So now that 2010 is behind us and 2011 has a lot of exciting things in store, I wanted to take this time to reflect on the absolute best and most underrated innovations in 2010 that could use a bit more limelight.
Collaborating with influentials in the tech, social media, and innovation spaces, we were able to consolidate a list of last year's 30 Top Underrated Innovations.
Note: The list is in no particular order or rank
#30 -- Canon Cross Media Station, syncing your gadgets and your computer
First, let's start off with an innovation that's still in the concept stage, the Canon Cross Media Station, which is just a really sweet platform that charges your beloved camera and syncs your computer with your camera. Editor Brooke Dowd Sacco of Incredible Things made this her underrated pick because of absolutely perfect is it for anyone with a Canon.
#29 -- Razzle Dazzle Devices, artistic security systems
Next up, we'll note something a bit odd, the Razzle Dazzle devices created by art team Design 99. As an alternative to boring plywood to board up abandoned houses, Razzle Dazzle devices take "the form of a pointy cone that's jammed into a window or door space and is painted with a colorful pattern that injects a burst of life and energy onto vacant structures that tend to lack both," according to the NYT Magazine's Consumed columnist and author of "Buying In," Rob Walker, in his column on Design 99's initiative. So what's so special and underrated about pointy cones that are forced into potential entryways of empty houses? Rob also notes that the gloom that accompanies an abandoned home is counteracted by the upbeat flavor of the Razzle Dazzle devices, which are hybrid junk and plywood sculptures purposed as new-era security systems shining a better light on tragedy.
#28 -- Multiplying Memory without Doubling on Size
Manufacturing processes are often underrated because most people never care or ask about the "how" and instead just focus on the "what" but this time, we're giving a shout out to the incredibly underrated manufacturing process making it easy to stack incredibly tiny chips into a small vertical space, completely optimizing on space to double how much storage capacity you could have without increasing the size of your memory card. Dylan Tweney, Senior Editor at Wired.com, where he edits the Gadget Lab blog, and publisher of tinywords, the world's smallest magazine, tells us, "They do it by a combination of shaving down chips until they're very thin, and then assembling them and wiring them up in packages that take up no more space than ordinary, single-layer chips. SanDisk uses the technique to put 8 (!) memory chips in a 1mm thick microSD card, enabling them to cram 32GB into a space the approximate size and thickness of your pinkie fingernail."
#27 -- Pulse Smartpen, transforming note-taking
I knew I was turning to a reliable source when I looked to Shane Snow, the creative whiz behind Digg and Reddit front-page infographics for CreditLoan, Mashable and Mint, power tech journalist, and co-founder of Contently.com. He noted the intriguing Pulse Smartpen, which is an incredible tool for note-taking journalists because you can record and link audio to your notes, easily listen to recordings, and search and share your written and audio notes from your computer. This is the perfect hybrid marrying technology and old-age techniques (handwriting things and voice recording).
#26 -- High Tech Wallets, protecting you from yourself
Being empathetic to consumers, Seth Fiegerman, staff writer covering consumer trends and tech startups at MainStreet.com, picks a high-tech wallet to be his choice for most underrated for 2010, and for good reason! Noting 3 hi-tech wallets that help you save, one of the examples jumps right out at you which is the wallet that actually becomes harder to open as you begin to reach your budget sending you a personal signal to really cut down on your spending. With the hard-to-open wallet serving as a frustrating and friction-causing reminder that you need to conserve, it seems only logical that you'd spend less and think more carefully about how you spend.
#25 -- Kik Messenger, free real-time messaging
When you're a Mashable writer like Assistant Editor, Lauren Indvik, you come across tons of great innovations, and whenever they suggest something is awesome, it almost always is, which is the case for Kik Messenger, the super popular free messaging app that lets you communicate in real-time across the iPhone, iPod touch and Android completely bypassing expensive texting plans and adding cool functions like knowing when a message is sent, delivered, read and even when someone is replying back. That's pretty neat!
#24 -- Twaggies, the Hall of epic Tweets
The creative blogger, David Israel, of MentalFloss and Neatorama fame gives a shoutout to Twaggies, the illustrate Twitter Hall of Fame because they are no longer tweets that are here one day and then gone tomorrow. They are saved for posterity. Check out some of their twags @twaggies, or go ahead and stroll through their halls at Twaggies.com. There's mounds of cleverness baked into each immortalized tweet.
#23 -- Nowness.com, discovering new culture each day
The big fashion houses are most certainly known for how innovative they can be, what with Lady Gaga claw shoes and such. Lydia Dishman over at BNET, Fast Company and Entrepreneur Mag tells us LMVH's Nowness.com is a site to follow, enlightening its visitors with one feature each day on fashion, art, culture or travel. The features are incredibly rich (luckily that doesn't necessarily mean you need to own a yacht to appreciate them) and really show you what culture is all about.
#22 -- Mobile Payment, the death of the credit card
Considering how much mobile was talked up, especially in the beginning of 2010 when it was the hottest topic around, and even now in this recap when many awesome innovations listed are mobile apps or mobile-related, mobile payment systems is called to the stand to argue it's case for most underrated innovation of 2010. Andrew Munchbach, editor and writer at BGR.com, covering technology, consumer electronics and mobile gadgets pleads the case for mobile payments. If we can easily carry one less thing in our pockets and wallets, we would, so the elimination of physical credit cards would be awesome for those who could easily pay with their mobile. Think of it, you always have your phone out anyways since you're relentlessly texting, and if you don't have to be bothered pulling your wallet out, digging through your cards, anxiously standing there as the cashier rings you up, then taking your card back and putting wallet and card back into your pocket, you'd most certainly be a happier person, and everyone will win since the credit card companies could make more money off of you since it's easier for you to charge, plus the network providers win because they'll be getting a cut of that billion dollar electronic payments industry.
#21 -- Video Mobile Calling, the newest way to chat
Twenty years ago, who knew we could have phones that could fit into our change pocket and that we could use the internet from anywhere and everywhere? Now, with the iPhone 4, T-Mobile MyTouch 4G and more and more smartphones sporting front facing cameras, video calls are no longer something out of science fiction. Apps including Facetime, Yahoo Messenger and Tango are making it easy to make mobile video calls. Of course, the technology isn't great right now, what with choppy and fuzzy connections, but Helena Stone of Chip Chick has high hopes for this technology in 2011. I'm waiting for the day when we can talk to life-sized holograms of each other.
#20 -- Project Mapping, mind-blowing art
Art is most certainly an innovation that lacks proper recognition amongst the masses, and I'm so glad Publisher of TheCoolist.com, Mike Payne, has shared with me one really amazing new art form that within a few years he expects to hit critical mass - Project Mapping. I was absolutely floored by the first 40 seconds of the first video, and there's over an hour of stunning content available! For art junkies, this probably isn't something new, for the average joes, this is absolutely mind-blowing and I'd love to see this live one day.
#19 -- Gmail's Priority Inbox, for the lifehacking lovers
Gmail's Priority Inbox has taken productivity-nerds by storm! Being able to easily sift through the clutter and the noise (and improving on that filtering mechanism each day), the Priority Inbox has been a lifesaver for Terrence O'Brien, Senior Blogger at Switched. Also, while Priority Inbox helps to filter the junk you just don't enjoy, it stops you from wasting time on life's awesome distractions like the newest Gilt sale or Groupon deal. This made the list when O'Brien ended saying "I think it's the best thing to happen to e-mail since Gmail first hit the scene."
#18 -- Novel Inc., creating a business-oriented Matrix
This is by far one of the most exciting things (sadly it's only just in the concept stage still) I've ever heard of. It is Novel's ambitious goal to develop mass-multiplayer-online simulations "for companies to use as virtual-reality testing grounds for business strategies, doing hiring and training, and assessing leadership skills. This could someday lead to something like 'The Matrix' for businesses," says Greg Huang, editor of Xconomy Boston, who reports on technology companies, ideas, and business trends. The mass-multiplayer dynamic makes this technology interesting because there are no set programmed elements to provide you with the right answer all the time (just like real life), therefore those unexpected variables create a more genuine simulation of the real world and possible outcomes to business decisions. It's a little scary how real technology is (or plans to be) sometimes, and why haven't other businesses tried this before?!?!
#17 -- the legendary iPad, technology to change the world
The incredibly hyped iPad (pre-launch) was faced with a ton of criticism (post-launch), receiving mixed reviews from people absolutely hating it and not understanding the value of this mobile device which was a few sizes larger than an iPhone and couldn't make a call, to those praising it for possibly being the newest innovation to spark another technological revolution. Sydney's Daily Telegraph technology writer, Joshua Grech, notes that the iPad has changed how we interact with computing and offers whole new ways in doing things even as a first gen product, and Omar Gallaga, digital culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and contributor to NPR's All Tech Considered segment, acknowledged it for how it "upended entire industries" even though there were skeptics pre-launch, but the product proved to be far better than any other device to-date.
#16 -- Netflix, revolutionizing entertainment
Gallaga also makes a pick which is most certainly unexpected but worth mentioning, which is Netflix, that while people are entirely aware of how Netflix is the new Blockbuster (and is 50 times better), not enough people are appreciating how it is "causing lots of ripples and changing people's expectations of entertainment" and that "entertainment studios are terrified of that company's growing importance." Netflix deserves some more attention for the changes it is making to our entertainment values and for how it's really being an industry-shaker.
#15 -- Carpooling Web Tools, for the commuter looking for more
Treehugger, Los Angeles resident and freelance writer in small business and technology sectors, Lindsay Holloway offers up Carpool Web Tools for communters. With all the crazy traffic in LA, plus the ridiculous prices for gas, carpooling is one simple method for everyone to win. I've never been to LA, but I have lived in Shanghai, one of the densest cities, ever, and I could appreciate how useful it might be to have more carpooling going on because while gas is affordable, the time lost during traffic jams is certainly not.
#14 -- Hydroponics, no, not intended for home marijuana growth
Another interesting green initiative, hydroponics, was picked by none other than Shawn Connally, Editorial Director of MAKE and CRAFT magazines. Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants without soil, using water as the base because mineral solutions are what are vital to plant growth, not soil itself. Here's a geeky DIY, how-to one Brooklyn dweller did to create a Hydroponic Herb Garden on her rooftop. Green is good!
#13 -- Humble Indie Bundle, pay-what-you-want and be encouraged to support the independents
The pay-what-you-want model is really innovative because it's succeeding even though it's counter-intuitive to entrepreneurs to allow for such a model because of the high risk of mass abuse leading to unsteady and unpredictable revenue, quickly declining profits and the high likelihood of loss. Audrey Watters, ReadWriteWeb writer, blows all skeptics away with her reporting on Humble Indie Bundle. Humble Bundle sells indie games in packages (5 or 6 games at a time) at the price you'd like to pay. When you could pay what you want, you can simply pay far less than you'd actually be willing to pay, plus you might even pay less than what it cost or create the games, market and distribute it, but when you have the choice to support an indie developer vs. a corporation and when part of your contribution could be used as donation towards charities like EFF or Child's Play, many generally greedy consumers would turn into some of the bigger contributors, playing higher prices they decided to pay to support the independent artist and good causes.
#12 -- Text-to-donate, the simplest way to support a worthy cause
Text-to-donate is certainly an underrated innovation because of how mind-numbingly easy it is to contribute to a meaningful cause without much more friction than it takes for you to send a message to a friend replying "haha." Dan Roth, writer at Autoblog and Luxist, and marketer, suggests that the simplest way to donate is one that deserves more recognition because the friction has been minimized in donating. There's no getting stopped by some cause-supporter on the street asking for your name and signature, then you working to pull out your wallet and sift through bills to offer up. It's easy, you text one of the several donation hot numbers and your phone bill is charged. More than $10mil has been donated to relief efforts via text, and thanks to systems like mGive, we can continue to support charities and are more likely to do so.
#11 -- Web Suicide 2.0, killing your online identity
Jessica Reuben, Associate Editor of UrbanDaddy, picked the most underrated innovation with the most ominous name, Websuicide 2.0, which is a one-switch-kill-all for your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace accounts. Once you commit you can't go back since your account passwords change themselves, a public notification goes out showing your closed profile, and status updates and profile pictures deleted. Sure, you can also just do a manual delete yourself, but during all that time it takes to figure out how to do that, you will probably end up changing your mind and never following through. With Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, you're making the impulse decision to end it all, saving yourself the next few hours to figure out how to end it period, and then likely pulling out last-minute. Oh, and this is also interesting because Facebook took note and sent a Cease & Desist order to the service noting reasons such as "soliciting users' Facebook login information." I'll speculate Facebook is less concerned with privacy issues and more concerned with losing users' pageviews.
#10 -- Pummelvision, a crazy mashup of your life at different standstills
Making me think of a party with the upbeat music and making me a little scared I might have an epileptic seizure, Molly McDonald's pick was Pummelvision. Scrape pictures from Flickr, Dropbox, Tumblr, Facebook and Dailybooth and you get yourself an awesome personally made video for your YouTube. Here's an example Molly, the awesome DemoGirl, made, "My Pummelvision." Personally, I'm a fan of Animoto. You can see why in the demo vid we made launching our iPad app.
#9 -- Instapaper, for clean and easy content consumption
From the always eloquent Austin Garnder-Smith, Product Lead at Streetwise Media, publisher of BostInnovation, where he writes about technology and new marketing, we choose Instapaper as a top pick for 2010's most underrated. "I think 2010 was the year of well-focused small tools.... For me, the best example of these tools is Instapaper. It also happens to be the one I use the most, and the one that has changed the way I use the internet in a fundamental way. In the same way that on-demand and DVR have allowed viewers to time-shift TV programming, changing the way that they experience video content, Instapaper has allowed me to time-shift written web content, saving it for later when I can enjoy the experience. The end result is that consuming short-form media like blog posts can be transformed into an experience more closely related to the lean-back, long-form experience one gets from reading a book or a magazine, especially when paired with a device like an iPad that physically reinforces a lean-back experience. And it's this last point - the shift away from internet use as an upright computing experience and toward a lean-back entertainment experience - that I think is perhaps the most important innovation of the year."
#8 -- Optimizely, because marketing is more than ad impressions and clicks
For me, my personal pick is Optimizely since marketers all around are touting that conversion optimization is one of the MUSTS in marketing these days, and can arguably be more important than advertising, media coverage and traffic generation in general, but the most powerful marketing strategies marry all of those things for ensured success. Optimizely is by far the best service I have ever used to allow me to bypass my tech team in creating and managing alternative test pages for funnel optimization and analytics.
#7 -- Chevy Volt, more than an electric car
I was pretty pleased when contributions started coming in about cars, most of which I know nothing about (at least on an advanced level), since a green way of living can be supported through the purchase and use of the hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. Charlie White, Senior Editor over at Mashable tells us, "I drove it and fell in love. Most people will rarely need to fill it up with gas, because its battery will last long enough for almost every commute. It's fast enough, comfortable, and doesn't ask its driver to sacrifice anything, well, except around $35K after a government tax rebate. In a couple of years, battery tech will be better and cheaper, bringing the Volt's price down. Underrated? Yes. I don't think people realize how many miles they actually drive each day, and how perfect the Volt will fit with their driving habits." Newly titled Automotive Editor of Engadget, Tim Stevens, argues that the Volt should be in the overhyped category, and suggests the Nissan Leaf as one of 2010's top underrated innovations.
#6 -- Nissan Leaf, arguably better than the Volt
The type of technology coming from the Leaf EV is what most people these days are holding their noses up to, but is most certainly technology we will all consume one way or another within this decade. Sure, you can call each other sissies all day for buying a non-gas powered car, but when government rewards, more obvious energy savings and prominence of hybrids and electric cars increase, you'll cave and absolutely love all the great benefits you used to be so quick to snark on.
#5 -- Apple's Magic Trackpad, death to the computer mouse
Put in much better words than I could ever form, Noah Kravitz, Editor at Large of TechnoBuffalo.com noted Apple's multitouch gestures for touchscreen and trackpad devices. "Kids are growing up without buttons - they're touching and swiping and gesturing and that's the near-term future of interacting with technology. I thought Apple's "Magic Trackpad" desktop peripheral was silly until I tried one, and now I use it every day with my Mac. Gestures have taken the idea of the two-button mouse and exploded it exponentially, offering more intuitive and efficient ways to navigate user interfaces and manipulate onscreen objects."
#4 -- Freshbooks, enough to invoice a big gun
Freshbooks, a cloud-based small business bookkeeping service, made it to this list via recommendation from Eilene Zimmerman, startups, entrepreneurship and innovative tech writer, who noted, "I was amazed that I could invoice like a big gun --for free--and it's right there online." I could invoice a big gun? Hm. I'm sold!
#3 -- Word Lens, your pocket translation dictionary, but way better
Robert Scoble, Tech blogger at Rackspace Web Hosting and video journalist noted the handy Word Lens application which is translation-on-the-go since you can easily move your built-in video camera over the words you'd like to translate and Viola(!) you have the translation you need which is 50x better than carrying around a pocket two-way language dictionary. Alice Yoo, founder of My Modern Metropolis pointed to a fellow writer's quick take on this neat app. Personally, I would have loved something like this for my recent stay in China because first of all, it's embarrassing enough not knowing Mandarin and you lose infinitely more points when you have to admit to someone that while you are of Chinese descent, you can't read any characters if your life depended on it.
#2 -- Rory's Story Cubes, hours of fun and no drugs needed
For a cute and unexpected innovation, Jenny Williams, writer at GeekMom, GeekDad and Common Sense Media pointed to Rory's Story Cubes for absolutely endless hours worth of imaginative playtime, especially if you're willing to let your mind run wild and never hold back!
#1 -- Microsoft Kinect, augmenting gaming forever
A popular pick, which got the ball rolling, was Microsoft Kinect, the unbelievable new gaming technology that people have been dreaming of since gaming began, which has come to life allowing gamers to literally "get in the game" when your body becomes the remote controller. Heck, I thought it was cool playing with the Wii, but this is friggin' awesome! Brian Ries, the tech and social media editor of The Daily Beast pointed to Jenna Wortham's reporting on the NY Times Bits Blog. Brian noted Kinect first, which was quickly seconded by Robert Scoble, and again by Noah Kravitz, Josh Grech, Shawn Connally, Alice Yoo, and Paul Strauss of Technabob.
It was exciting not just because it's the newest gen of gaming technology, but because it's been flexible enough to allow hackers to have their way with it, creating even more cool innovations like creating an Invisible Man or playing sick tunes on your air guitar. Kinect gets extra points for innovating gaming and doubling up as just an exciting platform for hackers to innovate themselves.
Danny Wong is a managing partner of Blank Label Group which operates sites Blank Label, Thread Tradition and RE:custom, and is always on the lookout for the latest trends and innovations, especially the ones that aren't buzzed about enough in mainstream media.