top 10 social Web products, featuring services that focus on social networking and community building. This round-up is about the Web products that changed the things we do online.Our annual Best Of series continues with the top 10 Web products that revolutionized old services and created new ones this year. Yesterday, Richard MacManus rounded up the
The categories vary here from browsers to cloud drives to mobile apps and more. But all of these services redefined a core use case for the Web, and some of them invented activities we didn't know we needed. Here are our top 10 Consumer Web Products of 2011:
Chrome the most important Web browser in the world. It rocketed upwards in market share, now neck and neck with Firefox in the #2 browser spot, and if anyone can take down Internet Explorer, Google can.This year, Google decided to make
Chrome released new features at a blistering pace this year. Its core mission in 2011 was to focus on Web apps. Google has renovated its Chrome Web Store for apps, as well as the New Tab page, where Chrome Web apps are launched. It's blurring the line between Web and native applications.
Some developers are working on a tablet-based version of Chrome that could bring the browser and its Web app ecosystem to all kinds of devices. Chrome in the Android ecosystem would be obvious, but the latest Google app for iPad looks just like Chrome, too, Web apps and all. Sneaky, eh?
Upcoming features include new APIs for text-to-speech and advanced audio features. Just this month, Google bought Apture, which could bring media-rich contextual search into every page in Chrome. And multiple accounts are coming to Chrome soon, so users can easily carry their browser data with them across devices.
working together on Web Intents, standard protocols to let independently developed Web apps communicate with each other. It's also pushing a new image format to make the whole Web faster by reducing the file size of images.Thanks in large part to the passionate work of outside developers, Chrome (and its open-source Chromium code base) is even influencing the way the Web in general works. Chrome and Firefox developers are
Browser choice is a personal matter for users, but no other browser comes close to Chrome's influence on the state of the art.
Dropbox is hot, and this year cemented its importance. By choosing a metaphor with which most computer users were already familiar, Dropbox has become a key player in the consumer cloud. It's a folder that syncs to the Internet. That's all there is to it. People and teams use it for backup as well as for syncing files across devices.
1password use Dropbox for syncing. So do all the great third-party text apps for iOS, which doesn't have a native Google Docs client like Android does. There are even experimental blogging tools and website hosting services built on Dropbox.Its flexibility has also allowed Dropbox to become the back-end - the file system that wasn't - for exciting new apps and services, especially on mobile devices. Amazing life-hacking services like
Is Dropbox really the world's 5th most valuable startup, as Business Insider named it this year? We don't know yet. It has had some hiccups, such as a privacy scare earlier this year. But we also learned this year that Dropbox turned down a nine-digit acquisition offer from Steve Jobs in 2009. That's confidence.
iCloud shipped with iOS 5 in October of this year, and it's an effort to be even more basic than Dropbox. It's not even a folder; it just pushes files along behind the scenes, so your stuff is just there when you open apps to use it, whether on Mac OS or iOS.After being rebuffed by Dropbox, Apple set out to build its own file syncing between Macs and its iOS devices, replacing the embarrassing MobileMe desktop syncing service.
The service has more kinks in it than Dropbox, and it's not cross-platform. But this it's-just-there syncing paradigm will form the backbone of Apple's vision of computing, and that vision is infectious. The iPad and iPhone are selling in huge quantities, smashing Apple's own estimates. Even Macs are gaining marketshare. 2012 will be a big year for Apple, and iCloud will be the Web service that supports it.
If you use Apple devices and haven't set up iCloud, here's how to get started.
Kindle as a product, a device. But this year, Amazon made clear that Kindle is a service, not a product. Unlike Apple, for whom software is the service that sells profitable devices, Amazon will break even, or even take a loss, on each device in order to put its media and retail services in users' hands.We're used to thinking of the
Kindles are just windows into Amazon's stores. You can save $30 on your device just by accepting ads as your screensaver. And this year, Amazon added the 7-inch, full-color Kindle Fire to the family, expanding the Kindle service to video, music, magazines, games and apps. It builds on the existing Amazon Prime video streaming service and its Cloud Drive for music.
The Kindle Fire also introduced Amazon Silk, a cloud-accelerated Web browser that uses browsing history to predictively pre-load Web pages for faster browsing on slow, handheld devices. Amazon has always known that load time can make or break a sale, so the Kindle service is designed to make buying, watching, reading and listening through Amazon as convenient as possible.
Evernote will be around for a while. In fact, its CEO wants it to be around for 100 years. It's another syncing service, but it's not like the others above. It works across platforms, unlike iCloud, and it works inside files, instead of agnostically pushing them around like Dropbox.You may not know it yet, but
Evernote lets users create and store rich-text files, images, to-do lists, whatever kinds of little files they need, and it syncs to all their devices. It packs impressive technology like optical character recognition, letting users snap pictures of notes, receipts or business cards and capture the text. It offers handy services like web clipping and an Instapaper-like service for saving articles for later. And it offers standalone apps and browser extensions, letting users access it however best fits their workflow.
What's next for Evernote? If you have an idea, build it yourself. Evernote is building a 100-year platform to let its users capture anything and access it anywhere.
Spotify made a big leap this year, marrying Facebook's new Open Graph platform and becoming the way to share music with Facebook friends. Facebook's transformation this year brought us the concept of "frictionless sharing," in which users share their activity with their friends just by doing it, without having to click a 'Like' button.
Spotify has come to exemplify this model, sharing a soundtrack of its users' music habits with all their Facebook friends. Thanks to Facebook, Spotify's usage skyrocketed this year.
As Sean Parker told us at Web 2.0 this year, Spotify's social model works for the music industry, which has long sought a way to enable sharing while still generating some profits. Not every label has loved the changes, but Spotify will be fine; Facebook's base of 800 million users is too big to ignore. For some, Spotify's frictionless sharing is too much, but for now, it's redefining music on the social Web. Next year, we'll see how it holds up to Google Music on Google+.
Instapaper brought the concept of "content shifting" to the iPad, which is changing the way we read (it's on the iPhone, iPod Touch and the Web, too). Instapaper's basic function - saving articles for later - has inspired imitators, including the synced Reading List service from Apple itself and the new Evernote Clearly feature.
There's also Read It Later, a full-featured competitor that, unlike Instapaper, offers an Android client. But Read It Later's users shouldn't get too comfortable with the product as they know it; its big announcement this year was that it had taken on venture funding. That means big changes are coming. Instapaper, meanwhile, is a (mostly) one-man operation that is funded by the most basic business model: make a neat thing and let the people who like it pay for it. That means Instapaper is developed for the people who use it.
Instapaper shipped a major redesign in version 4.0 this year, making this app into a first-rate, iOS 5-ready place to gather all one's saved reading and just read it without distractions. Check out our interview with Instapaper creator Marco Arment for his views on Instapaper, iOS and the future of reading.
Flipboard is another app that's changing reading, but it's doing so by emulating and enhancing a reading experience we've had before: the magazine. The secret is that it's basically just a feed reader with a nice interface. People thought RSS was dead, but they were wrong. All it needed was the iPad and the Flipboard team.
Flipboard didn't ship a ton of new features this year, but two of them are quite significant. The first was full-page, magazine-style ads from luxury brands on major publishers' feeds. This signaled that publishers are happy with Flipboard's engaging format and will keep letting users pull their content. The second was Flipboard Accounts a single sign-in for Flipboard that means that Flipboard for iPhone is coming. It also means that multiple people can save their Flipboard setups on a single iPad.
9. Google Maps
Surprised to see Google Maps on a best-of-2011 list? Don't be. This was a huge year for Google Maps. It has long since set itself apart from the pack as the best way to navigate with the Web, and it made some major improvements this year.
Google Maps went high-tech. It got an integrated weather layer in the desktop version. It got 3D route views and zooming 3D Street View transitions. It got a drawing layer that lets developers build interactive, graphical applications on top of Google Maps, and it got voice-powered search for places in the desktop version of Chrome.
Most importantly, Maps went local and social. It's now integrated into Google+, so users can share places and directions right into each other's streams. And it has continued turning the screws on Yelp by displaying Google Places recommendations right on the map. Finally, just today, Google Maps has begun to bring mobile maps inside buildings.
Google has put lots of work into making its Maps the best on the Web this year. And that's good, because...
admits that Siri is a threat. Siri is just a beta for now - and unlike Google, Apple doesn't use that label lightly - but it already looks like the next generation of search. In 2010, when asked why Apple bought the voice search startup, Steve Jobs replied, "They're not a search company. They're an AI company."It may not seem like it yet, but Apple has built its end-run around Google into iOS 5. While Siri is only available on the iPhone 4S for now, that's just a software restriction; Siri is a cloud-based service for which the device is but an interface. Google chairman Eric Schmidt
That's true; Siri is built on DARPA-backed research into artificial intelligence. It's not just onboard voice search, which iOS already had. It's a Web service, calling back to Apple's data center to process and understand each request. It uses Apple's cloud computing power to process the meaning of the query and find the most meaningful results. Apple isn't trying to do search as we know it. It's building a service that knows better than we do what we're searching for.
Siri is an "assistant." It takes dictations, it sets reminders and it looks things up for its user. If the answer is not on the iPhone or in Apple's cloud, it will search the Web as a last resort.
But tellingly, it uses Yelp for local business searches, one of Google's key businesses. For now, Apple still uses Google for its Maps app, but Apple bought a 3D mapping company this year. When Apple has its own maps, which mapping service do you think Siri will use when you ask it (her?) for directions?
One major theme of this year's top 10 was content. We aren't there yet, but these services are starting to figure out how to make Web content into a real economy. Another was syncing, which goes along with that. Now that we can have our stuff on all our devices simultaneously, it's worth more to us.
But most of all, the trend this year is toward integration. The winning services have started to think they've got the Web's problems figured out, and they're trying to build it all in.
That's our Top 10 Consumer Web Products of 2011. We'd love to hear your reactions or if we missed your favorite service. Sound off in the comments.