Every year at ReadWriteWeb, we look at hundreds of new web apps aimed at everyday users. Occasionally, we come across a service that stands out from the pack because it offers a novel solution, disrupts the way incumbent market leaders do business or changes the way we experience the Web.
Here is our list of the top 10 consumer web apps of 2009. These are apps and services that helped consumers use the web in new ways this year; and brought technologies that were previously only geared towards advanced users to a mainstream audience.
Some of these apps aren't new - but just like last year, we've tried to select a mix of applications that either reached the mainstream this year, or that we think will be big in the year to come.
Bing - which launched in July - users finally have a choice when it comes to search engines. Bing's market share climbed steadily over the last few months, and Microsoft keeps adding interesting new features like visual search, hover previews, integrated Twitter search and a smart integration of some of Wolfram Alpha's most compelling features.Until earlier this year, Google didn't have any serious competition in the search market. Now, however, thanks to Microsoft's
Bing, which bills itself as a "decision engine," tries to give its users more than just 10 links. Instead, Bing focuses on giving users answers right on the search results page. A search for a football or baseball player, for example, will bring up recent stats, while a search for flights brings up data from Microsoft's Bing Travel service.
Wolfram Alpha this year. Inevitably, Wolfram Research's "computational knowledge engine" disappointed many who were looking for a Google killer, but Alpha introduced a new paradigm for search engines: Instead of giving you a long list of links, Alpha tries to give users an answer based on information from reputable sources. If this sounds familiar, it might be because Microsoft's Bing is trying to do something very similar - even if Microsoft's approach isn't quite as radical. Because of these similarities, it also doesn't come as a surprise that Bing was the first search engine to integrate search results from Wolfram Alpha.No other new web service was greeted with the same amount of hype as
While it isn't useful for everybody yet, the Wolfram Alpha team has worked hard to expand Alpha's knowledge. If you are an engineer or scientist, Wolfram Alpha might just be the most useful web app for you. For the rest of us, Alpha's ability to solve anagrams, aggregate weather data and tell you the distance between two cities proves to be useful, too, though not as useful as the service's ability to solve complex math problems. We still have to wait and see what the future holds for Wolfram Alpha.
For now, the service is a great experiment and even if it fails (which we don't think it will), its influence will surely extend to other search engines like Bing and Google Search. In the spirit of trying something different, Wolfram also launched a $50 iPhone application in October. Even though Wolfram Alpha's web interface is available for free, the company insisted that its mobile application offered enough new features to justify this price.
Chrome, of course, is also the basis for Google's upcoming Chrome OS, so chances are that we will see a lot more of Chrome in the next year.
Posterous has you covered. The service launched in May 2009 and was definitely one of the most interesting new arrivals in the blogging landscape this year. What makes Posterous stand out is its ability to cross-post updates to other services (Flickr, Facebook, Twitter or your own blog, for example). In addition, it's also extremely easy to set up a new blog. Just email a message, photo or video to post AT posterous.com and your new blog is ready to go. Advanced users can also port their own domain names to the service and theme their blogs.Whether you want to open up a new blog without any fuzz or just share photos and messages easily on multiple services like Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, light blogging service
With PicPosterous, the company now also offers an easy to use iPhone app.
prominent ads during the Super Bowl, Hulu became a household name in the US this year. Even before this publicity campaign, however, Hulu had already established itself as a the #1 destination for finding episodes of TV shows online. Hulu started out as a joint venture between FOX, NBC and other TV networks. In April, ABC also joined this group. Thanks to this, Hulu now offers one of the only destinations to easily find TV shows online in the US. While Hulu is currently available for free, it's worth noting that Hulu could start charging for subscriptions as early as next year.Thanks to its
TweetDeck is currently the single most popular Twitter client. While a few of us here at RWW prefer Seesmic's Twitter application, there can be no doubt that TweetDeck has set the standard for Twitter clients this year. TweetDeck was the first client to popularize a column-based layout - a design feature that a lot of other Twitter clients now use as well.Except for Twitter's own website,
In its current version (our review), TweetDeck introduced support for Twitter's new lists feature, as well as integration with LinkedIn and partial support for Twitter's new geolocation feature. TweetDeck was also one of the first clients to introduce local lists, a feature that many power users had been clamoring for long before Twitter introduced its own version of this functionality.
Twitter. No other web service (except for maybe Facebook) has recently managed to capture our imagination to the degree that Twitter has. Over the course of the year, Twitter introduced numerous new features, including lists and integrated search. Twitter's users didn't greet every new feature with complete happiness, however. The new retweet feature, for example, was met with resistance and it's still not clear if it will win out over today's retweet convention that grew organically over the last few years.No Top 10 list of web applications would be complete without mentioning
Today, there are numerous users on Twitter with more than 1 million followers, and services like BNO News regularly break news reports on Twitter long before the mainstream media. While Twitter has its detractors, there can be little doubt that 2009 was the year when Twitter came of age.
Aardvark makes it possible to harvest this collective knowledge of your extended social network through an easy to use web app, instant messaging bot and iPhone app. Simply ask a question and Aardvark will route your query to one of your friends (or your friend's friends) who is currently online. Thanks to sophisticated machine learning algorithms that run in the background, Aardvark quickly learns who to ask about specific topics.Have you ever found yourself in a city you've never been to and wondered where to find a good place for lunch or dinner or just playing pool? You could go to Yelp or Citysearch, but the best suggestions are likely to come from your own personal network and the friends of your friends.
Unlike Yahoo Answers or similar services, Aardvark doesn't keep a repository of frequently asked questions. The service's mission is to get you current answers from experts in your own social networks. While we had our doubts about how well this would work when the service first launched, Aardvark has proven it's worth time and again. On most days, over 85% of all questions get answered.
Google Voice, the search giant is doing just that to the telecom and VoIP industry. Google Voice assigns every user a new phone number that can be forwarded to any phone. Google Voice, which features a Gmail-like user interface, allows its users to make free local and long distance call, as well as cheap international calls from their existing phones. The service also features free text messages, conference calls and automated voicemail transcriptions.Google loves to enter markets where the status quo prevails and turn things on their head. With
While other services like Ribbit Mobile and VoxOx offer similar features, Google Voice has the name recognition and marketing power behind it to make it an even more important product in the coming year. For now, Google Voice is still an invite-only service, though Google continually sends out additional invites.
Facebook continued to grow and added new features which ranged from vanity URLs to a new sharing widget and a focus on real-time updates of its users news streams. While it still trailed MySpace in 2009, it became the #1 social network this year, and by September Facebook had passed the 300 million active user mark. The service's user base is now bigger than the population of all but three countries in the world.Over the course of 2009,
While Facebook was once the domain of early adopters, today's Facebook population is highly diverse. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook today is users over 35.
Did We Miss Your Favorites?
This list showcases some of the favorite consumer web apps of the RWW team. What are your favorites? What web services do you think made the biggest impact in 2009? Let us know in the comments.
ReadWriteWeb's Best Products of 2009:
- Top 10 Mobile Web Products
- Top 10 Consumer Web Apps
- Top 10 Semantic Web Products
- Top 10 International Web Products
- Top 10 RSS & Syndication Technologies
- Top 10 Enterprise Products
- Top 10 Internet of Things Products
- Top 10 Real-Time Technologies
- Top 10 Startup Products
- Top 10 Web Platforms