Each holiday season brings innumerable “year in review” retrospectives, kind of like the media world’s fruit cake. In a digital society where 141 characters verges on endless, year in review articles have increasingly given way to all-visual year in review in photos. They range from the carefully curated Wall Street Journal to the impactful CNN, from the appropriately expansive Atlantic (in three parts) to the frivolous Buzzfeed.
Instead of adding to the “year in review, in pictures” fray, I thought I’d do something a little different, and take a look at the “year in pictures, in review.” After all, 2012 marked the year images emerged as the next big trend, even coining a new buzzword, the imagesphere.
The year in images dawned with an explosive start when Facebook announced it would acquire Instagram. While many fixated on the $1 billion price tag, implications for Facebook’s mobile strategy, or whirlwind negotiations, I found it fascinating that a company whose essence revolved around relationships between friends, would find irresistible a network whose connections centered on pictures.
This year Lytro began selling its novel plenoptic cameras, enabling you to change a picture’s focus after it was taken. I can’t tell if Lytro is “outrageously incredible“ or just over-hyped (remember Segway?), but I do know that 2012 marked the first year since I was 12 years old that I didn’t own an SLR, a point n’ shoot, or both. A new camera format combining big sensors and small bodies – called “Micro Four Thirds” – went mainstream, demonstrating that not everyone wants to take every picture with their phone. Yet.
The most widely photographed year in history featured some notable standouts. For example, a grainy 64×64 pixel grayscale image provided the first testimony of the Mars rover Curiosity’s successful landing, prompting gleeful cheers from millions. Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting parachute jump from 128,000 feet captured the world’s attention not only for its daring, but partially by virtue of the 35 cameras used to record the attempt. Likewise, ABC News creatively applied an amazing interactive image to convey the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
2011 featured ongoing skirmishes between big technology companies around mobile patents. Remember Apple, RIM and Microsoft buying Nortel’s patent portfolio, then Google acquiring Motorola Mobility, while Apple and Samsung pressed claims and counterclaims? But in 2012, the patent battles shifted from mobile to images, as Apple, Google, Facebook and Samsung combined forces to buy Kodak’s digital imaging patents for $525 million.
Finally, December delivered something of a photo finish, as the imagesphere convulsed in a series of interrelated corporate moves:
- Yahoo! revived flickr, with a great new iOS app and web redesign. Does this signal a central role for photos in Marissa Mayer’s new strategy, and new competition for Instagram?
- A Dropbox acquisition suggests that it too has designs on aggregating and sharing its users pictures.
- Meanwhile, Instagram suddenly turned off support for Twitter cards, denying users the ability to view Instagram photos inside Twitter. Why would Instagram cross swords with Twitter? Because Twitter already planned to do likewise by adding photo filters, perhaps the quintessential Instagram feature.
The prospect of Instagram, Twitter, Yahoo!, and Dropbox – not to mention Apple, Google, and Facebook – all jockeying for control of our photos reminds me of the early internet browser wars fought between Microsoft and Netscape. Except these “photo wars” involve a trillion dollars worth of market capitalization, with potential consequences for over a billion users.
According to the Chinese calendar, we’re wrapping up the Year of the Dragon, but I think it could equally qualify as the Year of the Image.
[Originally published at forbes.com.]