2009: The Year that Caught Fire

Having worked in Silicon Valley for many years now, it's still remarkable to me how trends can flare up and then burn out while others seem to smolder for years, producing lots of smoke but not a great deal of fire.

For me, trends of the smoky variety include real-time search (or real-time anything, really); mobile as a revolution; the semantic Web; and social marketing.

At the dawn of the "ought" decade, the blogging phenomenon was in its infancy and the first notions of a coherent "social Web" (as we know it today) began to take shape.  Blog search engines like Technorati, where I once worked, and social media platforms like Six Apart, WordPress and Flickr gave the phenomenon shape for a crowd well beyond the geekarati in the Valley. 

While traditional media was beginning to have its first "holy shit" moments, online publications like Huffington Post began their rise to prominence, together with YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, among many others.



At the same time, Apple was nurturing its coming "i" revolution, first with the iPod and iTunes Store, and then with the iPhone and the App Store.  "App" went from being a term used only among geeks to wide, popular common usage.  (A guy can't sneeze without someone reminding him "There's an app for that.")

Throughout it all -- over 10 remarkable years of explosive growth and innovation on the Web -- folks kept predicting that the next year would the year of the (take your pick) mobile / real-time / semantic / social Web.

But as I look back on 2009, nearly all these trends reallydid take fire.

For instance, Facebook's growth throughout 2009 is absolutely phenomenal.  With each passing month, its membership and user statistics can't help but dazzle.  Its fastest growing demographic is the over-40 crowd.  Facebook Connect is similarly a huge success and is breaking down some of the walled-gardens of the network's original construction.

Twitter's own meteoric growth, though apparently slowing, has demonstrated perhaps most vividly the power of open APIs and what can happen when people and their information move freely across the Web.

Smart mobile phones have similarly proliferated, even in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. 

And now that both Twitter updates and Facebook newsfeeds will flow into search results on Google and Bing, we're only just beginning to see the outlines of what "real-time" can mean for all forms of marketing, and search marketing in particular.

What's most exciting for me is that a couple of the big guys with perhaps too much market share for their respective killer products -- Apple and Google -- now face some real and tough competition that seems to be making them innovate even faster.  With the combining of forces that is the Microsoft-Yahoo Search deal, Google's been on an innovation tear this year, the most interesting result of which is Wave.  And now that Apple will have Droid to contend with, together with its new App Store, it, too is rumored to be working on new, more impressive ways to bring increasing power, choice and versatility to its own products and services.

For the geeks among us, Wolfram Alpha, though losing much of its search traffic after interest following its debut waned, holds out tantalizing prospects for the future of a semantic Web and search that understands context as well as intent.  Exciting (though long-delayed) ideas such as Siri, which is a virtual personal assistant that helps its user complete routine tasks like travel planning or pulling together a date night on the town, will change the way we interact with our iPhones and BlackBerries. And news and information aggregation sites like Daylife, that intuit relationships based on the search queries you provide, to deliver both the content you want and suggestions for associated content, are already changing the ways we look for information and entertainment on the Web.

As more and more people worldwide embrace real-time updates, geo-location services, virtual personal assistants, and voice command-enabled gadgets -- search will be at the center of all this change.  If you think the last 10 years were heady, get ready for the next 10.

Because where there's smoke, there's bound to be fire.
3 comments about "2009: The Year that Caught Fire".
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  1. Gregory Martin from TipTop Technologies, December 7, 2009 at 7:07 p.m.

    Google’s access to Twitter, Facebook and MySpace data feeds is a step towards dominating the real-time data streams, but the temporal is just one component to search, which should also be about providing what people need with ease, within context, personal relevancy and timeliness. I find that the real-time social search results from TipTop’s semantic engine are a step in that direction, providing a new and unique perspective to needs fulfillment at

    Enjoyed your article!

  2. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., December 8, 2009 at 5:42 p.m.

    Note to Greg from TipTop (see below) - don't pimp your own product in this space. It's bad form.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, December 9, 2009 at 4:14 a.m.

    I would say that Greg Martin's job was to enter a relevant conversation with mention of his product. It would be bad form to me only if the product sucks eggs or is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    As it happens, he succeeded in getting me to check his product (TipTop site) and it is relevant to the article because it is new, trendy and substantial. It seems to rate real time Twitter search results on any subject according to whether they were "positive" or "negative" in tone. I found that cool but not entirely accurate, but what might keep bringing me back was the ability to filter search results down to only those that mentioned an additional keyword.

    In any event, Greg just convinced me that TipTop is a better destination than and that shows he is a good marketer.

    Most people reading this are at work and many are responsible for their bottom line. Failure to jump in to a relevant conversation with mention of your product would be the equivalent of freezing in a fire fight - where your fellow employees financial liquidity is at stake. TipTop employees can know that Greg is watching their back and doing his job.

    Comment sections are no longer "tertiary media" but part of the social media world of primary content (comment sections in newspapers are more interesting than the articles and editorials they are referring to these days).

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