This is the third annual Best Web Companies round-up from Read/WriteWeb (ref: 2005 and 2004). This year we're spreading it out over 2 separate posts and this is the second one - see yesterday's post for Best BigCo of 2006.
Best Web LittleCo
It was a very hard decision this year, for a few reasons. Firstly a number of the frontrunners for Best LittleCo ended up being acquired by the end of the year! This is probably the nature of the beast - if you're a successful Web LittleCo, then you'll attract the attention of BigCo suiters. This is exactly what happened to our 2004 picks, Ludicorp (creator of Flickr) and del.icio.us - both of which were snapped up by Yahoo in 2005. Having said that, 2005 LittleCo winner 37Signals is still independent and doing its own thing.
So to 2006 - which LittleCo's have most impressed? In our post asking that very question, the following web apps were popular with commenters: MyBlogLog (the social networking widget featured in the sidebar of R/WW and other blogs), Meebo (web-based IM), DigitalJournal.com (social news), 30Boxes (online calendar), Zoho (web office suite), Clipmarks (social bookmarking), Netvibes (start page). Those were the ones that were mentioned more than once.
Companies that were not mentioned, but we think are worthy contenders, are: Digg (social news), Feedburner (feed management), Facebook (social networking), Sharpcast (sync), JotSpot (web office), last.fm and pandora (online music), Metacafe (online video), StumbleUpon (bookmarking), Bebo (social networking), Zimbra (web office), Userplane (media web platform), Kaboodle (social shopping), Elgg (e-learning), PlentyOfFish (online dating), Goowy (desktop suite), SecondLife (virtual world), Riya (photo search), BitTorrent Inc (P2P)... and there are many more we could mention!
If we had to make a shortlist (and we do, since this is a Best Of!), we think these small companies had a special impact in 2006... in no particular order: Netvibes, Digg, Meebo, Bebo, StumbleUpon. Those 5 all came of age in 2006 and each grew exponentially.
But there's one "LittleCo" we've deliberately left till last and which had an outstanding impact on 2006. This particular company got snapped up by Google before the year was out, so they don't count as a LittleCo any more. But for most of 2006 they built up a huge audience on their own and came to dominate the user-generated video space, lording it over much bigger competitors (Google itself, Microsoft, Yahoo and others). Of course, I am talking about YouTube!
YouTube is Read/WriteWeb's LittleCo of the year, for what they achieved as a tiny startup doing big things. Ironically they are now owned by this year's BigCo of the year, Google.
Most Promising Web Company
With this category we're looking for companies that showed big promise in 2006, but will probably not reach their peak until 2007 or beyond. In 2004 we gave this honor to Feedburner, who at that time were right at the forefront of a new industry called feed management. Well, they've done alright for themselves haven't they... And in 2005, Memeorandum and Digg.com were our choices. Digg has come of age this year, although they still mainly appeal to a minority tech audience. TechMeme has expanded into new verticals, but like Digg there is room for more growth yet.
The following shortlist of Web companies/products stood out for us as having a lot of promise for 2007 and beyond: Sharpcast, Zoho, Zimbra, YouOS, MyBlogLog. Also there are some long bets we could make, like Hakia (semantic search) or BitTorrent, Inc (Bram Cohen's P2P company).
The winner though is Sharpcast, because it is solving a big problem (syncing data across Web, desktop and other devices) and also is an integral part of many different trends that will be popular in 2007 and beyond - mobile, rich media, a world of multiple devices, and more. If Sharpcast can successfully roll out its Project Hummingbird in 2007 - which will sync all types of data - then it will be hitting a very sweet spot in the world of Internet-connected data.
So what do you think - do you agree with our choices?