Top 10 Communications Innovations of the Last Decade
New developments in technology continually change the way people communicate. Over the last 10 years, various innovations have made it easier and easier to exchange messages, pictures and videos with people around the globe. Here, in alphabetical order, is our list of the top 10 communications innovations since 1999. Take our straw poll at the end of this list to rank the top three.
- Bluetooth – Millions of consumers use Bluetooth wireless technology to talk on their mobile phones hands-free while driving. The technology replaces cables used to connect one electronic device to another; other common uses include connecting printers to computers and speakers to stereos. While Bluetooth technically has been around since 1994, the first Bluetooth products did not appear commercially until 2000, and continued innovation has produced more uses that enable or improve communication. For instance, Bluetooth can now be used for high-speed Internet access by pairing a PC with a 3G (third-generation) mobile phone.
Camera phones with sharing capabilities – From video cameras to camera phones, today's imaging technology allows the average consumer to not only capture images anywhere at any time, but also to instantly share those images with friends and family . . . or the world. That has made everyday individuals on-the-spot recorders and conveyors of news and history. The innovations (and patents) behind camera phones and sharing technology existed before 1999, but the first phones with these combined abilities were not commercially available until 2001 in Japan and 2002 in North America. Video cameras with the ability to instantly upload to video sharing Web sites are even more recent.
- RSS (Really Simple Syndication) – RSS technology allows consumers to keep up with news and information from various online sources, saving the time and effort of frequently checking multiple Web sites for updates or sifting through e-mails from each source. RSS was introduced in 1999, and today a wide range of information providers – from major news organizations to topical blogs – offer customizable RSS feeds.
- Skype – Skype enables Internet users to make phone calls using their computers – largely for free. The core innovation behind Skype is voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, technology, which transmits voice conversations over the Internet and dates back to the mid-1990s for commercial applications. Other providers use the same technology, but Skype's affordable and easy-to-use software make it a popular option for international calling and has transformed the industry since its launch in 2003.
Smart phones – Smart phones date back to 1992, but some of the most innovative features, including multimedia capabilities and the ability to download third-party applications, came about during the last decade. Today's advanced smart phones combine mobile phones, music players, Internet access, and pictures and video – enabling individuals to send and receive communication through a variety of formats (from voice to video) from the palms of their hands.
- Social networking sites – The first social networking sites go back to the 1980s, but three of the world's most popular ones – Facebook, MySpace, and Orkut – were launched in 2004. One of the most popular sites among business professionals, LinkedIn, launched in 2003. These sites have attracted millions of users around the globe by allowing people to connect online, and they each continue to innovate with new or enhanced features – from sharing of photos, videos and news links with anyone to the option to limit access to some information in individual profiles.
- Twitter – Launched in 2006, Twitter allows users to send and read short messages over the Internet. Twitter started out as a way for individuals to send instant updates to friends and family, tweeting about where they are and what they're doing, but it is now also used by brands to communicate directly with consumers, including responding to customer service queries. Politicians and celebrities also use Twitter to connect with their fan bases and others who choose to follow them.
Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi technology is widely used for wireless, high-speed connection to the Internet, enabling anyone with a wireless-enabled computer or laptop to get online from any accessible hot spot. Like Bluetooth, this wireless technology has been around for longer than a decade, but practical commercial use began more recently. The term Wi-Fi was first used commercially in 1999, and the name itself is technically a trademark of the industry group that certifies products as being compatible with a specific wireless technology. Today, Wi-Fi technology is used to make numerous wireless devices – from computers to phones to digital cameras – interoperable.
- Wikipedia – People looking for in-depth information on a given subject often turn to Wikipedia. The fact that anyone can contribute anonymously to this Web-based, free-content encyclopedia means that information is not always reliable, but it also means that entries can be added or edited instantly, often providing the most up-to-date information. Introduced in 2001, Wikipedia currently attracts about 65 million visitors each month.
- YouTube – The YouTube video-sharing Web site launched in 2005, enabling everyday consumers to share their videos with other users around the globe. Brands, corporations and other organizations also use YouTube to share content directly with consumers – bypassing traditional media. YouTube reports that 10 hours of video is uploaded to the site every minute.