The history books will record 2011 as the year social media mobilized grass roots efforts around the globe to challenge the status quo and take to the streets in protest. The power of social media to organize and influence was the top computer story of the year.

Making our top 10 list of technology newsmakers for 2011 are:

1. Social media revolutions

Activists spanning the Middle East, the Occupy Wall Street encampments and several European cities voiced their frustration with their government, problems with the economy and social inequality by sending Tweets, commenting on Facebook, writing blog posts and uploading photos and videos to the Web. They habitually documented the action in the streets, which often amplified the effects of their protests by reaching a vast digital audience.

Some of the revolutions fueled by social media succeeded in bringing about government reforms. When the dust settled from what became known as the Arab Spring, oppressive leaders in Tunisia and Egypt had been toppled, Moammar Gadhafi was dead and Syrian and Yemeni regimes were under fire.

Partly inspired by the Middle East uprisings, riots also took place in London and San Francisco. The now-international Occupy Wall Street movement, which started in New York in September, is the latest example of how social media can stimulate civil demonstrations.

2. Death of Steve Jobs

Jobs (at right in 2008) changed the world with his personal computer empire and the technology that has become such a large part of pop culture. Among his most successful creations: the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

“He was quite a visionary,” said Scott Sutherland, managing director with Wedbush Securities in the research division’s technology group. Not only did Jobs lead Apple to its continued success, he paved the way for what has become a “connected device universe,” Sutherland said in a phone interview with MNN.

3. Netflix subscribers' revolt

The video subscription service is still trying to recover from a mass exodus of subscribers and subsequent stock plunge following a steep price increase this summer.

There are rumors circulating that Netflix might be ripe for a corporate takeover by other media giants, according to a CNN Money/ Fortune magazine story. Among those considering the option: Verizon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon, the magazine reported.

4. Tech firms go public

Screenshot of Groupon Groupon was one of many websites that went public in 2011. (Photo: Evan Lorne/Shutterstock)

High-profile Internet companies lined up to go public, with LinkedIn and Groupon leading the way this year. Zynga, the online gaming company, is poised to follow suit this week and Facebook sometime next year. There’s speculation about Twitter, too. Both social networking powerhouses have seen a rapid ascent in private market valuations, according to Shawn Milne, a research analyst for Janney Capital Markets specializing in Internet and interactive entertainment.

5. Mobile phones, tablets continue growth

With the consumer shift from personal computers to mobile and tablet computing, huge tech companies are jockeying to dominate the market.

In the tablet arena, the Apple iPad 2, which came out early in the year, remains the model to which other tablets aspire.

Google’s Android operating system remains the frontrunner in the U.S. smartphone race followed by the Apple iPhone, according to a ZDNet blog. (At right, a picture of the Samsung Galaxy S2, running on Android.) Research in Motion (RIM) and Nokia continue to struggle, Sutherland said. He expects Nokia to recover, although he’s not sure about RIM.

6. Rise of ‘the cloud’

In its 2011 Tech Trends Report, IBM found that demand for cloud computing is on the rise as organizations seek to expand the impact of IT to deliver innovative services without substantially increasing costs. Companies are implementing cloud computing to cut capital and operating expenses and increase efficiency, IBM reports.

Cloud computing most often involves using independent Web-based services to manage storage, spam filtering, virus scanning, data analysis and similar functions.

A KPMG survey found similar results.

“Cloud adoption is quickly shifting from a competitive advantage to an operational necessity, enabling innovation that can create new business models and opportunities,” Steve Hill, U.S. vice chair for strategic investment at KPMG, said in a press release titled Rapid Corporate Adoption Curve Proclaims ‘Cloud is Now.’

The vast majority of senior executives polled by KPMG said their organizations have already moved at least some business activities to “the cloud” and expect 2012 investment to skyrocket. Some are planning to spend more than one-fifth of their IT budgets on cloud computing next year, the study stated.

7. Growth of mobile payment products

Worldwide mobile payment volume was expected to increase 76 percent in 2011 with a 40 percent rise in users, according to a Gartner Inc. market trends report published this summer. Other research and analysis companies report similar findings.

“Several key players already provide or are rolling out mobile payments and interest among consumers in utilizing mobile payments is growing, in line with the industry’s readiness to deploy them,” Gary Matuszak, KPMG global chair of the technology communications and entertainment practice, stated in a July press release.

Of the 1,000 executives KPMG polled, about 70 percent said that mobile payments are now or will be reasonably important in the future. Nearly 60 percent said they have a mobile payments strategy in place. (At right, Russian Mobile Network Operator Megafon tests Underground Pass payment via cellphones.)

8. Explosion of mobile apps

Finger touches iPhone screen Apps became a big deal in 2011. (Photo: natmac stock/Shutterstock)

The success of Apple and Android mobile application, or app, stores has meant that hundreds of thousands of apps are available to mobile users. So far, the apps have focused on consumers, but Gartner predicts enterprise app stores in the future.

Apps are also being used in business meetings, MeetingsNet reported last month.

Among the features they provide are agenda management, conference alerts and updates, appointment scheduling, audience polling, conference programs and handouts.

9. The focus on analytics

IBM tech trends found that analytics technologies are growing to meet the needs of businesses and customers to understand data about the company. Gartner reported that this year and next, the focus of analytics is on decisions and collaboration. That means analyzing historical data to explain what happened and analyzing historical and real-time data from multiple systems to simulate and predict the future.

10. Expansion of gaming applications

The Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) believes its use of gaming at the 2011 Sustainable Meeting Conference was a milestone for in the meeting industry. An online multi-player game was used to foster teamwork and problem solving at the annual conference earlier in the year as a case study that can be applied to similar business environments, according to the GMIC.

Similar business gaming applications were reported by MeetingsNet. Some companies are renting or buying mobile devices for their meeting attendees. Like at the GMIC conference, they might load custom-designed applications that provide access to all conference-related materials.

In the education arena, the U.S. Department of Education late last year encouraged more game-based learning in schools through its national technology plan.

“The challenge for our education system is to leverage technology to create learning experiences that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures,” the DOE stated in its tech plan. Some colleges are also employing the same principles in their classrooms, USA Today reported last month.

Top tech stories of 2011
The history books will record 2011 as the year social media mobilized grass roots efforts around the globe to challenge the status quo.