As the year 2007 sets in the distance, we can take some time to consider the year that was. I’m not a huge fan of year-end lists, but sometimes they help us get a grip on what transpired — and ponder what’s to come.
What’s perhaps most amazing about 2007 is that two distinct phenomena — the iPhone and popularity of Facebook — were so difficult to predict ahead of time, yet they dominated the headlines and the consciousness of people in new media. Love them or hate them, they just would not go away.
So without further ado, here’s the list of big MediaShifting moments from the past year, ranked from most influential downward.
1. iPhone mania.
Apple announced its new phone/iPod/web browser killer combo in January and delivered it to a voracious public by the summer. The phone wowed the public with its touch interace, easy browsing, and huge color screen — not to mention the thin form-factor. However, people complained about the slow Edge network on AT&T, the lock-in with AT&T, difficulty typing on the touch keyboard, and the quick drop in price. Expect next summer’s low cost second-generation iPhone to become a mass-market hit. Not only was the iPhone an object of techno-lust everywhere; it pushed other phone makers to create even better smartphones.
2. Facebook soars on open platform; hurt by privacy woes.
The social networking upstart was better known as a series of private networks for colleges and high schools. But then the company decided that anyone could join — and that anyone could create mini-applications or widgets for the site. That led to an explosion of new members and new applications, letting more people create more custom sites for themselves. The huge popularity of Facebook was tempered by year end, when it botched the release of Beacon, an ad service that broadcast users’ purchases on outside sites.
3. Burma turmoil captured by citizen journalists.
With each new event on the world stage, eyewitnesses are becoming more important players, capturing the events as they happen with cameraphones and mobile digital equipment. In Burma, onlookers and tourists became instant citizen journalists, relaying news of protests — and the resulting crackdown — when professional journalists couldn’t get into the country. The ruling junta countered by cutting off Internet and cell phone access, but reports still got out online. It was yet another example of an oppressive regime being countered by pervasive digital technology and a democratized media.
4. Viacom sues YouTube for $1 billion.
YouTube has always had a strange relationship with Big Media companies. While legal staff at those companies send take-down notices for copyrighted content at YouTube, the marketers are actually uploading promotional material onto the site at the same time. But while other companies such as CBS have made peace with the video-sharing leader, Viacom decided to sue the Google division for copyright infringement while launching its own video sites and partnering with rivals such as Joost. Plus, major media companies launched their own video site, Hulu.
5. YouTube and CNN hold presidential debates.
The rise in online video has also meant that more people are using video to engage in politics. YouTube decided to take that participation to the next level by having people submit videotaped questions for presidential candidates, which were then filtered by CNN journalists and asked to Democratic and Republican candidates at two debates. There were complaints about the way journalists chose the questions, so a new site called 10Questions was launched so people could also vote on the questions to ask candidates.
6. Bloggers get some protection in House shield bill.
Blogger Josh Wolf spent months in prison after refusing to turn over videotapes to police, and there have been many cases of journalists not wanting to turn in secret sources in court cases. If they give in to court orders, then journalists and bloggers would not be able to secure important information from inside sources. So it was a victory for journalists and some bloggers when the U.S. House approved the Free Flow of Information Act,: which would protect professional journalists and bloggers who make a “substantial” livelihood blogging. The problem is that the bill doesn’t protect enough bloggers, and has yet to be approved by the Senate or signed into law.
7. Twitter becomes important news platform when bridge collapses.
The micro-blogging tool Twitter lets people send brief text messages to friends and colleagues about what they’re doing at any given moment. That casual tool became an important way that news was first disseminated when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Later, news organizations such as KPBS in San Diego relied on Twitter to get news out about the wildfires when the station couldn’t broadcast on the radio and its website went down.
8. New York Times tears down TimesSelect pay wall.
It might have happened a year later than I had hoped, but the Times finally gave up on its TimesSelect pay wall around Op-Ed columnists online, opening up most of its archives as well. The Financial Times and Economist also lifted pay walls online, and the Wall Street Journal’s new owner Rupert Murdoch spoke about abolishing paid subscriptions for WSJ.com. The open web is becoming a reality for media companies that want to be a part of the online conversation — and make money with advertising — rather than taking a “walled garden” approach.
9. USAToday.com revamps with a social networking focus.
The national newspaper has long been an innovator with color, graphics and satellite delivery of content around the country. Now it can also add online innovation to its list of accomplishments, as the newspaper’s site unveiled a radical redesign this year that included reader-recommended stories, comments from users, and social networking functions that let reporters mingle with readers online. While many readers complained about the changes, the management stuck by them and saw readership go up.
10. Terry Semel leaves Yahoo as the site regroups.
While Google was grabbing all the headlines — and advertising growth online — rival Yahoo was suffering from its “Peanut Butter Syndrome,” being spread too thin with too many initiatives. One direction that was cut short was original content, something led by CEO Terry Semel, a former studio exec. After Semel left the company, co-founder Jerry Yang took over at CEO, promising to make big changes to the site. Now there is very little talk about original programming on Yahoo as it tries to focus on social media and aggregation.
What do you think? What’s missing from our list, and what would you add or subtract? Share your thoughts in the comments below and we’ll update the list or Honorable Mentions with credit to you.
Note: The MediaShift blog will be on holiday until Jan. 2, so don’t expect any new posts until then. We appreciate your readership, participation and link-love for the blog, and hope you’ll come back and see what we have in store for the new year! Happy holidays to all!
Additional research for this story by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo.