This is the third annual Best Web Companies round-up from Read/WriteWeb (see 2005 and 2004). This year we're spreading it out over 2 separate posts. In this post, we announce Best Bigco and the runners-up - with our special brand of analysis too. In our next post, we'll announce Best Web LittleCo of 2006 and the Most Promising Web Company/Innovator.
Google: influential and all-round impressive
We lead off with a somewhat predictable choice for Best Bigco of 2006. In the poll we ran to ask which Internet bigco most impressed you, 53% of respondents voted for Google. Despite this, for a while we were tempted to pick Amazon (which was second in our poll with 14% of the vote), due to its outstanding innovation. But when it came down to it, Google's influence and impact throughout 2006 has been second to none - so Google once again gets the Read/WriteWeb Bigco of the Year honor (it was also the first recipient, in 2004).
In terms of what Google released in 2006, there was a lot of it! Some were products of real promise: e.g. Google Base, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, a much improved Google Reader. But also there were some relative clunkers: e.g. Google Video didn't live up to the hype, 'Google Apps for your Domain' was clumsily named and marketed, their Personalized Homepage lacked oomph (although there are no lack of gadgets for it). In terms of new products, Google's 2006 effort will be remembered most for their canny acquisitions: not only the big one, YouTube, but also their Web Office purchases Writely and JotSpot.
Overall though, Google's product range remains impressive. Their mainstays, search and Adsense/Adwords, grew even more dominant during 2006 (although both have threats looming against them in '07). Meanwhile Google's new products in 2006 displayed enough potential to make us think: well this company may not be a two-trick pony after all. Looking ahead to 2007, we have our eyes on their Web Office moves in particular, not to mention a possible OS!
Amazon: innovative, but not quite enough impact
In terms of sheer innovation, it's hard to argue against Amazon being the most innovative of the big Internet companies this year. They had unique web app releases that started in late 2005 (e.g. Mechanical Turk) and in 2006 rolled out a Web Services platform (Alexa web services, S3, EC2, and more). But in the end we had to question whether Amazon's innovation made a big enough impact on the mainstream market. After all, to be Best Web Bigco you need to be making a difference in the lives of normal people. Regarding their e-commerce platform, which certainly is mainstream, it was business as usual this year for Amazon - nothing spectacular in that department.
Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft: interesting...
What about the other bigcos: Apple had another impressive year and were rightly in the top 3 in the R/WW poll (13%, just behind Amazon). There's no doubt they are a stylish and innovative company - and if this were just about digital media, Apple would be hands-down winner of Best Web Bigco.
Last year's R/WW Bigco winner, Yahoo, had a mixed year. There were some great products and upgrades - a new-look Ajax homepage, Yahoo Mail, microformats galore, great use of APIs, Yahoo Go to span devices. But there were also questions... are they a technology company or a media company? Is it Flickr or Yahoo Photos? These issues came to a head in the now infamous peanut butter memo in November.
As for Microsoft, well they had a good year with the rollout of Windows Live and their next generation web/desktop development platform. There is a sense they're playing catch up (e.g. with Zune), but Microsoft showed in 2006 that they are a formidable competitor. And now with Ray Ozzie in charge of software innovation, they have a Web Native champion to push them forward. 2007 may well be Microsoft's year, so Google needs to be on its game!
So what do you think - do you agree with our choice of Google as Best BigCo? Well 53% of you said you did, so perhaps the better question is - do you agree with our reasoning? And what of the threats to Google in 2007... will it finally be the year Microsoft walks away with the coveted R/WW title of Best Web Bigco? ;-) Or will Amazon's web services innovations go mainstream? Perhaps Apple and digital media will be the next big thing - and don't count Yahoo out in that domain either.
But for now, it's Google's year!