Continuing our mid-year review of the top trends of 2012, in this post we look at the emergence of the Visual Web. Two of the hottest products in the first half of 2012 are the best examples of this phenomenon: Pinterest and Instagram. But one or two swallows don't make a summer. Beautiful design is a key part of online business in this era, which has resulted in more images and video all across the Web.

Pinterest: The Fastest Growing Social Network of 2012

There's no doubt that image-based social network Pinterest has had a stellar year. According to comScore, it now has a global monthly audience of nearly 30 million visitors. It was just under 12 million at the start of this year. comScore reports that Pinterest has grown 4377% since its public launch in May 2011, with a steep uptick that started around December last year.

Pinterest's user base is skewed towards female users. Ben Hovaness of TBG Digital did an analysis of this, using three different sources. Forget white, middle class males (cough), it looks like women are driving the Visual Web!

Instagram: Helping Facebook Become The New Kodak

The biggest news story of 2012 so far was all about the Visual Web. On 9 April, Facebook announced it had acquired mobile photo sharing app Instagram for $1 billion. The deal was important to Facebook in two main ways: 1) it increased Facebook's mobile presence, thanks to Instagram's more than 30 million iPhone and Android users; and 2) it helped Facebook in its goal to become the place where people upload their photos.

As ReadWriteWeb's Kevin Kelleher memorably put it earlier this month when Facebook bought another Visual Web startup, face recognition company Face.com: "Facebook is cornering the market of what we used to call Kodak moments. They are becoming Facebook moments."

The Instagram success story points to a key reason why the Visual Web has ramped up this year: tens of millions of people now carry a high quality digital camera around with them everyday, in the form of smartphones like iPhone and Android devices. That's led to a huge increase in online photographs, which Instagram savvily tapped into early.

The Visual Web is about much more than Pinterest and Instagram. Blogging service Tumblr continues to expand, driven by the quick, image-fueled blog posts of its users. Visually stunning apps like Flipboard and 500px are also growing fast.

It's 2012, welcome to the Visual Web era.

Top image: Socialmatic Camera, found via (of course) Pinterest.