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Forget the iPhone: 3 technologies that actually mattered in 2008

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By Jesse Brown, CBC technology columnist.

Smartphones are sexy and mobile internet combined with GPS could one day have a big impact on the way we talk, create and organize. Throw in iTunes’ App store - or better yet, a fully open-source alternative like Google Android, and the implications could indeed be massive. But it hasn’t happened yet. For all of the hooplah, smartphones remain shiny, convenient gadgets - not global gamechangers.

Why?

Because not enough people have one yet. Big things only happen once technologies are cheap enough (or free enough) to be everywhere. When your great-aunt has an iPhone, that’s when you know that the world has changed.

With that in mind, here are the three boring old technologies that made things interesting in 2008:

  1. Text Messaging

    Yup, dull old SMS rocked 2008. It’s how Obama raked in the cash and got out the vote, and it’s how millions of people created a global, first-response peer-to-peer news network without even trying to. In 140 characters or less, the world texted and tweeted breaking information on every major crisis, including the attacks in Mumbai and the riots in Greece.

  2. Anonymizers
    Internet censorship is alive, well, and creeping. China, Iran - and now even Australia - are among the many countries blocking or planning to block thousands of sites. But as millions of Chinese know (and as hundreds of journalists covering the Bejing Olympics learned), barriers installed by armies of technicians and bureaucrats can be bypassed with a few deft keystrokes. Anonymizers and proxy blockers such as Freegate, Tor and Psiphon are still geeky secrets in North America, but everybody knows them well in countries where they need to.
  3. Bittorrent
    To its corporate foes it’s a bandwidth-guzzling, piracy-powering menace. To its 160 million users it’s simply the best way to move big files of all kinds around. But hidden in this p2p technologies’ code is an elegant, disruptive philosophy: by putting content distribution into the hands of content consumers, the economics invert and the more popular a file becomes the easier and cheaper it is to move around. With implications like that, no wonder Net Neutrality is a brewing war. Look for this one on next year’s list too.

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