Google's 'Gphone' becomes Android
Google's anticipated 'Gphone' announcement in November was both less, and more, than what had been long expected. For almost a year, rumors circulated that the online search giant was going to offer an actual phone. Google and its partners ended up unveiling not a device but a Linux-based open software platform, called Android, upon which mobile phones can be built. The idea is that a common platform will allow developers to build applications that can run on devices from many manufacturers on many networks, reducing complexity for both developers and consumers alike. Sceptics were quick to point out that Android might instead add complexity, since developers will have to build applications for it as well as existing platforms. Android-based phones, due out in mid-2008, will face entrenched platforms such as Symbian and Windows Mobile.
Viacom vs. YouTube
When media giant Viacom sued Google in March for $1 billion, citing unauthorized uploading of TV and movie clips to Google's YouTube site, it underscored a fundamental problem for user-generated content on the Web: How do sites ensure that submissions meet certain standards, or are in fact legal? The dilemma is a problem of scale: Viacom charged that as of March, YouTube users uploaded nearly 160,000 video clips for which it owned copyrights, and that these clips had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times. One answer to the problem may be systems like Video Identification, which Google unveiled in October. It matches user-uploaded clips with a repository of legitimate videos, allowing the company to flag and remove, if necessary, copyright-infringing material. With the cost of legal wrangling and monitoring systems growing, it is clear that user-generated content is not truly "free" after all.
Facebook: Social networking hits prime time
Facebook's decision in October to sell a $240m minority stake to Microsoft, which had been battling Google for the prize, solidified social networking's central place in technology. The stake values Facebook at $15bn total, even before it has truly figured out how to monetize its traffic. While social networking has been a growing trend for years, Facebook offers interactive features and a development platform that has Google, the social networking site MySpace and others playing catch-up. But the problem of monetization has been compounded by privacy issues. The ability of Facebook's Beacon ad system to track user actions has whipped up a controversy that won't go away soon.