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Hot on the Web

The year that was, online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 5, 2007
(Issue 2501, Internet Video)

2006 was an interesting year for cyberspace. It was a year that saw become the latest, hottest online phenomenon, saw the rise of, and saw Google strengthen its hold on the search engine market even as Yahoo and MSN rolled out upgrades to their searches.

Following is a roundup of some of the more important, interesting and noteworthy developments of the previous 12 months:


The main development in the legal framework governing online life was a development that didn't happen: The United States government did not give in to international demands to turn control of the Internet to the United Nations. For that, everyone who's ever held a contrary opinion should be grateful.

One of the reasons cited most often by other nations for wanting to have control of the Internet resting in the hands of the United Nations or other international body rather than the U.S. is the stated desire to quash "hate speech" online. As it stands now, since the Internet is mostly under U.S. jurisdiction, that pesky First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution keeps getting in the way of foreign governments and corporations to silence anyone expressing unpopular views. From French courts ordering Yahoo to stop allowing people to sell Nazi paraphernalia on its auctions site (an order countermanded by U.S. courts) to Muslim nations wanting to ban any criticism of Islam, there is a near-unanimous belief that some things shouldn't be allowed to be written on the Internet.

Only the American tradition – legal and cultural – of unfettered free speech keeps the censors at bay.

Should the United States ever hand control of the Internet over to the U.N. or anyone else not under jurisdiction of the First Amendment, the entire 'Net will be a lot more dangerous for those folks who think for themselves.

A more interesting legal development happened late in 2006, when the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that owners of Web site cannot be sued under existing slander and libel laws for malicious lies published on their sites by others if they are simply hosting an unmoderated forum.

Which means that if you have a forums area on your site, and do not pre-approve what is posted there, I can go on your site and accuse a third person of any crime I want, and that person can't sue you.

It is the most bizarre ruling on libel I've ever seen, and it's hard to see how this state decision prevails in federal court. If somebody is falsely accused in a public setting, the law has always provided recourse for setting things right. Just because it's online shouldn't change that.


This past year was the one in which Yahoo and Microsoft (and possibly even AOL) were going to make major pushes to re-establish their previous dominance online. Or at least cut into Google's.

Instead, 2006 saw Google purchase YouTube, the most popular video-sharing site on the Web and most popular among young people after MySpace.

Oh yes, MySpace – the former startup became the most popular single destination on the Web (although it's now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.).

And then Google signed a deal to provide the searches on MySpace – again undercutting rivals Yahoo and Microsoft.

As 2006 ends, Google is the dominant presence online, with Yahoo announcing a major organizational shakeup.


Seemingly the only area Google doesn't dominate online is music – where Apple's iTunes rules the day.

With Apple selling 80 percent or more of all songs sold online, there is no shortage of rivals wanting to cut into that lucrative market share.

Instead of sitting tight, though, Apple keeps ratching up the all-important "cool" cachet with its iPod portable digital music players.

Microsoft is only the latest, introducing its Zune MP3 player in time for the shopping season. Almost universally panned in the technology press, though, Zune wasn't even able to become No. 2 – instead falling to No. 5 behind outfits like Creative Labs.

For now, Apple, iTunes and its iPods remain on top of most teens' birthday and holiday wish lists.


Used to be, if you were "online," you had a Web browser or e-mail client running. Today, of course, you can have an IM client running, iTunes opened to the iTunes store, or, even more likely, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG.

In November, World of Warcraft announced it had more than 7.5 million subscribers, making it the current leader in terms of popularity. And with an expansion pack set for release in January, those numbers should only grow.