This year was another huge one for the Web and the companies, technologies and individuals that make things happen on it. We saw groundbreaking new devices unveiled, key companies go public, a few tech fumbles and we lost some visionaries.

Narrowing down the ten biggest Web news stories of 2011 was no easy task. Lots of stories had a massive impact. Some of them fit into a larger, ongoing trend, while many are singular, important events. Some stories broke to extensive attention and fanfare, only to see their significance fizzle out within a few weeks. We've painstakingly whittled down ten of the biggest stories of the year and rounded them up for you here.

1. The Death of Steve Jobs

The biggest story in tech this year was also one of the biggest news stories around the globe, period. The death of Steve Jobs sparked a worldwide outpouring of grief not just because he was the cofounder and CEO of one of the world's most beloved and successful companies, but also because his life was cut short at a time when he was nowhere near finished making his impact.

Walter Isaacson's official biography describes a frail and dying Jobs being actively involved in the development of the iPhone 4S and talking about about his next big idea: an Apple-branded television set, something that is expected to launch sometime next year.

Here on ReadWriteWeb we looked at Jobs's legacy in a historical context, examined his impact on user experience and design and looked at his unique approach to business and why it was so effective. Our own Scott M. Fulton III turned back the clock to the early days of Apple and took a detailed look at what Jobs meant back then. No look back at the life of a powerful and famous person would be fair or complete without an honest look at some of the less noble aspects of their legacy and even some of the business mistakes they made along the way.

In a way, Jobs was with us for the remainder of the year. Just over a year after Jobs was criticized for refusing to support Flash on the iPad other iOS devices, Adobe announced that they were abandoning the development of mobile Flash all together.

A week after his death, it was announced that the iPhone 4S had broken Apple's records by selling over 1 million units in its first 24 hours on the market. It won't be the last product we'll see that Jobs had a direct hand in developing, either. The iPhone 5, iPad 3 and rumored Apple television set are all expected to launch next year, undoubtedly with a little piece of Jobs' legacy built right in.

2. Web-Fueled Global Unrest

The year 2011 started with the fall of a dictator, and ended with several more deposed and more than one global protest movement in full bloom. From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots, the headlines in 2011 were packed with social media-fueled unrest.

Following January's revolution in Tunisia, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown after a massive rebellion that was originally organized on Facebook and that fueled in large part by the Web and social networking sites. The sentiment spread to Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain with smaller movements springing up in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and elsewhere. As 2011 comes to a close, the Arab Spring is still well underway and shows no sign of letting up, even in the face of violent and repressive reactions from governments across the Middle East and North Africa.

Borrowing a page from the book of Middle Eastern protestors, activists at the Canadian magazine Adbusters put out a call for Americans to launch their own protests against the excesses of Wall Street, income inequality and the forces that caused the U.S. financial meltdown and subsequent recession. Across the country, copycat "Occupy" protests sprung up in solidarity, with many of them turning violent.

The Occupy protests, which are sometimes criticized for lacking clear goals and strategies, have relied heavily on social media both as an organizational tool and for getting the attention of the news media. After being uprooted by police in many major cities, the Occupy movement is gearing up to enter its second phase. We suspect we'll continue to hear about it well into 2012, in newspapers, magazines, blogs and tweets.

3. Launch of the iPhone 5 / iPhone 4S

For most of 2011, Apple fans eagerly awaited something everybody was referring to as the iPhone 5. Everyone, that is, except for Apple, who on October 4 launched the iPhone 4S. The device was not the "completely redesigned" handset most were anticipating, and many expressed their disappointment online, but that didn't stop the new gadget from breaking Apple's own first-day sales records.

Year-long curiosity about Apple's next smartphone made "iPhone 5" fastest-rising searches on Google in 2011. When it finally launched, the device turned out a be a more modest iteration in the iPhone product line. Most of its specs are not especially noteworthy for a new phone. It has a faster processor and better-quality camera, both standard additions to a next generation device such as this.

The real value of the iPhone 4S was in part just an extension of the overall impact the iPhone has had on the smartphone market. This year we got a better one and Apple proved that it can still make people stand in line for these gadgets, even if its not the dramatic overhaul everybody wanted.

Around the same time as the iPhone launch, we got iOS 5, one of the biggest upgrades to Apple's mobile operating system yet. The new version of iOS features a redesigned notification system, cloud-based wireless syncing of content and apps, a digital newsstand and much else.

In terms of features, the biggest thing the 4S brought to the table was Siri. The military-grade voice-activated search and "personal assistant" feature has wowed consumers, inspired parodies and given developers a new technology to hack. Siri's broader impact on search and how far hackers will be able to push its boundaries are both yet to be seen.

What's clear now is that voice controlled mobile computing got its mass market debut this year and we've only seen the beginning of what it can do.

4. Amazon Launches The Kindle Fire and Silk

Rumors that Amazon would be launching its own tablet device swirled for a good portion of the year. Leaked details from suppliers and analyst predictions all pointed to the launch of some kind of iPad competitor. The story was all but confirmed when Techcrunch got a hands-on sneak preview of the device.

In September, Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, a 7-inch, $200 Android-based tablet geared toward reading, watching video and gaming. The gadget was far from being an iPad killer, as it was small, lacked a camera, had no accelerometer and fell short on other hardware specs. But that was beside the point. Amazon made a rather decent media tablet available at less than half the cost of the iPad.

The product's first iteration may have its shortcomings, but it's good enough to open up the tablet market to a whole new category of consumers. If its early success continues into early 2012, Apple may be forced to rethink that longstanding $500 price tag when they release the iPad 3 next year.

One feature of the Kindle Fire turned into a story all its own. Silk, its proprietary Web browser, uses Amazon's cloud infrastructure to lift some of the burden of loading pages off of the device itself and can even predict browsing habits. Early tests indicate that "cloud acceleration" may actually be slower than normal browsing, and some privacy concerns have been raised about the way Silk works. Amazon has assuaged many of those concerns already and we imagine performance will improve once the product gets past version 1.0.

5. Stop Online Piracy Act + Protect IP Act

By the end of 2011, the United States Congress had two very controversial pieces of legislation about the Internet making their way through the sausage-making process. The Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House) and the Protect IP Act (in the Senate) are both geared toward doing what their names suggest. However, the scope of power the laws would give to media conglomerates and law enforcement to shut off access to foreign websites is what has many in the Internet industry up in arms.

In short, SOPA and PIPA would allow copyright holders to ask ISPs to block access to any foreign-based website that is deemed to be illegally hosting copyrighted material. It would also force the hand of search engines, ad networks and payment processors to cut off ties with any such site.

The debate over the proposed legislation has pitted the music and big media industries against some of the biggest names in Web technology. The RIAA has lashed out at Google for opposing SOPA, while the lone tech company on the list of supporters, GoDaddy, saw a major backlash among tech influencers and consumers. This reaction ultimately led to their abandoning outright support for the bill altogether.

The saga is far from over. The next hearing on the matter has been postponed until after the new year, so expect the SOPA controversy to heat right back up in a few weeks, if it even manages to die down in the meantime.

Next Page:Google Goes Social, a Failed Merger and the Year's Biggest Privacy Scandal

6. Google+

After years of getting social networking wrong and being mocked for it, Google finally launched a product that would change the tune of tech pundits and users alike. Google+ went live in June, three months after our own Marshall Kirkpatrick broke the story that Google was getting ready to launch something called "Google Circles." The circles part, it turned out, was just one feature of the search giant's new social product. The service's model of separating social connections into specific and separate groups would be one of its key selling points and may have influenced Facebook to refine its own ability to later in the year.

Other notable features include multiple-participant video chats called Hangouts and Picasa-based photo sharing. The significant of Google+ goes well beyond what you see when you load the social network in your browser. Google has baked G+ integration into many of its major products and spread its tentacles far and wide across the Web using the "+1" button.

Google+ may still be a mystery to many mainstream users, who, if they're even aware of what Google+ is, seem perfectly happy to remain part of Facebook's 800 million users. But for a product that launched only half a year ago, the social network has seen very impressive growth. It's worth remembering that right now is essentially 2004 for Google+ in terms of where it stands in its product timeline compared to Facebook. If Google's success in the browser market it is any indication, it may be a formidable competitor in the social space before we know it.

7. AT&T Tries to Gobble Up T-Mobile, Fails

It's rare that tech news stories make their way to the network evening news. The proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile was one of those stories. In March, the telecom giant announced plans to pay $39 billion for T-Mobile, a move it said would help them improve network quality and deploy its 4G/LTE network across 95% of the country.

The U.S. Department of Justice saw things differently. Citing antitrust concerns, the government sued to block the deal in August, following in the footsteps of a group of consumers who had filed a lawsuit of their own. After much back and forth, with the prospects of the the deal's success having faded, AT&T dropped its bid to acquire T-Mobile in December.

Depending on who you asked, the merger could have improved cellular network quality in the U.S. and created new jobs or gouged consumers by creating an even more consolidated, oligopolistic telecom industry. Which view was more accurate is something we'll never know for sure.

8. Carrier IQ

We may well into 2012 by the time we know for sure what's going on with Carrier IQ. When the story broke a few weeks ago, it was the start of one of the biggest privacy-related scandals we've seen in quite some time.

Carrier IQ is intended to be used a diagnostic tool to help carriers and device manufactures optimize their networks and hardware. Yet the curious digging of developer and researcher Trevor Eckhart revealed that the application has been logging and transmitting a ton of information about what people are doing with their phones, including personal data like phone numbers dialed, URLs visited and the content of text messages.

The software is allegedly installed on a huge number of smartphones and could represent a massive privacy breach and possibly even illegal wiretapping. To some extent, the largescale capture of data about our activity is a necessary part of our digital lives. The question here is how much information Carrier IQ has been collecting and whether it is personally identifiable. Congress has demanded answers and the story is still very much evolving.


9. The IPOs: Groupon and LinkedIn Go Public

Two important Web companies filed to go public in 2011, albeit to somewhat different reactions. In January, LinkedIn became the first major social networking company to file an initial public offering. By May, the company's stock had soared to $122 per share, after starting out at $45. LinkedIn's stock price has seen its ups and downs since.

As a business, the social networking site for professionals has a few streams of revenue coming in. In addition to advertising, LinkedIn has premium memberships and paid job listings that help generate cash.

Facing a bit more controversy, daily deals frontrunner Groupon filed the biggest IPO of any U.S. Internet company since Google went public in 2004. After turning down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google late last year, Groupon turned heads with its massive IPO. Many have questioned the integrity of the Web group-buying service's business model and whether it can maintain growth moving forward.

Internet radio and music recommendation startup Pandora also filed an IPO this year, at $100 million. The company started trading publicly in June with a valuation of $2.6 billion.

10. HP Kills the Touchpad, Abandons Mobile Hardware Business

While other tech giants were making a big splash with their tablets - Google launching Ice Cream Sandwich, Amazon's Kindle Fire, Steve Jobs unveiling the iPad 2 - an industry veteran was moving in the opposite direction.

After lackluster early sales results, Hewlett-Packard announced that it would be discontinuing the HP Touchpad tablet and all other webOS-based mobile devices. In short, it was getting out of the mobile hardware business all together.

The fate of webOS, HP's well-designed but under-appreciated mobile operating system remained unclear at first. The company said it would explore what to do with webOS, eventually settling on open sourcing it.

Steve Jobs illustration by Tim Gough