As part of our annual review of the Web, we single out a big Internet company that has impressed us the most over the calendar year. The first Best BigCo was chosen back in 2004, so this is the 8th year we've done this. Only four companies have won it up till now. Google has been our selection three times (2004, 2006 and 2009) and Facebook has won it twice (2007 and 2010). The only other two winners have been Apple (2008) and Yahoo (2005).

This year we're pleased to etch a fifth name onto the Best BigCo trophy (although like our own little company, the trophy is virtual). Our Best BigCo of 2011 has been around since the Dot Com era, but what's most impressive is how it has disrupted entirely new markets over the past year. Our Best BigCo for 2011 is...

Amazon.com!

Founded in 1994 by the impressive Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com launched in 1995 as an online bookstore. It took a good decade for it to fully establish its e-commerce operations. The diversification of Amazon.com essentially started in March 2006, with the launch of an online storage service called Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Later that year it launched Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a set of server farms that could be used by other businesses. These moves turned out to be prescient, as cloud computing has since turned into a huge market. More importantly, it gave Amazon.com the infrastructure and technical nous to become a direct competitor to Google, Apple and Microsoft.

We've chosen Amazon.com as our Best BigCo this year because, simply put, it lived up to its hype. It launched a number initiatives this year and all of them have worked out. Here are some of Amazon.com's biggest achievements in 2011:

  1. Its Kindle product (first launched in 2007) evolved and continues to dominate the eReader market. It also launched an eBook lending service.
  2. It took on Apple by launching a low-priced tablet called Kindle Fire (including a new browser called Silk). The Kindle Fire is significant to Amazon.com because it's a media platform - for the books, apps, videos and over-content that it sells.
  3. It consistently added to the Prime video catalog, making it a very competitive offering compared to market leaders Netflix and Hulu.
  4. It furthered the cause of HTML5 in publishing, by becoming the first major company to challenge Apple's stranglehold over the iOS App Store. It did this by releasing an HTML5 version of Kindle, to try to get around Apple's 30% cut of all revenue from iOS apps.
  5. Its Amazon Cloud Drive is a competitive consumer cloud offering, at least on a par with Apple's iCloud (which launched months after Amazon) and Microsoft's SkyDrive.
  6. It has gone from strength to strength with the aforementioned business cloud platforms, S3 and EC2. Collectively known as Amazon Web Services (AWS), that division is closing in on $1 billion a year in revenue. AWS did have some downtime this year, however.
  7. It launched Appstore For Android this year, an important step forward for both Android users and developers.
  8. It even got a bit fancy, with the November launch of an augmented reality shopping app for the iPhone called Flow.

As you can see, Amazon.com has had a stellar product year. Although it should be noted that the Kindle Fire and other developments have made a dent in its profits. That won't worry Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos though, who has proven himself this year to be one of the Web's leading visionaries. He has pushed Amazon.com into areas that nobody would've predicted back in 1995.

The Runners-up

Apple undeniably had a great year too and is a close runner-up to Amazon.com for Best BigCo. Apple released iPhone 5 and iPad 2, both well-regarded and innovative (Siri in particular caught peoples imagination). Apple also continued to dominate the mobile app market and launched iCloud.

Google and Facebook both had strong years too. Google+ and Chrome are two big mainstream products that Google launched or rapidly evolved this year. In the end though, we felt that Google still has a lot to prove with those two platforms (social and browser, respectively). Likewise with Facebook, although it innovated impressively this year with Timeline, smart lists and frictionless sharing (to name just a few of its iterations in 2011), it remains to be seen how its huge user base reacts to the new-look Facebook. Most of its users don't have Timeline yet, for example.

Honorable Mentions

Although Microsoft didn't have any breakthrough hit products in 2011, it continued to at least keep pace with its competitors on the Web. For example, Bing made solid progress as a search engine alternative to Google.com. Twitter had another strong growth year and its various redesigns have been brave and largely successful. Although eBay dropped the ball with the Skype acquisition, it had a good year in its core e-commerce market. In the enterprise space, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce.com all had good years.

Also Rans

The once mighty Yahoo had a terrible year, as did HP. AOL has been trying to turn itself around, but hasn't been helped by power struggles and public in-fighting amongst its media properties. Adobe and Mozilla both continue gamely on, but they're struggling to keep up with the pace of change.

Your Thoughts?

To end on a positive note, there's no doubt in our minds that Amazon.com is a worthy Best BigCo. Its innovation and determination to challenge the likes of Apple and Google has been fascinating to watch. Do you agree with our choice? Let us know in the comments.