Tech 128: 2013 was the year of the dark web, Elon Musk and H from Steps

Mapping out the highs and lows of the technology world in the past 12 months, we reach the dark web...

Dark web

For such a sinister name, the actual definition of the "dark web" is surprisingly innocuous: it refers to any part of the web which isn't indexed by search engines like Google. As such, it includes everything from password-protected forums and pages with no inward-bound links to more deliberately obfuscated content like that accessed through anonymising software such as Tor and I2P.

In April the dark web hit headlines due to a security researcher who collated 500m connected devices, like servers, webcams, printers and routers, which were online but not properly secured. But it wasn't until October that the term hit the mainstream. In the same month David Cameron announced an intention to enlist GCHQ and the NSA to fight paedophiles operating on the dark web, and the dark web marketplace Silk Road was shut down.

How I bought drugs from the dark net

Death of Google Reader 

The demise of Google Reader, which lead journalists and hardcore news enthusiasts kicking and screaming into the night, showed that any free service could be disappeared once Google deemed it outside its core mission.

Google's attempt to push Google Reader users to Google+ is a mistake


Doge is the best meme of 2013. A Shiba Inu stares out with Buddha like calm and other-worldly contentedness and speaks, in multicoloured comic sans and a stilted, broken grammar.


Such meme

Many words


The bitcoin clone themed around the Doge meme has shot up in value since it was published as a joke in early December. It is currently worth $3.5m in its own right. 2013, take a bow. 

Elon Musk

Arguably the greatest innovator of his generation, the serial entrepreneur Elon Musk is always one step ahead of the rest.

As a 10 year old, Elon Musk developed a computer game which he sold for $500. When he was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, he paid for his tuition by organising house parties which included club-inspired art installations. And as an undergraduate, Musk even wrote a business plan for an electronic book-scanning service remarkably similar to Google’s Book Service – except that he wrote it ten years before Google announced it and more than three years before the company existed.

2013 has proved to be a particularly memorable year for Elon Musk. The American business magnate, investor and PayPal founder advanced his plans for space exploration while his electric car company, Tesla Motors, became profitable and accelerated rollout of a network of supercharger stations in the US.

But it was Musk's most outlandish technology proposition to date, the Hyperloop project proposed in August, that won him the most headlines. A $6bn (£4bn) proposal for a form of transportation linking LA and San Francisco, Hyperloop would provide subsonic air travel where pods travel in a partial vacuum within a 350 mile-long tube allowing commuters to travel between the American cities in just 30 minutes - faster than even a commercial aeroplane journey.

With a group of Tesla and SpaceX engineers, Musk released an alpha-level design that went at least part of the way to working out how it would operate. The independent Ansys Corporation ran simulations using the design, and although there were modifications required, indicated that the challenges facing Hyperloop were capable of being overcome. Musk has expressed his intent to develop a prototype Hyperloop. Judging by his work with SpaceX and Tesla Motors, if anyone can make it work - Musk can.

• Elon Musk buys James Bond's Lotus Espirit submarine car


In the wake of revelations about surveillance, encrypted email, messaging and document sharing was suddenly thrust into the mainstream, with Google, Twitter and Microsoft all increasing security of their consumer products and renewed determination among developers to keep private secure services, such as Silent Circle, private and impossible to crack. 

• New Darkmail encryption aims to keep government spies out


From Snapchat to the music-streaming digital natives and even a whole generation renting rather than buying, 2013 has cemented the rise of ephemeral content and transient technology. 

• Ten things you need to know about Snapchat

Facebook IPO anniversary

Facebook's 2012 IPO was chaotic, with software buckling under demand, allegations that large investors were warned of problems and - as recently as this month - a judge declaring that the company should be sued over risk warnings. The share price dropped from $38 at launch to $17 - but 18 months on and the price has tipped $57.

• Mark Zuckerberg to sell $2.3bn worth of shares

Fingerprint technology

Fingerprint security had been attempted before but it wasn't until the launch of TouchID on Apple's iPhone 5S that the technology hit the high street.

• TouchID could lead to identity theft, say researchers

Furby Boom

It was the must-have Christmas gift 15 years ago. And still is.

• NSA undermined its own security by allowing Furbys at work


Initiated by Martha Lane Fox's 'Digital by Default' strategy, the rest of Whitehall started to sit up and take notice of Government Digital Service and its clarity, design thinking and a far cheaper alternative to expensive IT tenders.

• How geeks opened up government

Gone Home

This uncompetitive, inconclusive game offered a delightful alternative to conventional, decision-heavy gaming.

• A mysterious journey where action plays second fiddle to emotion

Google Glass

Google's smart glasses became the centre of discussion about the future of wearables, the best form factor and how to balance the benefits of immersion with a community's right to privacy.

• Google Glass inventor says future generations will find it ridiculous that humans drove cars

Google Maps (Stand alone)

Google keeps ramping up the features of its own mapping apps in an intense battle with Apple, which had to reassert itself after failing monstrously with its own maps app. Google is still winning hands down.

• An end to the agony of Apple's own maps app


Arguably the game event of the year, Grand Theft Auto V generated almost as much coverage speculating about its violent content than it did genuine reviews.

• A dazzling, monstrous parody of modern life

H from Steps

In one of the worst Twitter debacles of the year, lazy Tweeters incorrectly blasted Ian 'H' Watkins for Steps after a namesake was on trial, and later found guilty, in a horrific child abuse case. Worse, several media outlets used pictures of H on their stories. 

• Lawyers contacted Google after wrong picture was used on child abuse story

Next instalment tomorrow

Powered by article was written by Alex Hern, Samuel Gibbs and Siraj Datoo, for on Tuesday 24th December 2013 08.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © OnInnovation