A Legendary Year: Top 5 Internet Technology Stories of 2022

Last week I presented my top internet technologies of the year. This week I’m going to review the top stories of the year. Believe it or not, there isn’t much overlap. A newsworthy story in the technology industry is often not about the best technology. It could be hype or controversy that makes it a big story, it could be a huge pile of money being handed over, or maybe it’s a story that’s unintentionally hilarious. This post covers all those basics! Also, I have the token news story that actually celebrates a worthy technical achievement.

PS hopefully the headline at the end of the post makes sense!

Let’s start with the biggest story of the year, certainly in terms of noise…

1. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter

What else is there to say about this train wreck? Ever since Elon Musk walked into Twitter HQ with a kitchen sink (for meme purposes) in late October, there’s been a steady stream of techmeme headlines for the new Twitter landlord.

Elon Musk and his hilarious kitchen sink joke.

We may look back in years to come and see the Musk acquisition as a game changer for federated social media. But in the here and now, it’s hard to overlook the negative impact this has had on large groups of people: most of Twitter’s employees have been fired, Twitter’s third-party developers have been screwed (once again), large numbers of historically underrepresented people have cast their votes found on Twitter were expelled from the platform.

Kitchen sink aside, this story is in many ways a tragedy — certainly not the Monty Python-esque comedy that Elon Musk is trying to transform into.

2. Sam Bankman-Fried: Web3 didn’t help

Many of us saw it coming in 2022: a major cryptocurrency firm would surely be spotted doing something shady at some point. But this is one of those stories that a novelist would struggle to make believable.

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Here’s the rough outline: A young man, who wasn’t even born when Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet, who graduated with a physics degree from MIT, founded a crypto hedge fund in 2017, and launched a crypto exchange in 2019, is on the Paper to billionaire, professes a philanthropy fad called “effective altruism,” shows up to business meetings in shorts and barefoot… and then suddenly his businesses implode over allegations of “misappropriation of client funds,” eventually leading to his arrest the Bahamas.

If you handed this story in for a thesis at your creative writing school, you’d be laughed out of the program.

What impact will Bankman-Fried’s demise have on the Web3 ecosystem, which has also fallen in value this year? Trust in our platforms is as important as we learned with the Elon Musk fiasco, and the SBF story continues to erode the trust that many people have in cryptocurrency (the foundation of Web3).

3. The merger of Ethereum

It wasn’t all bad news for Web3 this year, however. In September, the second most valuable cryptocurrency, Ethereum, switched from the environmentally harmful Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism to the energy-efficient Proof-of-Stake (PoS). In a project nicknamed “The Merge”, Ethereum first brought the two consensus mechanisms together and then dropped PoW entirely after PoS took over.

It has been a long-running project and has been the subject of various memes over the years, mostly targeting quirky Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin. But credit where it’s due, the project made a risky switch in Ethereum’s technical architecture — all without hitches. You might still not like crypto or Web3, but you have to admire that the new solution is a lot less harmful to the environment.

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4. Figma was acquired by Adobe for $20 billion

In September, Adobe acquired Figma, the trending web-based collaborative design tool, for about $20 billion in one of the most significant Internet M&A deals of the past twenty years.

The kind of interactivity that Figma enables was previously only possible with a plug-in tool like Flash – which Adobe, of course, also acquired back when it bought Macromedia in 2005. But while Flash was a proprietary technology that acted as a browser plug-in, Figma was built using web standards. and in particular WebGL (Web Graphics Library) to handle the rendering.

The big question for the future is whether an open source design tool can compete with Adobe. The news was also significant because it upped the ante for other web standards-compliant tools, particularly in the developer IDEs (aka cloud IDEs) product category.

5. Meta’s leg problems

I’d like to end these posts with a less serious story – remember last year’s metal ball that scanned your retinas in exchange for crypto? It came from a company called WorldCoin, co-founded by OpenAI’s Sam Altman. He’s wisely transitioned to bigger product launches this year (see: ChatGPT). In fact, the last time Altman mentioned WorldCoin on Twitter was October 2021.

Another founder hoping to see an embarrassing product launch swept under the rug next year is Mark Zuckerberg. In August, he posted on Facebook that Meta would launch its virtual reality world, Horizon Worlds, in France and Spain. His entry was accompanied by an image of a legless avatar that looked like it was created in the 1990s, along with very simple drawings of the Eiffel Tower and the Sagrada Família.

Zuck’s ultra modern 1990’s style avatar.

Zuckerberg was roundly mocked online, particularly for Horizon’s legless avatars, and shortly thereafter promised “major updates” coming to Meta’s avatar graphics soon. That update appeared to be coming at Meta’s annual developer conference in October, when Zuckerberg shared a video showing avatars with legs. However, he wasn’t sure when these would be released in Horizon Worlds. It later turned out that the video was not real. It “contained animations created from motion capture,” the company confirmed.

Zuck in The Matrix with his movie-generated legs.

Final leg puns

So the top stories this year were Elon sticking his foot in Twitter users, a shoeless crypto (ex)billionaire, Ethereum improving its carbon footprint, Figma running to exit, and Meta the struggles to get her avatars moving.

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I can’t wait to jump to 2023; Let’s hope some of the above tech personalities up their game.

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