Writing a wrap-up of the year in online culture feels sort of like sending out one of those awful round robins to which suburban moms are so partial — but instead of raving about Lauren’s SATs and Chad’s first year at Clemson, the kids we’re boasting about have names like Google and Firefox.
It’s certainly been the year of social networking, with prom king MySpace.com — the third most visited web domain in 2006 — reaching its zenith when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in July. Having left old-school networking sites like Friendster.com in the dust — while, conversely, increasing the recognition of other new-model sites like Facebook.com — MySpace became such a household name that even your grandma probably has an account by now. Although you might not want to check for it. Up-and-coming musicians suddenly had a (virtual) arena in which to play to 43 million fans, thanks to MySpace’s little sister, MySpace Music (www.music.myspace.com), and such was the site’s appeal that some of the big boys, like Weezer and Nine Inch Nails, even used the medium to premiere new material.
Also legitimized this year was video blogging, thanks to the rise and rise of everyone’s favorite workday distraction, YouTube.com. Purchased by Google in October for a whopping $1.65 billion, the site made it possible to watch everything from Britney’s biggest mistakes to old NKOTB videos from 1990, and spawned a bunch of copycats like Vimeo.com and DailyMotion.com. (Though is it just me, or does the latter sound like a bowel movement?)
The blogosphere, to put it simply, exploded. The rocketing readership of gossip sites like Gawker.com meant that mainstream media was forced to recognize blogging as a legitimate news form, and corporate blogging took off in a big way, with every business you’ve (n)ever heard of grabbing a piece of the pie. An increasing number of bloggers experimented with selling advertising — with the help of companies like BlogAds and Federated Media — to pay the bills, many of them bringing in a hefty chunk that helped to confirm their status as “professional bloggers” and soften the blow of accusations that they’d sold out. The rise of self-publishers like Lulu.com and make-it-yourself workshops like CafePress.com meant that suddenly everyone had a personalized T-shirt or calendar you could buy, while the popularity of the second annual BlogHer convention in California — as well as the meet-up sessions for Lowcountry bloggers, organized by Dan Conover of the P&C‘s Lowcountryblog — confirmed the fact that hey, we might be geeks, but we still want to hang out with each other in real life.
2006 also saw the growth of Wikipedia, a free, interactive online encyclopedia with entries on everything from buying roses to Guns N’ Roses; suddenly, everything had a wiki (including Charleston) — the disconcerting part, of course, was that anyone could have contributed it. Virtual worlds like SecondLife.com hit it big — a total of more than two million “residents” are currently signed up (cough dorks! cough) — while web browser Firefox took the place (in my heart at least) of the decidedly old-fashioned Internet Explorer. Not to be outdone, Microsoft launched their upgrade — IE version 7.0 — in October. And sadly, it still kind of sucked.
While people finally started paying attention to Charleston’s very own slice of Craigslist.com in 2006 (no matter that it was, ahem, launched in 2005), Microsoft attempted to topple the reign of Apple’s iTunes in the online music market with the release of Zune (uh, good luck with that one, Gates). And VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service Skype, which allows you to make phone calls through your computer for nothing — tagline: the whole world can talk for free — mushroomed from an obscure word you’d never heard of to the best way to say good night to your long-distance boyfriend in Buenos Aires. Next up for 2007? New kid JAJAH.com, which claims to be able to take your computer completely out of the equation and let you make free long-distance calls on your cell phone.
So congratulations, internet users. I’d say it’s been a cracking year.
Holly Burns updates when she remembers to at www.nothingbutbonfires.com. She has never been tempted to get a MySpace account. Or perhaps she has never been cool enough.