Every year in December Read/WriteWeb does a Best Web Companies round-up. This is the 4th time and, like last year, we're splitting it over two posts. In this post we'll announce the Best Web BigCo of 2007 and later in the week we'll announce Best Web LittleCo and Most Promising Web Company or Innovator. These will be selected by the Read/WriteWeb writers, but at the end of this post we'll be asking for your input for the LittleCo awards.

Last year's Best BigCo was Google, an honor it also won in 2004. In between, in 2005, Yahoo was adjudged Best Bigco. So can Google win the title for a third year - and become the Internet equivalent of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990's? Or will one of Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, Facebook or another BigCo take the silverware (metaphorically speaking)? Read on to find out...

And the Winner is...

The Read/WriteWeb authors were unanimous in our decision, but it was a close contest between two BigCos. You can probably guess that one was Google, because it's been another bumper year of innovation and acquisitions at the Googleplex. All through the year we've been delivering the Weekly Wrapup of Web tech news, reviews and analysis - and seemingly every week there was something new about Google. But there was another company that really came of age this year; and more importantly it was the catalyst for some important Web trends. Last year this Silicon Valley based company was not among our BigCo list - it was shortlisted for Best LittleCo! In 2007 that all changed though. And by the end of the year, it had done enough to even trump Google as a big influential Internet company. The winner is:

Facebook!

Things started to get interesting for social networking company Facebook on May 24 this year, when it announced a new "open" platform - a system enabling 3rd party companies to integrate their services inside of Facebook user pages. The new platform went beyond the ability to post media from outside into Facebook and beyond the previous Facebook API (a read-only API). With the new platform, outside companies were for the first time being allowed to deploy advanced functionality inside the Facebook site. For the social networking industry as a whole, it was a significant move - because up till then it had been a relatively closed system that was tightly controlled by the hosts (MySpace, Facebook, et al). Simply put, no other Internet bigco had opened its platform to such an extent before.

Although Facebook's platform wasn't quite as open as initially claimed, it nevertheless gained immediate traction. Many startups integrated their products into the Facebook platform and over 2007 Facebook's user growth ramped up and became mainstream. Also the Facebook platform had a major influence on its competitors. Google followed up on 1 November with OpenSocial, a set of common APIs for building social applications across the web. MySpace, Facebook's main competitor, joined the OpenSocial alliance that same week.

In November Facebook announced a controversial new advertising system, nicknamed Beacon. It was an attempt at conversational marketing, where users become product promoters and are encouraged to spread the word about things they buy and use among their group of friends and contacts. It had major privacy issues though and the company later added a privacy control that allows users to shut off the program completely. Even after all that, Beacon is a pointer to the future of online advertising - where your personal and social 'attention' data will influence the ads you see. At around the same time, MySpace announced a similar advertising program it called "HyperTargeting," which uses profile data to target ads to users.

Google

We mentioned above that it was a busy year for Google. The Mountain View company has undoubtedly been the most influential Internet company of the 'web 2.0' era - and you could fairly argue that Google's actions were far more wide-ranging and influential than Facebook's this year.

In 2007 Google made moves in the Web Office market, acquired a number of companies (such as Feedburner and DoubleClick), launched OpenSocial, released an open-source mobile operating system called Android, ramped up its personalization efforts (more info here), built up its Gadget ecosystem, launched voice search, Google Gears, Street View Maps, Universal Search -- and a lot of other Web initiatives.

Despite all of this, we concluded that Google didn't shake up the Web industry this year as much as Facebook. For example, on closer inspection OpenSocial wasn't as innovative as it was hyped up to be by many bloggers and commentators. Plus it was almost certainly a reactionary move against Facebook. We're interested in your feedback though - do you agree with our choice of Facebook over Google? It was a close call.

Honorable Mentions

Apple continued its golden run with the iPod/iTunes combo, racking up monster sales and bullying major record labels. And of course who can forget the launch of the iPhone, certainly the year's biggest product launch and a catalyst for a lot of new Mobile Web development activity. Yes, it was a great year for Apple and they are arguably the most innovative Web bigco around currently (even though Web is not their main focus as a company).


Pic: Shht!

Amazon also continued to innovate. At the end of last year it rolled out its WebOS stack, including EC2 and S3. It continued to build out that system in '07 and its recommendation engine impressed too. Then late in the year Amazon announced an e-book reader called Kindle, which may shake up this long sought after market.

Adobe was another bigco to have a good year - its RIA (Rich Internet Apps) strategy began to pay dividends with the launch of Apollo in March (later re-named AIR). Standing for 'Adobe Integrated Runtime', AIR is a cross-operating runtime developed by Adobe that allows developers to create Rich Internet Applications for the desktop. 2007 was a year when desktop apps made a bit of a comeback, with the combo of Web access and slick UIs proving popular. For example Adobe Media Player, released in April, is a desktop app that enables consumers to view high quality video whether they are online or offline.

Mozilla, although not strictly speaking a bigco (it's an organization), had a good year in 2007 too. Firefox continued to make ground on IE in the latest browser wars - they also seem to be pushing innovation in browsers forward, with microformats and offline functionality amongst other things. More areas where Mozilla impressed this year: Prism, an application that takes web apps to the desktop; new commitment to Mobile Web; Add-ons; and a new organization to develop Internet mail and communications software (under the Thunderbird umbrella).

Also Rans

Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, AOL all were either flat or downright disappointing this year. At least in terms of Web products.

90's Internet star Yahoo had a year to forget - it got caught up in sticky peanut butter, missed out on buying Facebook, saw its stock price fall, and dismissed its CEO. It's not all bad news for Yahoo, because its user base is still huge and there is a lot of brainpower in the company. Plus new CEO Jerry Yang has re-focused the company since taking the reins in June. We hope to see more of the same spark in 2008 that made Yahoo our top bigco in 2005.


"Um Tom, unfortunately I'm going to have to fire your ass..." (pic by Maximum Mitch)

For Microsoft, it has been 'steady as she goes' in Redmond - with the next generation of Windows Live launched, interesting new products like Surface, and other efforts to compete with Google and Adobe (Silverlight) in motion. Mostly promising initiatives, especially Silverlight. However, we were disappointed to see the Windows Live brand continue to flounder this year and there was no innovation on the Web Office front. In 2008 we're hoping to see more product evidence of the undoubted ability of Ray Ozzie and co to innovate on the Web.

Regarding AOL, it has made some great moves in open platform and personalization. But it hasn't really caught the imagination of the public, yet. I'm looking forward to what they do in 2008 though. eBay hasn't done much this year, apart from making a hash of its multi-billion dollar Skype acquisition.

Conclusion

We here at Read/WriteWeb have been analyzing the above companies all year, and we're confident that our selection of Facebook as Best BigCo is something many will agree with. However we're also aware that Facebook has been accused in some quarters of getting too much attention and hype. So we await with interest your comments! Let us know below whether you agree with our choice of Facebook, or not.

Also, we'd like your suggestions for Best LittleCo of 2007. We already have a winner in mind, but it's not too late to influence the judges' decision! We also want to ensure we've considered all possibilities, so tell us which LittleCo you think is deserving of the title.