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2007 year in review: 10 most popular posts

Due to the lack of news during this time of year (and a gentle prod from my ZDNet editors) I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the most popular posts here on The Social Web in 2007. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these posts were also voted onto the front page of Digg or featured on the news site Slashdot, which in itself is an indicator of what stories hit a nerve with the IT crowd during the past twelve months.

Due to the lack of news during this time of year (and a gentle prod from my ZDNet editors) I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the most popular posts here on The Social Web in 2007. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these posts were also voted onto the front page of Digg or featured on the news site Slashdot, which in itself is an indicator of what stories hit a nerve with the IT crowd during the past twelve months.

Before we drill down to the actual list, a quick observation. The entire top ten list features stories about three companies only: MySpace, Facebook and Second Life. I think there are two reasons behind this. First, in terms of social software and media, these were three of the most hyped companies of 2007. Secondly, it's proof of a sad but true fact. In the world of tech punditry, writing about the big consumer-facing companies (or the usual suspects) still tends to bring in the most page views.

Now to the list...

10. Gallery: brands in Second Life

There seems no end to the number of high profile brands entering Second Life. From Adidas, Toyota, to Sony-BMG, companies that have embraced the virtual world span many industries. So, inspired by Nic Mitham's map of brands in Second Life, I decided it would be fun to put together an image gallery of screen shots of the various companies' efforts to setup shop in-world.

9. How Facebook's "public search listing" could empower users

In September Facebook announced a public-facing (i.e. no need to log-in) “people search” function, that can be “spidered” by public search engines, including Google. At the time I wrote of the new functionality: "it’s clear that the so-called social utility is one step closer to reaching its ambition to become an operating system for the social web." Despite the privacy concerns that seem to continually haunt Facebook, I argued that the public search listing would actually give users more control over how they are portrayed on the web.

Facebook results will inevitably end up pretty high in Google’s index, so a search for my name through Google — were I to opt in — would probably bring up my Facebook profile before many of my other social web presences, let alone what others have written about me. Presuming this works out to be the case, the end result is that I now have more control over what “digital litter” you see first, because I can edit my profile any time I like, and the search engine will re-index the results. In other words, I now at least have a chance to influence how I’m represented on Google and online in general.

8. Second Life to open-source grid; will Google bite?

Having already taken the timid steps of open-sourcing the code for its client software, Linden Lab have confirmed that they'll be going the whole way, and will soon be opening up the server code for Second Life. This is big news, as it furthers Second Life's ambitions to be a fully distributed 3D network — built on interoperability and not owned by one company — a bit like the Internet itself.

... it will be interesting to see who is first to offer Second Life hosting or use the server code for their own internal purposes. IBM would be an obvious candidate, perhaps offering corporate SL services. And for the rest of us? "GoogleLife", free virtual land — ad supported of course. It's certainly a possibility.

A quick check on the official Second Life open source page reveals that Linden Lab have yet to open source the server code (grid) over seven months on. So much for being "built on interoperability and not owned by one company."

7. Virtual land owner challenges press freedom in Second Life

It couldn't get much more bizarre than this story involving the DMCA, virtual land barons, and flying genitalia:

Citing the DMCA, Second Life's biggest land owner, Anshe Chung Studios, has challenged the right for users (including members of the press) to publish 'screen shots' from the game that they claim would infringe on their copyright.

The issue has surfaced after the avatar Anshe Chung (real name Ailin Graef) was attacked by animated flying penises during a virtual interview with CNET news, conducted in their Second Life bureau last month. A video of the attack surfaced on YouTube, and was then taken town after Anshe Chung Studios filed a DMCA complaint. The Sydney Morning Herald and the blog BoingBoing have also received similar notices.

Anshe Chung Studios later apologized for abusing the DMCA, and explained that it was the offense and humiliation that they sought to address.

6. Facebook and MySpace are like chalk 'n' cheese

At the time of this post in late June, comparisons between the new social networking darling Facebook and the market leader MySpace were being made on an almost daily basis. The problem was that much of the media didn't understand that the two sites have different user bases and to some degree a very different strategy, something which I attempted to clarify.

[MySpace is like] a teenager’s bedroom, plastered with posters (and brands) and with continuous background music, sounds a lot like a MySpace profile. Add into the room a teenager or two who are always on the phone or text messaging friends about gossip or the hottest new band — and very generally speaking, you’ve nailed much of the appeal of MySpace. The fact that teenagers are increasingly using the site’s internal messaging system over email says it all. Additionally, those posters on the wall can be other users' profiles, which include bands and brands vying for wall space.

In contrast, Facebook is much more popular amongst college students and graduates/professionals (due to it’s University roots). The site’s design is far less customizable — you can’t decorate your room. Instead, any customization is about deciding what functionality to include. This is even more so now that third parties can set-up-shop on the site and add new features which fulfill every possible need. I logged into Facebook today to accept a few friend requests, and noticed a professional networking event, that one of my contacts was looking to hire, and another had a rather nice laptop for sale. Getting that info took seconds due to Facebook’s controlled and efficient interface. Completely different to MySpace.

5. MySpace to offer spyware for parents

This post must win the award for my most hyperbolic headline.

Following continuing pressure from politicians (and parts of the media), MySpace is planning to offer parents the chance to download software which will monitor aspects of their children's activities on the social networking site.

As far as I know the product was pure vaporware and never got anywhere near to market. But at the time it may have proved a useful bit of PR to help MySpace respond to a number of child safety lawsuits and negative media reports.

4. Amsterdam sold for $50,000

Yet another Second Life story but a fun one at that.

Going, going, gone. Amsterdam sold for $50,000. Ok it's not the real-life city, but the virtual one created in Second Life which was auctioned off this week on eBay. One of the landmark businesses in Second Life, 'Amsterdam' is modeled on the city's red light district and specializes in adult content.

3. Monetizing Facebook applications

With the Facebook Platform in full swing, many were wondering if and how third party application developers could make any money. A few answers came in this guest post by a Facebook application developer and founder of the social network Shuzak, Jawad Shuaib.

2. Five most popular apps on Facebook

Within weeks of the Facebook Platform launching, I took a look at the five most installed applications, concluding that "two of the apps barely qualify as widgets (Horoscopes and The Compass), whereas iLike and Picnik add very powerful features which enhance Facebook’s values to such a degree that it’s a statement of intent that Facebook didn’t choose to roll their own or achieve the same end through acquisition."

1. Social network traffic up 11.5 percent; MySpace still dominates

This post, based on Hitwise's March social network traffic report, got picked up throughout the tech blogosphere as people seemed surprised by MySpace's continual dominance of the U.S. market.

According to Hitwise, the US market share of Internet traffic to the top 20 social networking sites grew by 11.5 percent from January to February 2007, to account for 6.5 percent of all Internet traffic in February 2007. Perhaps unsurprisingly, MySpace is still the heavyweight in a market made up of featherweights, with an 80% share. Facebook is MySpace's closest challenger with 10% of the market.

And there you have it for the year 2007. Thanks to all those who stopped by here at The Social Web. See you in 2008.