In 2006, technology news focused on Web 2.0 start-ups, online video deals and high-def gadgetry. It can get confusing without a top-10 list to sort out which trends had the most impact and which hardware made a mark.
1 TWO-TIER INTERNETCable and telecom providers continue to consider charging Web companies to transmit their content, depending on the bandwidth needed. Some providers could even block sites altogether. Although it's a bigger threat in the U.S., Canada is quietly joining the argument: Videotron president Robert Depatie has called for an Internet transmission tariff. Such developments could spell the end of today's free-for-all cyberspace.
2 PERSONAL BROADBANDThis is the buzzword du jour, thanks to Toronto Hydro 's network rollout across downtown Toronto. It's only free until March 2007, but kudos to Toronto for catching up to other WiFi-enabled North American cities. Also gaining traction is WiMax , considered WiFi on steroids. Imagine wireless DSL-like speeds as widespread as cellphone coverage.
3 GOOGLE ACQUIRES YOUTUBEWhen Google acquired YouTube (another of this year's major phenomena in itself) for $1.65 billion U.S. earlier this year, half the world called the Big G moronic, and half applauded the high-risk move. Either way, GooTube will change how we watch online videos. The deal has already lit a fire under the collective ass of mainstream media. Fox, Viacom, CBS and NBC are in talks about starting their own rival to YouTube.
4 MUSIC PHONES The past 12 months have seen a flurry of launches by Rogers and Bell of cellphones with internal memory capacity of up to 4GB. Consumers are quickly learning that an all-in-one device eases the burden of carrying too much hardware, even if some music phones are jacks of all trades, masters of none. The future of these MP3-players-cum-phones looks promising, especially now that Nokia has entered the fray with its much-hyped Nseries.
5 HIGH-DEFINITION TV With the high-def DVD war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD quietly vying for our home theatre space, 2006 was the year flat-screen LCDs shoved standard-def to the curb. Sports TV is especially proud of its high-def offerings, and the trend toward crisper picture display is only going to grow.
6 NINTENDO'S WII Physical activity and video games - together at last. In an effort to trump Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii uses motion-sensor technology to allow players to swing their arms to mimic a tennis forehand, for example. It's revolutionary, and for $280 already beats the competition. The Wii is less than impressive on graphics, but the gameplay makes this console a winner.
7 SECOND LIFE In the 90s it was "Get a life," but today the geekified version is "Get a Second Life!" Second Life is a 3-D virtual world whose users - or "residents" - can modify that world and engage in its virtual economy. Users can buy land for real money, work everyday jobs to earn Second Life currency (Linden dollars) and participate in scenarios as tedious as doing laundry or as adventerous as building roller coasters. Where else can married couples go to do a little guilt-free swinging?
8 CRAIGSLIST Say the word "Craigslist" to a newspaper publisher and watch for signs of anger, frustration and even mild depression. The site that's turned the Web into a marketplace for, well, everything is hurting print classifieds so seriously that the dailies have revised their advertising strategies. Craigslist, available for 300 cities across the world and used by 15 million people monthly, has practically forced Yahoo and 176 major U.S. dailies to work together to create a unified online classified site. But any newcomer must beat Craigslist's two hot selling points: free to use, and no advertising hogging the pages.
9 TEXT MESSAGING Canada has become a text nation. According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, we sent 324.4 million text messages in June 2006 alone, compared to 99.3 million in the same period a year earlier. Texting is now so prevalent, some Ontario high schools are banning cellphones from exams for fear that students will wirelessly shuttle answers to one another.
10 BRAIN BRANDING Forget viral marketing or guerrilla advertising. The latest marketing phenom is "brain branding," a new field of research that uses brain-imaging techniques to find out how the mind processes certain brands. The idea is to help advertisers better understand the needs of consumers. A cynic could say brain branding could lead companies toward neuroscience-assisted advertising; basically, we might not want to feel good when we think of the Apple logo, but our brains will make it happen. Scary.