Summary:

In the fourth quarter, Facebook dominated the news announcements of its Groups and Messages offerings, while Google’s Chrome OS somewhat confused the industry and privacy concerns, sparked by a somewhat breathless series of exposes, once more caught the NewNet space’s attention.

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Much of 2010’s fourth-quarter action in NewNet technologies (i.e., social media, real-time feeds) centered on consumer markets and applications. And as I detail over at GigaOM Pro, those actions sparked a number of noteworthy developments in the space surrounding communications, platforms and privacy issues.

Just as in the third quarter, Facebook dominated the news. Two of the company’s most critical initiatives were its revamped Messages (with its “social inbox”) and Groups efforts. With those two products, Facebook is laying the groundwork for a unified communications hub that could play a role in presence and identity management.

Facebook’s APIs and web services are powerful factors in establishing social media platforms and ecosystems. Other would-be platform players are trying to couple the API/UI combination that Microsoft used so successfully with Windows, but they don’t appear to be gaining momentum. Case in point, startup social browser maker RockMelt might appear to be taking on Facebook, but the truth is that browsers don’t matter much anymore. The web itself is now the platform, with key players like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple building out browser-independent ecosystems.

And in the fourth quarter, a number of media companies–including Myspace, The Atlantic and Gawker Media–launched or re-launched their sites to take advantage of the increasingly “digital-first” media environment. In the spirit of this approach, we laid out a modern media manifesto describing key elements to a successful digital-first strategy: multimedia content, fine-tuned revenue models and an actively participating audience.

Consumer privacy, meanwhile, got a lot of government and regulatory attention, sparked by a somewhat breathless series of exposes in the Wall Street Journal. The FTC is talking about a “do not track” system, and the EU is threatening criminal and civil actions. Unsurprisingly, Facebook was a catalyst for the attention; the Journal revealed that app companies were leaking user information — in some cases in violation of Facebook policies, in other cases as standard industry practices — to third-party data collectors and miners. The industry needs to get its act together before regulations stifle digital and social media advertising.

For more key developments and an in-depth look back at the fourth quarter 2010, including financials and an analysis of the next 18 to 24 months, read my latest report at GigaOM Pro.

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