Out with the old, and in with the new. With the new year fast approaching, it seems timely to review the huge changes that have overtaken society thanks to a decade of widespread internet use. And who else is best placed to deliver such an far-reaching overview than Google itself?
Words are added to and taken out of the dictionary every year, but Google Labs' latest innovation can tell you what the most important words online are. Thanks to its new suggest service, and inputting just the first letter to see what Google believes is the most likely thing you are going to type in, we can now give you the modern world's A to Z. This is it:
A, you will not be all that surprised to hear, is for Amazon, online success story extraordinaire. The company that came from nothing and managed to shake up the entire book-selling business overnight. Since then it has relentlessly forced other industries to stir themselves out of complacency and start dealing with the internet world. The World Wide Web at its very best.
B is for Best Buy More likely an indication of the internet's ability to cut margins and help people hunt for bargains than the actual BestBuy.com site. How many controlled markets has the internet helped to smash thanks to instant information being available on the Net? The BBC - arguably the best news site on the internet - comes a close second.
C is for CNN The ubiquitous US news channel.
D is for Dictionary Which, it could be argued, is a good example of how the internet and digital world is educating all of us. Instant information available at the press of a key. Whether people's literacy will get any better as this suggests though is perhaps asking too much. Especially with advertisers doing everything in their power to get people used to trademarked misspellings.
E is for eBay As if it could be anything else. eBay does what everyone always said the internet would - let people communicate one-to-one with each other and miss out the middleman. The ultimate democratic tool. It also graphically answers the question: where does all the crap that people buy go?
F is for Firefox The new open-source browser, not the 1982 film starring Clint Eastwood. It's only been out there for a few months but its writers claim 10m downloads. Another great example of what the digital age has done for us - worldwide code collaboration and not just for profit, but for higher reasons.
G is for Games Ironically beating Google itself into second place. Games - especially the latest console games - remain the one big block of culture that mainstream society has yet to embrace. Digital technology has seen the most spectacular advances in game technology, which themselves seem certain to filter down into a million different aspects of our lives. Plus of course, online games give you something to do while bored and at work.
H is for Hotmail Instant and free communication with anyone in the world. Despite being taken over by Microsoft, Hotmail remains a shining example of what the internet has managed. Just imagine trying to explain to someone 20 years ago what Webmail is.
I is for Ikea Perhaps surprising in that it comes one ahead of iPod, but Ikea is a good example of how the internet happily embraces changes in wider society. Ikea represents low-cost, high-quality goods for people's homes, their everyday lives. Itself a revolution, the internet loves Ikea almost as much as the hot-dog munching hordes that visit its stores across the world at the weekend.
J is for Jokes Probably in order to make second-choice "Jobs" more bearable. This could be viewed as the internet helping in social interaction, although we suspect it's more a case of trying to cheer yourself up while sat at a PC for 10 hours a day.
K is for Kazaa Another great example of the Internet changing our world, albeit more controversial thanks to huge corporates' fury at seeing their well-protected market blown to pieces. Songs, videos, applications and almost anything else became easily exchangeable with largely untraceable files, and so long as someone in the world had it, you could get it too. The RIAA - which doesn't make the "R" spot - thinks Kazaa is the devil, or maybe the spawn of the devil Napster, which doesn't make the "N" spot. Just as the internet has been embraced in some quarters, it's same radical powers have found less welcoming hosts.
L is for Lyrics A great example of the internet providing hard-to-find information instantly. Where could you go before the Web for the words to songs? Let's be honest, a huge number of songs are virtually incoherent usually due to the artist's addled brain. It's always nice to be able to sing along to your favourite songs though, ain't it? S'cuse me while I kiss this guy.
M is for Mapquest Another fantastic example of vital information being put at your fingertips - maps. Where you can find people in the real world. It seems amazing that anyone ever found anyone at all before Mapquest and its numerous other examples across the world - MultiMap in the UK for example. It is also a good demonstration of the fact that geography has become radically altered in society's mind in the modern world. Microsoft offerings incidentally account for five of the top ten. Just in case you were wondering.
N is for News An absolute pure revolution brought on by the internet. Anyone can publish anything they like on the net. Suddenly not only has the control over information been loosened but we are able to see the same story as presented from the other side, instantly. It has made it far harder for determined and powerful figures to control how people see events and that can only be a good thing. The Register, you will note, is part of that revolution.
O is for Online dictionary This represents an intriguing truth about people. No matter what tools and aids and mediums are put in their way, a large percentage of people remain quite stupid. Why you would want to look online for an online dictionary, rather than just a dictionary, since you are already online? To be less cruel, it is perhaps a good example that the internet remains a very young medium and still a bit of a confusing novelty for some.
P is for Paris Hilton Not the hotel, but rather the young, nubile heiress of the Hilton empire. Surprised P doesn't stand for porn? Don't be, because Paris Hilton is there thanks entirely to her homemade porn videos being made available online. Porn remains an enormous part of the internet and always will do. But while most people will shy away from the niche sexual offerings the internet can offer, it's safe to say that the personal sex tapes of a spoilt young rich girl will always appeal to a good section of society.
Q is for Quotes Like Dictionary and Lyrics, a good example of people using the net for information and education.
R is for Recipes Another grand reflection of how the internet has changed lives. Recipe cards have been used for decades by all sorts of people ranging from magazines to supermarkets to draw customers. People love eating and cooking and a bit of variety. But no matter how many boxes of musty recipe cards your Mum has upstairs, the internet is always going to have more.
S is for Spybot Reflecting the darker side of the internet, Spybot is the most popular spyware removal tool on the internet. Digital technology, while allowing us to do all sorts of things we couldn't before, has also let people spy on what exactly you are doing like never before. Despite increasing pressures on software companies not to do so, a large number of common programmes bring with them applications that report what you are doing and who you are to others, usually without you even being aware. Spybot is an extremely effective tool for fighting back and deleting all those hidden programs.
T is for Tara Reid Tara Reid is the blonde actress star of, among others, American Pie 1 and 2. Here is an example of the internet acting as the greatest gossip source ever known to humanity. When Ms Reid's dress slipped at a recent party, she was unaware that her left breast had popped out and smiled all the more because of a sudden frenzied interest by photographers. Hollywood went into overdrive and clamped down as far as it could on the pictures. And so everyone, naturally, jumped onto the internet where the pictures were instantly available on thousands of websites. Instant worldwide fame, albeit of a different type to which she wanted.
U is for UPS The American delivery company has been an enormous success and successfully embraced the internet by coming up with an innovative package tracking feature online. Now you can instantly find out where exactly your package is, wherever it is in the world. It was something that only the internet could have made possible and it has seen the company prosper.
V is for Verizon A good indicator that the most important thing about the internet is actually getting on it. Super-fast internet access may have ushered in a second phase in its development, but you still need to get hold of it and that's where ISPs come in. It is also a good indication of the growing importance of the wireless internet, which Verizon is playing a big part it. Getting the internet out of the house and onto everyday devices, access wherever you are.
W is for Weather The worldwide obsession with weather is hardly surprising since it is the most immediate thing in all our lives that we have no control over whatsoever. We may be able to communicate with people on the other side of the planet instantaneously but Nature is still boss.
X is for Xbox Microsoft gets a second outing in the A to Z, following Hotmail. The games console is the software giant's attempt to break into the multi-billion-pound market. And it's been doing pretty well. It also starts with X, the least used first letter in the alphabet.
Y is for Yahoo The Internet giant that has two fingers in every pie. In the top ten of "Y" results only the famed Yellow Pages manage to make two entries against Yahoo's eight. Yahoo is perhaps the greatest example of a company which does very little except provide what the internet offers that nothing else can.
Z is for Zip Codes Demonstrating that the US still remains a fundamental influence on the Internet, Zip Codes also makes clear how the internet is expanding our geography from the virtual world into the real one. Or it may be people searching for a real zip code other than their own to put into an online form :-) . It just beats "Zone Alarm" the firewall - another reminder of the darker side of the Internet.