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Top 10 Consumer Web Apps of 2008

It’s a well-known fact that our readers are on the cutting – if not bleeding – edge of technology. But sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and realize that the apps to which we’ve grown so incredibly accustomed are just barely beginning to register with the general public.

With the Top 10 Consumer Web Apps of 2008, we’ve tried to select the apps that have burst onto the radar of the everyday user this year – or if not quite, then perhaps they will next year.

This was a year – after years of build up – in which two major events had worldwide impact on the Web. These events focused the world’s attention, had more consumers creating more online content, and had more people online searching for information than ever before: the Beijing Olympics and the US Presidential elections. Many of these apps have those events to thank for their exposure and adoption.

This is the third in a series of top products of 2008:

  1. Top 10 Semantic Web Products of 2008
  2. Top 10 International Products of 2008

Note: We attempted to order this list from most obvious to least obvious.

1. Twitter

Twitter is the de facto leader of the microblogging scene, a realm usually rife with witty repartee between leading social media consultants and Web 2.0 developers. But when household names like Lance Armstrong, Richard Branson, Al Gore, Shaquille O’Neal, Britney Spears, and politicians across the US started using it, this year, it was clear that our selection as the Best Web LittleCo for 2007 had grown up – and entered the public consciousness.

Twitter was a constant fixture on ReadWriteWeb this year from its use as a source of news to its growing use as a customer service channel. But it wasn’t without its hiccups. Midway through the year, Twitter – and its more and more frequent showings of the Fail Whale – was rapidly becoming persona non grata. In June 2008, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos poured more cash into the service. And with the US elections, Twitter proved its mettle, becoming a critical forum for debate on the issues at hand.

2. Firefox

November 2008 marked the fourth birthday for Firefox, arguably one of the most successful open source projects and clearly the most popular Web browser that users have to actually install. In 2008, more and more of the consumer population gravitated to the browser that strives to deliver the Web the right way.

Firefox has continued to grow in popularity throughout 2008, but it was the download day for Firefox 3 that began to truly turn heads. Site crushing traffic to download a Web browser? Believe it. So much traffic, in fact, that it set a world record. That, and a number of other factors, had Firefox reaching a 20% market share in October of this year.

3. IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate – dubbed by RWW as the “the sophisticated blog comment system with the silly name” – provides a commenting add-in for blogs and Web sites that allows users to better manage their profiles and comments across multiple conversations. It also supports OpenID.

In 2008, distributed commenting was still a very young space with no clear leader. But when IntenseDebate appeared as the comment system on US President-elect Barack Obama’s change.gov, it stepped into the public eye. Now, thousands of people are using the commenting system. This makes Automattic – the company that manages the development of WordPress – look pretty insightful for acquiring IntenseDebate this year.

4. Hulu

If Hulu – a joint video content sharing venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. – is any indication, traditional mainstream media companies are beginning to get this whole “online thing.”

And with good reason. In 2008, Hulu shed its ugly duckling image and came into its own and was projected to earn a staggering $90 million in its first year. How? Again, the true turning point was the US elections. Consumers turned to Hulu as much for the political content, as for the satire – like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. Now, consumers are hooked and that affinity for the service is showing no sign of slowing.

5. Ning

Ning is a service designed to help anyone build a social network about anything that interests them. And in 2008, consumers flocked to the site to do exactly that – to the tune of a new social network created every 30 seconds.

As of October 2008, Ning was host to half of a million networks. And it will only continue to grow in the consumer space. Why? Much like Twitter, Ning has begun to attract celebrities who find the service a viable way of interacting with fans. Plus, with its integration of OpenSocial, Ning gains access to tech savvy consumers on a variety of social networks who already understand the dynamic.

6. Last.fm

Any app that incorporates consumer media and makes it easier to use is a winner. And that’s why Last.fm, the socially driven music recommendation service, is a shoo-in for top consumer apps of 2008.

We at RWW spend a great deal of time focused on Last.fm – from the most popular songs to mashups created using its data to visualizing Last.fm friends networks – because we spend so much time on Last.fm. One thing is for sure with its redesigned site, the growing presence on mobile platforms, innovative programs, and interesting features, Last.fm is sure to continue gaining more and more fans.

7. Meebo

Meebo, always a favorite here at RWW, provides a centralized instant message platform that’s accessible from any Web browser. While they’ve always been popular with the overly connected crowd, 2008 marks the year where Meebo has a growing opportunity to become a consumer favorite, as well.

In March 2008, we saw Meebo as having the opportunity to bring Web IM to the mainstream. Throughout the year, they continued to improve – including adding a revenue stream. And by October, Meebo had begun to roll out a partner program that will place its functionality on niche consumer sites throughout the Web. Even if consumers don’t recognize Meebo yet, they will soon.

8. Mogulus

If YouTube taught people about online video and Ustream taught folks how to stream video, then Mogulus will be the service that teaches consumers how to broadcast online. And in a burgeoning HD market, where users are coming to expect crisp video and audio quality even online, Mogulus stands to become the streaming service of choice for serious videophiles.

In June 2008, we reported that Mogulus – which launched in May 2007 – was already reporting 4.5 million uniques. By September, that number had grown nearly 30% to 5.8 million. Clearly, the numbers are on the upswing.

9. Qik

Qik, the service that allows users to stream video to the Web from a mobile handset, may not be as prevalent on the consumer radar as some of these other apps. But it’s safe to say it will be. While services like Mogulus have focused on the quality of the video stream, services like Qik have focused on the converse: the ability to stream content with devices that consumers are already carrying around. And that will be their key to success – the ability to deliver more content while hauling less gear.

At the beginning of the year, we wondered if Qik might be one of the breakout apps at SXSW 2008 given the number of tech types participating in its early testing. By the middle of 2008, Qik had opened its beta to more participants. And since that point, they’ve focused on making the service available on both mass market phones and some smart phones. No doubt, the ability to shoot video with that phone in your pocket will be as compelling to consumers as taking photos – if not moreso.

10. Cooliris

Cooliris may be the least obvious – and least recognized – of our consumer app selections, but it has that certain something that makes us sure its going to be popular with the less technically savvy. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to try it, Cooliris is a browser extension that provides a 3D environment for thumbing through visual sites – like photo and video sites. What’s more, it makes it fun. And that’s why consumers will continue to be attracted to it.

We covered Cooliris – then called PicLens – in February 2008, finding it “a lot of fun to play with and makes searching and viewing images on the web very enjoyable.” By June 2008, they had added Amazon items and YouTube videos. Even the iPhone got the Cooliris treatment with the Cooliris iPhone app. Most recently, Cooliris has unveiled features that allow users to personalize selections – and that allows Cooliris to sell more advertising. Visual browsing is still coming into its own, but Cooliris is leading the charge in a way that consumers will embrace.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s your opinion on these selections? Are we off? Did we miss something? Are you seeing consumer adoption elsewhere?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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