Adieu 2008

It’s end of the year award time. American President electBarack Obama gets my award for the new media star of 2008, probably the most digitally significant year of the youthful new century.  His historic achievement of raising over $500 million from mainly small donors on the Internet for his Presidential campaign has not only dramatically changed the logistics of American politics but has already begun to revolutionize the financing of electoral campaigns around the democratic world. His successful utilization of viral social networks like YouTube and Facebook has demonstrated the remarkable potential of the Internet to successfully build and distribute new political brands. And Obama’s promise of providing universal broadband coverage for all American citizens will inevitably compound the ubiquity of the Internet in his nation’s commercial and cultural life.

 If Obama is the undisputed Internet star of 2008, then Jerry Yang, the co-founder and ex CEO of Yahoo!, is 2008's goat. Just as Obama is using the Internet to rebuild the American brand, so Yang spent 2008 destroying his once all-conquering Yahoo! Internet business by failing to successfully close January’s proposed $44.6 acquisition by Microsoft. After 11 months of amateurishly negotiated confusion, the humiliated Yang resigned as Yahoo!’s CEO in November with the company’s  stock price 15 points lower and his own personal fortune down $900 million. After laying off 10% of its global workforce (1,500 people) earlier this month, Yahoo! has become the most bandaged of Silicon Valley’s walking wounded, a once proud Web 1.0 company searching for a reason to believe in a Web 2.0 wiki-world of social networks and micro-blogs.

 In 2008, it has become obvious that news is shifting from print to dynamic micro-blogging services like Twitter. Information is becoming real-time with the tragic November attacks in Mumbai being so heavily reported by correspondents on Twitter that the Indian police became nervous that the terrorists themselves were relying on the Silicon Valley network as an intelligence device.  The increasingly iconic Twitter wins my award for the most influential new media company of 2008, with the revenue-less company turning down an estimated November $500 million cash acquisition from Facebook and instead announcing a significant strategic deal earlier this month with Google.

 Other notable digital achievers of 2008 include the NBC and News Corp joint online video venture Hulu which, more than any other single website, has speeded up the convergence of television and the Internet. Meanwhile Amazon’s Kindle e-reader device is achieving the same convergence in the staid publishing business, where more and more Internet users are choosing the e-book over the paper version. Last but not least, Apple’s second generation iPhone 3G, the greatest hardware hit of 2008 with 14 million estimated global sales since its introduction in July, represents the successful wireless convergence of the personal computer, the telephone, the television and the home stereo.