Google brought the fire this year with weighty moves aimed at expanding its kingdom into the social media and enterprise realm. Consequently, the Internet giant also took a lot of heat for exposing too much data and kicking out products that nobody really liked. You win some, you lose some, right? Here's a look back at the highlights. 

1. We’ve Been Hacked!

Google started the year with the highly-publicized decision to stop censoring Google.cn halfway through January. The choice was made when Google discovered “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on their corporate infrastructure originating from China that lead to the hijacking of source code.

The attack reportedly targeted at least 20 other companies from a wide range of businesses. Google believed the primary goal was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, though only a small number of accounts were broken into and the information obtained was minimal.

Fully aware that the discontinuation of censored results on Google.cn would likely mean the end of China-based Google operations all together, the Internet giant lifted its self-censoring mechanisms in March. China subsequently banned Google.cn, causing a high-profile PR battle and setting the stage for a year of privacy concerns from every corner of the digital world. 

2. Mounting Privacy and Security Concerns

Understandably, a number of Googlers were upset to see the mother ship of personal information get hacked. "They have an awful lot of data," warned independent computer security researcher, Moxie Marlinspike, of Google’s data harvesting practices. "They record everything. They have your IP address, your search requests, the contents of every e-mail you’ve ever sent or received...They even know what you are thinking about.”

Too add insult to injury, Google’s first real foray into the social realm -- Google Buzz -- unintentionally revealed private information, like a user’s contacts and e-mail addresses. Google apologized profusely and reformed Buzz settings, but still faced a virtual walk of shame.

The company is currently under investigated by the European Union for being accused of deliberately demoting search results for competing services, as well as copying household computer passwords and e-mails from unsecured wireless networks when photographing neighborhoods for Maps.  

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3. Opting Out 

Choice and transparency were obviously huge this year, so Google tried to play nice by releasing an opt-out tool for Google Analytics. 

The browser plugin essentially tells Google Analytics Javascript (ga.js) not to collect user data such as IP information. However, it does not block Google's DoubleClick advertising cookie, nor does it prevent IP information or search queries from being directly logged by the sites you visit, or the practices of other Web analytics tools, leading many to wonder: what's the point?

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4. Mission: Acquire Everything

In happier news, Google spent a lot of money this year -- 23 acquisitions, to be exact -- on everything from social media companies to enterprise-level apps. The shopping spree has lead many to suspect total domination as Big G's endgame goal. "I think it's obvious that Google wants to become the primary — if not only — stop on the Internet," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group.  

If that's the case, it's going to be a long journey: Most recently, Groupon turned down Google's US$ 6 billion dollar offer, which, had it gone though, would have been the second most expensive transaction in the history of private venture-backed companies.

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5. We're Social, Too

Sour privacy stuff and rejections aside, Google has been making valiant attempts at being a part of the whole social Web thing. Buzz was the first real crack, promising to promote conversation and sharing right from within your inbox: 

The company's Social Search tool also graduated to beta, feeding query-related information from friends in connected social sites and blogs into search results. 

These were significant moves for the company but, overall, Google's social efforts have thus far been received with lukewarm enthusiasm. Perhaps this is the reasoning behind the hush-hush nature of Google's alleged social layer, Google Me. Or Emerald Sea. Or Google +1. Whatever it's called. 

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6. Waving Goodbye

Wave was the most talked about casualty of 2010, but almost nobody cried. The so-called "second coming of e-mail" was a huge failure in both the consumer and business arenas. 

"Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked," said Urs Hölzle, the Senior Vice President, Operations & Google Fellow, in Google's official announcement. "We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects."

Rumor has it that Wave's capabilities could end up being a part of Google's social layer, but that, along with the final product name, remains to be seen. 

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7. Hello Enterprise, Goodbye Microsoft

Though Google's social efforts of 2010 were ill-received, their Enterprise activities were not. The Internet giant has been fiercely going head to head with its primary competition in this space, Microsoft, all year long. The battle has been a bloody one, with the desktop, browser, and the cloud all at stake. 

Many of those in favor of Google support their choice with proclamations of love for the openness of the cloud, and shut down anything that doesn’t follow that strategy. Meanwhile, some of Microsoft’s fankids argue that Google Apps is like child’s play when it comes to business productivity. After all, Microsoft offers different solutions for different needs (MOSS, WSS, SharePoint) while Google houses everything together. Who do you think will come out on top?

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8. To Market, to Market

Speaking of the Enterprise (and bad news for Microsoft), the crowd went wild when the Internet giant announced the opening of Google Marketplace, an online store for business apps. The main points at the time of release were:

  • Google says everything businesses need is now in the cloud
  • Developers don’t have to use App Engine to build—you can use whatever they want
  • Google asks for a one-time fee of US$ 100, and a 20% rev share
  • There were over 50 launch partners, including Zoho, Box.net, Atlassian and Aviary

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9. Improving Search

Google also got back to its roots by improving search. For starters, the company switched over to a new search indexing system. Aptly named Caffeine, the architecture is said to be faster than previous technology, and provides 50% fresher results.

"With Caffeine, we analyze the web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally," said Google Software Engineer, Carrie Grimes. "As we find new pages, or new information on existing pages, we can add these straight to the index. That means you can find fresher information than ever before — no matter when or where it was published."

Google Instant came next, providing users with search results before they've even had a chance to hit the "Enter" key. To put it lightly, reactions have been mixed. 

"The reason this is a game changer is feedback," said Steve Rubel, SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital. "When you get feedback, you change your behaviors. …Google Instant means no one will see the same web anymore, making optimizing it virtually impossible."

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10. Odds and Ends

In other traditional-ish news, Google's annual conference was huge. A variety of announcements were made, including: 

  • The Chrome Web Store: An attempt to house all the greatest Web apps in one place. Developers receive 70% revenue for their paid applications while Google takes the remaining 30%.
  • Google App Engine for Business: The improved engine now offers enterprise customers a scalable infrastructure for hosting their own web apps. Perks include centralized management, access to Google APIs, hosted SQL databases, and SSL communications on your domain.
  • Google Storage for Developers: This space is a RESTful cloud service that's built on top of the Web giant's storage and networking infrastructure.
  • Google TV: Google is acknowledging the fact that the Web is more on-demand than any cable provider there is. By combining the Internet and our TV sets, we can get away from our computers (weird) and enjoy the Web's endless entertainment on a sizable screen, on our own schedule.

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