Posts by Marcel Brown

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #4: Google

As the World Wide Web grew at hyper speed in the mid 1990’s, people quickly realized just how difficult it was to find information. Early search engines like Yahoo and Alta Vista filled in that gap, but there was still plenty of room for innovation to improve the results of those searches. A little startup called Google emerged in the late 1990’s, with the first version of their system housed entirely in a garage. Google steadily gained users over the next few years due to its simplicity and quality of search results. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that Google hired their first CEO and 2003 that they moved in to their current headquarters. As the profitability from their AdWords product piled up, Google became the dominant search engine in the mid-2000’s. Now Google is the most visited site on the Internet and the word has become a verb. “Google it” is now a common part of our language.

The simplicity to which we can find the relevant information we are seeking has been the secret to Google’s success. All the information in the world isn’t useful to us if we can’t find it quickly and easily and Google has made it possible to do just that, changing the world in the process. Literally the world’s information is only a Google search away, but that has only been a reality in the last fifteen years. I think it is fitting that there’s not much else to say about Google because what they provide to us is so simple and important, we almost take it for granted.

Can you imagine life without Google? Do you remember the first time you used Google? Comment below and let us know how Google changed the way you search for information online.

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #5: The iPod and the iTunes Store

In the mid 1990’s the MP3 digital music format quickly became popular with music junkies and tech-savvy individuals everywhere. Music piracy suddenly became extremely easy for anyone with a computer and a high speed Internet connection, such as those available on college campuses, much to the chagrin of the record industry. Still, people wanted to use the MP3 format for legitimate purposes and one of those uses included taking their music with them. A fledgling market of portable MP3 players started cropping in the late 90’s, but the market for these devices was limited to tech-savvy individuals because the features and ease-of-use of these early versions were not so great.

When Apple introduced the iPod in the fall of 2001, many industry experts scoffed at the device, thinking it wouldn’t be successful because they thought it was too expensive and it lacked Windows compatibility. However, the simplicity and large storage capability of the original iPod made it a hit not only with Macintosh users, but also Windows users who quickly developed hacks and workarounds to make the Apple music player compatible with their computers. Apple quickly followed up with an official Windows-compatible version the next year and two years later introduced the iTunes store. It was this one-two punch of a simple and powerful portable music player along with the ease of buying legally licensed music that spring-boarded digital music into the mainstream. In doing so, Apple fundamentally changed not only the record industry, but also our expectations of all forms of media. Now portable digital media is commonplace across not only music, but also books, movies, and TV shows. Without the combination of the iPad and iTunes Music Store, we may live in a very different world today when it comes to digital media.

Did the iPod and iTunes change the way you listened to and bought music? Comment below and share when you first became introduced to digital music!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #6: GPS Navigation

The first satellite that formed our modern GPS system was launched in 1989 and the system was declared fully operational in 1995. However, while civilians could use the GPS system, the accuracy was intentionally degraded for “national security” purposes, which practically limited use to government agencies. As the national security implications were reconsidered, in the year 2000 intentional degradation to civilian use was ended, making GPS much more useful for common purposes. Within a few years, affordable GPS handheld and in-car navigation systems started to become commonplace.

Suddenly the way we navigated started transforming. No longer did we need to write down vague directions or buy maps when traveling. Our navigation systems could tell us how to get virtually anywhere and how long it would take to get there. This made travel easier but also safer, since we knew where we were going and getting lost was not the problem it used to be. Soon after, the mobile device revolution brought GPS along with it. By recent estimates nearly 80% of Americans own a smartphone, so by association GPS is virtually in everyone’s hands today. With how easy GPS navigation makes traveling and to the extent it keeps us safer, it is hard to imagine living without it.

When did you first start using GPS navigation? Do you go anywhere without it now? Comment below and share your experiences!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #7: YouTube

Video had been part of the Internet virtually since it went mainstream in the mid 1990’s. Of course, since dial-up was the cutting-edge technology of the time, video was more of a novelty than a full-fledged citizen of the Information Superhighway. As high-speed Internet became a reality, video started to become more and more of a feature of online life. However, the only people and companies using it were those with an advanced knowledge of the technology required to make video work online and with the resources to run servers that could handle the fairly heavy needs of a video stream.

Twelve years ago YouTube changed all that. Suddenly, anyone with a video camera (and later a smartphone) could upload and publish their videos for all the world to see. In about a year YouTube was one of the fastest growing sites on the Web. Google recognized the enormous potential of video sharing and purchased YouTube only about a year and a half after the first video was uploaded. Today, YouTube is the third most visited site on the Internet after Google and Facebook. By providing a centralized platform for anyone to upload and share videos, YouTube changed how we consume content online and also what kind of content we see. By democratizing video sharing, YouTube nearly singlehandedly created the viral video phenomenon and has made stars out of ordinary people. Besides pure entertainment, people today use YouTube to learn how to fix things, how to apply makeup, how to make crafts, and just about anything they need to know. The scale that YouTube has made video accessible to us all is hard to fathom, which is why it is one of the most important technologies of the last fifteen years.

How big a part of your Internet experience is YouTube? Have you shared videos on YouTube? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #8: eBooks

The technology for putting text on computer displays has existed for a very long time. In fact, the very first technologies for creating digital books dates back to the early 1970’s. Yet it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that eBooks as we know them today started to gain mainstream popularity. However, even then eBooks were more of a tech curiosity than anything because there was little standardization and many popular books were not available in digital format.

It was the release of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 that really put eBooks on the map for most of us. With Amazon leveraging their power in the publishing industry, the Kindle quickly became an overnight success, tapping into a large pent-up demand for digital books by a increasingly tech-savvy society. Since that time an ever-increasing number of people use an eBook reader such as the Kindle or their smartphone or tablet as their primary means of reading books and almost all mainstream published books offer a digital version. The growth of eBooks led by the Kindle become a significant factor in the decline of retail bookstore operations, as witnessed by the closing down of the one-time dominant Borders Books in 2011. But perhaps more importantly, the eBook has shifted power away from large publishing companies in deciding what books are published. Self-publishing eBooks has become popular for aspiring authors as they can release their work to their fans for much less than it costs for printed books. Success stories of eBook authors that have made it big, such as the Fifty Shades series are becoming more commonplace. While printed books are still popular to this day, there is no doubt that eBooks have changed the landscape of the publishing industry forever.

Do you buy or read more books now that they are in a digital format? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #9: Streaming Video

For most of the history of in-home video technology, we were at the mercy of broadcast television providers. We could only watch what they wanted us to see when they wanted us to see it. The VCR and then DVD started to break this stranglehold as we could watch movies and TV shows when we wanted, but we had to purchase or rent them, which meant we were still beholden to what our local video store had available. Even if we wanted to record shows on VCRs, we were still limited to making sure we set our recording at the exact time they were broadcast – and if we missed our recording time we were pretty much out of luck. The Internet created an opportunity for online DVD rentals made popular by Netflix, but we still wanted more. Then the DVR allowed us to more easily record TV broadcasts so watching what we wanted when we wanted become more commonplace. This combination of market forces and the advancement of technology led to the development of streaming video services, which has quickly changed the landscape of television forever.

Streaming video services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others first pioneered the way by providing programming available from traditional broadcast channels. However in the last few years streaming services have started to create their own original award-winning programming. Increasingly providers such as HBO and many others now offer their programming through an online app, bypassing traditional delivery services such as cable and satellite TV. In our mobile society, it is no stretch to say that streaming has quickly become the favorite way a lot of people watch TV shows and movies. Even the concept of “watching TV” is going by the wayside as we can watch video on our mobile devices anywhere we want. In large part from the impact of streaming video, the largest video rental company at the time, BlockBuster, closed down all their corporate stores in 2013. It is no stretch to say that streaming video will continue to redefine how video productions are created and distributed well into the foreseeable future.

How much streaming video do you watch today as compared to traditional broadcast TV? Do you even “watch TV” as much as you used to or do you watch video more on mobile devices? Comment below and let me know how streaming has changed your video consumption habits.

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #10: Wi-Fi Wireless Networking

While broadband services gave us “always on” Internet access, we were still basically tied to our desks when we went online. So to some extent we still had to step away from our lives to use the Internet. In addition, it reduced the usefulness of laptops since they had to be tethered to a network cable in order to get online. A mobile device isn’t very mobile if it has to be tied down to access the Internet.

While forms of wireless networking were available in the 1990’s, they were an expensive and highly specialized niche technology. Apple was the first to bring wireless to the mainstream market with their Airport add-on module for their iBook line of laptops in 1999. The Wi-Fi alliance was also created in that year. However, it wasn’t until in-home wireless routers became available in late 2001 and 2002 that the wireless revolution really took off. Suddenly, we were able to use the Internet from anywhere in our house, unchaining us from our desks. Public hotspots became popular as well and soon the personal computer market shifted away from desktop computers to laptops and then eventually the mobile devices of today – easy as never before (check Vsenn for more details). Now the information of the world is at our fingertips no matter where we are. Without Wi-Fi the mobile device revolution would simply not have been possible and we still might be chained to our desks for our Internet access!

When did you first use wireless networking? Did you buy a laptop or mobile device only after wireless networking became widely available? Comment below and tell us your story!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #11: High Speed Internet

In the 1990’s, dial-up Internet was the cutting edge technology. By today’s standard, it is unimaginably slow. Yet even with this extraordinarily sluggish method of accessing the “Information Superhighway” (remember that term?) the Internet certainly changed the world. However, it wasn’t until the widespread emergence of high speed, i.e. broadband Internet that the mainstream use of the Internet really took off. Without high speed Internet, we wouldn’t have many of the services we take for granted today.

While broadband services started to become available in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it did not start to achieve widespread market penetration until about 2002 and 2003. In some areas it took even longer to get going. While obviously the higher speeds of broadband service made a big difference as compared to dial-up, the “always on” nature of the service also made a significant impact on the way people used the Internet. Now instead of “getting on” the Internet and worrying about tying up a phone line, the Internet was always there. As we began to see the Internet as something that was an integral part of our lives instead of something that was a novelty, it set the stage for our highly connected society of today.

Do you remember using dial-up and when you first got high-speed service to your home or business? Did it feel like a life-changing experience? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #12: Wikipedia

Do you remember heading to a library to look up information in an encyclopedia set? Maybe you were lucky like me and had a set in your own home. For many younger people, the evolution of technology means they never actually used a printed encyclopedia. A large part of this is due to the development of Wikipedia, which quickly became the defacto knowledge base of the entire world.

Before Wikipedia, there were many digitized encyclopedias available, first as CD-ROM based software and then online commercial encyclopedias. What set Wikipedia apart was first that it was and still is free, but more importantly the fact that it was a community project involving anyone in the world who wanted to add or edit information. Because of this, many regard Wikipedia as the most up-to-date database of the world’s knowledge. Despite the occasional highly publicized misinformation making its way onto Wikipedia, many still regard its data just as or more reliable than traditional encyclopedias since so many people contribute and manage its quality. Indeed Wikipedia was the world’s first major crowdsourcing project, even before that term became popular, and it has democratized the sharing of information throughout the world. No longer do people need access to a large set of books or pay for access to an encyclopedia to find answers to questions or learn more about a particular topic. The knowledge of the world is literally at most of our fingertips today and we owe a lot to Wikipedia for organizing this information so that we can find it quickly and easily.

How has Wikipedia impacted your life in the last 15 years? Comment below and let me know what you think of my #12 pick!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #13: Windows XP

In recent times, the mobile device revolution has changed the face of technology for most of us. Prior to that the dominant technology was the personal computer. Within the PC market Microsoft ruled for nearly 20 years with its various versions of Windows. Even as new versions of Windows were released over the last decade, for the last 15 years it was Windows XP that for better or worse defined what a personal computer was to most people.

Introduced in late 2001, it was within about a year that Windows XP started to gain significant footholds in the PC marketplace. This was likely because Windows XP was the culmination of years of Microsoft development to merge their aging Windows 95 and 98 line of consumer operating systems with the relative reliability of their business-oriented and modern Windows NT and 2000. From a practical standpoint, besides the usual hiccups involved in a Microsoft release, Windows XP delivered on the promise of bringing a powerful and modern operating system to mainstream computing. Truly, Windows XP was the pinnacle of Microsoft’s dominance in the technology industry before circumstances began to change that precipitated their slow decline.

In the year or two prior to Windows XP’s release, a big surge in high profile malware attacks started to plague all Windows-based operating systems. Windows XP was not immune to these attacks and within a couple of years, the rapid development of spyware and other new forms of malware threatened to cripple organizations dependent on their Windows technology infrastructure. Microsoft made a very public commitment to devote significant resources to revamp the security underpinnings of Windows XP at the expense of developing their next operating system. For a variety of reasons including the focus on improving the security of their operating systems, it took six years after the release of Windows XP for Microsoft to finally release a new OS. This delay of a new operating system had the effect of entrenching Windows XP in the minds of many computer users and businesses. The simple fact that many people became used to one operating system for so many years made them very comfortable with it and less willing to change. Then the publicity disaster of Windows Vista in 2007 further generated resistance to change. Many people put off buying a Vista computer or ordered new PCs with XP instead, keeping XP as the de-facto standard. Finally, the combination of a down economy and the start of the mobile device revolution depressed the PC market and Windows XP ended up far outliving its expected lifespan much to the chagrin of Microsoft and their stockholders. Even with the release of Windows 7 in 2009, it still took until late 2011 for Windows 7 to overtake Windows XP in number of installations. All in all, the Windows XP era lasted about 10 years or more and even though it is officially no longer supported, there are still significant numbers of Windows XP machines deployed and in use today.

For better or worse, was Windows XP a significant technology to you over the last 15 years? Comment below and share your thoughts!

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