There’s been a lot to keep track of this year. We’ve endured disasters both natural and manmade, political polarization and the relentless encroachment of big technology companies. Some might say 2018 was even crazier than 2017. Before we leave it behind, here’s a look back at 2018’s tech, tribulations and trends in charts.
Amazon’s HQ2 contest played on our emotions
This is the year Amazon stole the news cycle with its nationwide contest — or con — for a second headquarters. Cities around the country and in Canada prostrated themselves before the e-commerce giant, offering tax breaks and name changes in hopes of winning the HQ2 and the 50,000 jobs that come with it.
In November, over a year after the contest began, Amazon announced it would be splitting its new headquarters between Long Island City in New York and Crystal City, Northern Virginia — likely suspects all along. On social media — if not in real life — the decision upset people in the cities that didn’t get an HQ2 as well as the cities that did. Negative sentiment about the decision far outweighed positive online, according to data from consumer insights company Crimson Hexagon:
Social media usership plateaued in its most valuable regions
2018 spelled the end of social media growth in the U.S. and North America. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snap are still growing their user bases overseas, but stagnation at home will be painful. That’s because these companies rely on advertising to pay the bills and advertisers pay a premium to reach U.S. consumers, making them disproportionally important for the social media industry’s revenue growth.
Elon Musk tweeted himself into trouble
Elon Musk went on a Twitter bender this year. A spate of uncouth tweets managed to cast a cloud over his electric car company — which actually performed pretty well this year — and its stock. In the most dramatic example, the Tesla CEO had to step down as chairman and settle with the Securities and Exchange Commission after he prematurely tweeted that he’d be taking Tesla private — at the nice round price of $420 a share — and that he had “funding secured.” The take-private deal never happened.
Still, the tweet initially sent the stock up 10 percent to close at $380. But the price generally went down from there, only beginning an upward ascent once the SEC agreed on the settlement, which would require that Tesla oversee Musk’s tweets. However, it doesn’t look like that promise is being fulfilled.
Electric vehicles had an electric year
Already, 2018 is a record year for electric vehicle sales in the U.S. and we only have data through November. So far, about 313,000 plug-in electric vehicles have sold in the U.S. this year, 57 percent higher than last year’s total sales, according to data from InsideEVs.
Electric vehicle sales were driven by Tesla’s Model 3, which sold 114,000 — about a third of all electric cars in the U.S. this year. It was followed by the Toyota Prius Prime, which sold about 25,000 through November. This has all happened while Trump’s steel and import tariffs have wreaked havoc on the car industry at large. It’s been less painful for Tesla, which makes its vehicles in the U.S. Bonus: Electric scooters had a great year, too.
Deadly wildfires burned through California
California was inundated with deadly wildfires — if not media coverage of those fires — this year, as some of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history destroyed landscapes and lives. The Mendocino Complex Fire in July burned a record number of acres — 460,000 — while Camp Fire was the deadliest, with around 80 casualties. San Francisco’s air quality was so bad that enterprising Uber drivers sold masks out of their cars.
A recent government climate report says these fires are worse than they would have been without global warming. Increased heat and drought will only compound the problem in the future.
Facebook kept betraying our trust
A lot of people thought about deleting their Facebook account in 2018. There was even a #DeleteFacebook campaign. Again and again users were reminded that they were products, not the social media company’s customers.
This year, more evidence emerged showing how Facebook was manipulated to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. We also found out that a third party, Cambridge Analytica, was able to collect information on countless Facebook users without their permission. Most recently, we learned that top Facebook executives sought to keep some of this information hidden. These screw-ups affected Facebook’s stock price and users’ trust. The result: Facebook is the least trusted of all major tech companies, according to an online survey by consumer research company Toluna conducted this month.
#MeToo made it through 2018
The #MeToo movement is still going strong in 2018. This year, more than 100 powerful people have been accused of sexual misconduct, according to an ongoing Vox list that parses news reports. The movement, which became mainstream in 2017 after a number of women publicly accused producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault, aims to show solidarity with, and de-stigmatize, victims. The result is that more women have felt empowered to come forward and bring their abusers to justice. Here’s a look at the numbers this year by industry:
Cryptocurrency bit the dust
This was not a good year for the blockchain — at least as far as the value of its currencies. Bitcoin — the marquee cryptocurrency — peaked at around $20,000 at the end of last year. It’s been all downhill from there. Bitcoin’s price has fallen more than 70 percent since Jan. 1.
Teens think Juul is cuul; regulators not so much
At least some venture capitalists and teens have found common ground this year with e-cigarette unicorn Juul. The $15 billion startup, which sells USB-shaped devices that dispense nicotine vapor, owns about 70 percent of the U.S. vaping market.
But the company has been a bane to parents and regulators, who’ve come after it for being a risk for teens. In November, Juul stopped selling most of its flavored pods in retail stores and stopped promoting on social media, ahead of measures by the Food and Drug Administration that would have done essentially the same thing. Whether that stunts Juul use remains to be seen, but Juul’s relative search traffic on Google has declined from its peak last month.
Trillion is the new $100 billion valuation
After long speculation on who would reach the milestone, Apple in August became the first U.S. public company to have a market cap of $1 trillion. A month later, Amazon briefly hit the $1 trillion mark during intraday trading. Hiding in the wings, there’s Microsoft, which hasn’t reached a trillion but currently holds the title of most valuable public company thanks to a recent decline in Apple’s stock price. What does this all mean? The biggest tech companies are getting even bigger. Also, inflation means a trillion isn’t what it used to be.
A blue wave swept the House for midterm elections
Halfway through President Trump’s term, his party suffered a defeat as Democrats added 39 seats in the House to achieve a majority. The change will provide a check on presidential powers and a receptive audience for special counsel Robert Mueller, should he find proof of illegal conduct during the 2016 presidential elections. That said, the “blue wave” fell short and failed to unseat Republican majorities in the Senate and in governorships around the country.
Tech companies are spending record amounts on fixed assets
Internet companies are pushing capital expenditure to new heights. The biggest tech companies — Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft — are acquiring everything from real estate to data centers to warehouses in order to keep up with customer demand and each other. It remains to be seen whether investing all this cash will put more distance between these companies and their competitors or if it will just be another burden on their balance sheets.
The winner of the battle royale: Fortnite
This has been a great year for free-to-play video games, especially those that can be played on smartphones. Epic Games’ Fortnite had the highest revenue this year, from January to November, according to data from SuperData/Nielsen. The measurement firm noted that Fortnite has been neck and neck with its No. 2, Tencent’s Honour of Kings, which also added a battle royale mode.
Indeed, battle royale — a genre in which numerous (usually 100) players fight to be the last man/woman standing — is the real winner. It went from rare to mainstream in just two years. SuperData, which is now owned by Nielsen, wouldn’t provide revenue numbers as they had earlier this year. At the time, Fortnite brought in a record $318 million in revenue in one month — not bad for a game that doesn’t actually require you to buy anything.
Americans moved on from MoviePass
Worth $3,000 per share last December, MoviePass parent company Helios Matheson Analytics is now trading for around 2 cents a share. Its pricing model seemed too good to be true: You could basically see as many movies in the theater as you wanted for $10 a month — about the price of a single movie theater ticket. It was.
Unsurprisingly, the company burned through cash and had to raise prices and limit its offerings. Recently, MoviePass added a three-tiered payment plan that’s much more down to earth. The move sent the stock up 16 percent earlier this month — not a very difficult feat for something priced so low.