanded their online video offering and made it possible to stream their video directly to dedicated devices and gaming consoles.

Other sites are joining in and video online has improved across the board. With increased innovation in displays, content delivery and formats, expect to see online video improve until it's on the same level as cable and satellite.

Openly Social

Many people have a love/hate relationship with their social networks. They like the capabilities and connections that these networks provide but they hate having to manage these networks and they wish they could just belong to one or two and have total control over how they are used.

While we aren't quite to that level yet, the opening up of social networks and improved privacy controls they offered progressed significantly in 2008.

Facebook finally offered many of the increased fine-grained privacy controls that users had been asking for. And offerings from Facebook, Google, MySpace and others are making it easier for networks and sites to tie into social networking while letting visitors use the social networking profiles that they already have.

Searching for Competition

Google is the undisputed king of online search. No other competitor even comes close.

But one promising development of 2008 was that there were some enterprising and innovative people out there who were actually trying to compete with Google. New offerings such as Wikia Search and Cuil attempted to out-innovate Google, or at least offer a different approach to searching the Web. And new semantic search technologies are providing greater capabilities and richer search options.

While many of these new offerings have considerable shortcomings, just the fact that there is some activity in pushing the envelope in search is encouraging. Remember, once upon a time Google was the upstart given little chance to unseat the search giants of the day.

Storage for the People

It can be easy to take for granted the constant growth in storage options. But every once in a while you have to stop and wonder at the storage options that are now at everyone's disposal.

It wasn't all that long ago that I was impressed by a PC with 4 Gbytes of disk space; now I walk around with a tiny drive in my pocket that holds twice that. Most of us can also remember when storing a file in the tens of megabytes online could be a slow and expensive option, now all of us have near infinite online storage available for very little cost (or for free).

Sure, lots of this storage is being used for silly things. But there are also lots of innovative people out there working on ways to use the new storage paradigm to create new and exciting products and technologies.

Free the Mobile Apps

One of the saddest technology developments of recent years has been the imprisonment of mobile applications. Between the mobile network carriers, the device manufacturers and other special interests, mobile applications have been locked into a tight holding cell that make it impossible for most applications to reach a wide audience.

This looks even worse when compared to the world of traditional applications, where the Web has made it easy for any developer anywhere to quickly reach a global audience where anyone anywhere can find any application.

While mobile apps don't currently have anything near this level of freedom, 2008 did see some loosening of the shackles that are keeping mobile applications down.

The Apple App Store made it a little easier for developers to reach a wide audience with their mobile applications. And the Google Android Market offers an even more open venue for mobile developers.