Technology that changed us: The 2000s, from iPhone to Twitter

In this 50-year retrospective, we're not just looking at technology year by year, we're looking at technologies that had an impact on us, paved the way for the future, and changed us, in ways good and bad. (Previously: The 1990s)
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

TheFacebook.com: This was the default homepage for users who were not logged in.

(Image: web.archive.org)

In this 50-year retrospective, we're looking at technologies that had an impact on the world, paved the way for the future, and changed us, in ways good and bad.

Previously, we explored the 1990s. Now we continue our time travels in the 2000s.

2000: Google AdWords

It's not hard to see the impact AdWords had on the online advertising industry, but one thing is for sure: nothing has been the same. AdWords took the risk out of advertising, at least mostly.

Read also: Bitcoin thieves use Google AdWords to target victims

Instead of buying an ad for a period of time and paying the fee, advertisers could buy a certain level of performance in terms of click-throughs. But it was also up to the advertiser to properly construct their ads, with better-performing ads rising to the top. This is a huge business. By 2017, Google's ad revenue was nearly $100 billion.

Runners up: Microsoft C#. Oh, and we survived Y2K.


Apple iPod second generation

(Image: Fhke on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

2001: Apple iPod

We continue to look at products that laid the foundation for the modern world. Windows XP and OS X (now macOS) 10.0 were both released in 2001, and served as the foundation for our current desktop operating systems.

CNET: The iPod is dead, now let's kill iTunes

But it was the iPod that continued the tech world's inexorable move to a mobile-first environment. There had been many MP3 players before the iPad, and, in fact, Apple promoted its own music format. But the iPod was introduced with, for then, was such shocking capacity that, for the first time, music lovers could carry their entire music collection with them wherever they went.

Runners up: Macintosh OS X and Windows XP.

2002: The Tor Project

Tor, based originally on an onion router project developed for the US Navy, is designed to keep communications secure, even at a level that may surpass VPNs. The idea of an onion router is that there are layers of security (like layers in an onion) that would have to be peeled away to find out a user's identity. Since Tor transmits through a series of IP addresses, the destination IP address will never know that of the originating IP.

Read also: Tor Project boosts support for anonymous mobile browsing

In a world where privacy is becoming ever more difficult to secure, where governments, terrorists, and criminals are actively spying on users everywhere, a tool to protect privacy becomes ever more important. Unfortunately, like many technologies, privacy provided to the innocent can also be used by bad guys. Even so, the non-profit Tor project exists to preserve and protect identities the world over.

Tor, itself, may not have changed the world as much as something like Android did. But Tor enabled the world changers to work safely and freely to change the world, and that's its ultimate contribution.


One of Google's first Android builds on the Sooner phone.

(Image: via 1.bp.blogspot.com)

2003: Android founded

Most people think of the Android operating system as something Google developed, but that's not the whole story. Android was founded as a company, initially intended to build a operating system for digital cameras. At one point, the company was so close to closing down, it couldn't pay its rent.

CNET: Why Google makes Android phone notches now

That was then. This is now. Today, Android is the most successful (in terms of the number of users) operating system in history. It is, unfortunately, fragmented almost beyond recognition, and suffers from many security concerns and forks. Even so, Android is dominant numerically, and will likely remain so for years.

Runners up: iTunes on Windows, DDR2 SDRAM, and H.264.

2004: Facebook founded

In addition to Facebook, the company Mark Zuckerberg founded in 2004 as TheFacebook owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. Together this juggernaut dominates messaging and social media to a degree never before seen.

Read also: On Facebook, Zuckerberg gets privacy and you get nothing

Not only has Facebook transformed how people connect and communicate, it's also created its own vast walled garden, filled with details about nearly every human on the planet. How it uses that data, how it manipulates that data, and how it protects that data will be a problem for all of us for years to come.

Runners up: Gmail, World of Warcraft, Firefox, Spirit Mars Rover, and Dr. Bob Dylan.


First video on YouTube.

(Image: web.archive.org)

2005: YouTube

In 2005, it was very difficult and expensive to distribute video. I did some videos for clients and the challenges and costs were enormous. All that changed when YouTube made internet video free for everyone.

CNET: YouTube shooter's anger: Inside the video site's ad dilemma

According to CMO.com, consumers are 27 times (not percent, times!) more likely to click through a video ad than through a standard banner. That, alone, should rock you back and get your attention.

According to Google (who owns YouTube), more 18 to 49 year olds watch YouTube video on mobile than any broadcast network. Google also says that same demographic group dropped TV watching by 4 percent, but in 2015, increased YouTube watch time by 74 percent.

Runners up: Reddit, Google Maps, and Xbox 360.

2006: Twitter

What can you say about Twitter in 140 characters? #TurnsOut #YouCanSayALot.

Although Twitter upped its character count to 280 last year, the micro-blogging service created a new way to reach a tremendous number of people, instantly. Perhaps nothing showcases Twitter's power more than Donald Trump's unexpected and improbable rise to President of the United States. By using Twitter, #TheDonald bypassed all the gatekeepers and built his own audience of dedicated fans.

Whether or not you think a direct connection to the brain of a president is a good idea for the republic, @realDonaldTrump disintermediates all the norms of presidential communication, and connects #MAGA fans to their leader.

Runners up: Blu-ray, AWS, PlayStation 3, Wii, WikiLeaks, and Zune (just kidding).

2007: iPhone

The iPhone. It was rumored and anticipated for years, but when Steve Jobs finally held it up to show it, it still exceeded everyone's expectations. The thing was, it wasn't just the iPhone that blew the PC, music, landline, and cell phone markets apart. It was the apps, which took another year.

Read also: Apple knew about the iPhone 6 'Bendgate' problem

Once Apple introduced the App Store, and created a way for users to get at apps for a few bucks and the touch of a button, the last bit of friction between digital technology and digital technology use was gone -- and the world was forever changed.

Runners up: Kindle, Apple TV, Google Street View, and DDR3 SDRAM.


The original site was called Airbedandbreakfast.com.

(Image: Internet Archive)

2008: Airbnb

The techie in me would like to give this year to Google Chrome, Windows Server 2008, or Hyper-V, because all were impressive, influential products. But the charter for this list is technologies that changed us, and Airbnb is impacting housing, hotels, towns, and cities the world over.

CNET: Airbnb to blame for higher rents, says New York City

What seemed like a simple sharing economy way of letting folks let rooms in their houses has become a worldwide phenomenon, causing civil governments all over the planet to rethink their approach to zoning and land use. It's not all good, with Airbnb blamed for rising rents and the reduction in the availability of rental properties. Even so, Airbnb gets our nod, because it's like nothing that has come before.

Runner ups: Google Chrome, Windows Server 2008, Hyper-V, and Tesla Roadster.

2009: Fitbit Tracker

As our list of runners up for 2009 show, a lot of innovation happened in 2009. But we're giving our nod to the first Fitbit because it helped kick off the quantified self movement with a device with no subscription fees and a full week of battery life.

Read also: Fitbit Ionic: Excellent activity tracker, but it's not a very smart

Although Fitbit has a raft of competitors today, most notably the Apple Watch, the idea of gathering data on personal activity to help drive health and fitness has been gaining traction ever since that first Fitbit. With the graying of the population, the increased cost of healthcare, and the need for us all to get healthy, the quantified self may be a way for us to manage our way to better health.

Runners up: Bitcoin, Chrome OS, Kickstarter, USB 3.0, Uber founded, Minecraft, and Windows 7.

Next up... the 2010s

Go back to... the 1990s

19 retro gadgets we think should get a reboot

Editorial standards