A Leg-endary 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 a lot of overlap. A newsworthy story in the tech industry is often not about the best technology. It could be hype or controversy that makes it a big story, it could be a massive pile of money being handed over, or maybe it’s a story that’s unintentionally hilarious. This post covers all those bases! Plus, I have the signature news story that actually celebrates a worthy technical achievement.
PS hopefully the heading will make sense at the end of the post!
Let’s start with the biggest story of the year, certainly in terms of noise…
1. The Elon Musk Takeover of Twitter
What more is there to say about this ongoing train wreck? Ever since Elon Musk walked into Twitter HQ in late October with a kitchen sink (for meme purposes), it’s been a steady stream of Techmeme headlines for the new Twitter landlord.
We may look back in years to come and see the Musk takeover as the tipping point for federated social media. But in the here and now, it’s hard to overlook the negative impact it had on large groups of people: most of Twitter’s employees were fired, Twitter’s third-party developers were screwed (again), large numbers historically underrepresented people who have found their voice on Twitter have been driven from the platform.
Never mind the kitchen sink, so this story is in many ways a tragedy – certainly not the Monty Python-esque comedy that Elon Musk is trying to make of it.
2. Sam Bankman-Fried: Not Helping Web3 Cause
Many of us saw this coming in 2022: a major cryptocurrency firm would surely, at some point, be discovered doing something shady. But this is one of those stories that a novelist would struggle to make sound believable.
Here’s the rough breakdown: a young man who wasn’t even born when Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, who graduates from MIT with a degree in Physics, starts a crypto hedge fund in 2017, then starts ‘ a crypto exchange in 2019, becomes a billionaire on paper, declares his allegiance to a philanthropic fad called “effective altruism,” shows up to business meetings in shorts and barefoot… and then suddenly his companies implode due to accusations of “mishandling of client funds,” ultimately leading to his arrest in the Bahamas.
If you submit that story as an end-of-year assignment to your creative writing school, you will be laughed out of the program.
Sam Bankman-Fried is expected to agree to extradition to the US, according to a person briefed on the matter, as he faces charges that he orchestrated a years-long fraud that culminated in the collapse of his crypto- currency exchange, FTX.https://t. co/tt2AGQMCNj
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 19, 2022
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 so important, as we also learned with the Elon Musk fiasco, and the SBF story further erodes the trust many people have in cryptocurrency (the foundation of Web3).
3. The Ethereum Merger
However, it wasn’t all bad news for Web3 this year. In September, the second most valuable cryptocurrency, Ethereum, moved from the environmentally damaging Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism to the energy-efficient Proof-of-Stake (PoS). In a project nicknamed “the merger”, Ethereum first brought the two consensus mechanisms together and then dropped PoW altogether once PoS took over.
And we are finalized!
Fortunately, everyone joins together. This is a big moment for the Ethereum ecosystem. Everyone who helped make the merger happen should feel very proud today.
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) September 15, 2022
It’s been a long-running project and the subject of several memes over the years, most directed at Ethereum’s quirky creator Vitalik Buterin. But credit where it’s due, the project pulled a high-risk switch in Ethereum’s technical architecture — all without a hitch. You may still not like crypto or Web3, but you have to admire that the new solution is much less harmful to the environment.
4. Figma acquired by Adobe for $20 billion
In September, Adobe acquired Figma, the trendy web-based collaborative design tool, for about $20 billion — one of the most significant Internet M&A deals in the past twenty years.
Sold out https://t.co/7z8kgBO8SN
— mrdoob 🇺🇦 (@mrdoob) September 15, 2022
The kind of interactivity that Figma makes possible used to be possible only with the help of a plug-in tool like Flash – which Adobe also acquired, of course, back in 2005 when it bought Macromedia. But while Flash was a proprietary technology that worked as a browser plug-in, Figma was built using web standards; and especially WebGL (Web Graphics Library) to handle rendering.
The big question going forward is whether an open source design tool can take off and compete with Adobe. The news was also significant because it raised the stakes for other web standards-compliant tools, particularly in the developer IDE product category (also known as Cloud IDEs).
5. Meta’s leg problems
I like to end these posts with a less serious story – remember last year’s metal orb that scanned your retina in exchange for crypto? It was from a company called WorldCoin, co-founded by OpenAI’s Sam Altman. He wisely moved on to bigger product launches this year (see: ChatGPT). Indeed, the last time Altman mentioned WorldCoin on Twitter was October 2021.
Another founder hoping to sweep an embarrassing launch under the rug next year is Mark Zuckerberg. In August, he posted on Facebook that Meta is launching its virtual reality world, Horizon Worlds, in France and Spain. His post was accompanied by an image of a legless avatar that looked like it was created in the 1990s, along with very basic drawings of the Eiffel Tower and the Sagrada Família.
Zuckerberg was often mocked online, especially for Horizon’s boneless avatars, and soon after he promised that “major updates” were coming soon to Meta’s avatar graphics. This update appeared to be coming at Meta’s annual developer conference in October, when Zuckerberg showed a video featuring avatars with legs. However, he was unclear when it would be released in Horizon Worlds. Later it turned out that the video was not real. It “displayed animations created from motion capture,” the company confirmed.
So the top stories this year were Elon getting his boot into Twitter users, a shoeless crypto (ex-)billionaire, Ethereum improving its carbon footprint, Figma running for the exit, and Meta struggling to pull legs on its avatars.
I can’t wait to jump into 2023; let’s hope some of the aforementioned tech personalities up their game.