PEOPLE OF THE YEAR
If you're reading this and there's no apocalypse in progress, there's just one choice for People of the Year: the programmers who busted their asses to make sure the Y2K "bug" wasn't the end of the world as we know it.
Honorable mention goes to the team at eBay, the Pez dispenser-dispensing site that became the true face of e-commerce for thousands of small businesses making actual money online. The Site That Beanie Babies Built may not have that zillionaire-stock option glamour going on, but it's profitable for all concerned—except for the Net's growing number of eBay addicts ("a left-handed effervescent flurblemeister! I must possess it!"). And eBay's impact was felt far beyond the collectibles contingent, as industries from travel to the creative arts adopted the auction business model.
Also noteworthy: the Chromosome 22 scientists, the staff of Yugoslavia's B92.net.
ISSUE OF THE YEAR
The most significant issue of 1999 was the growing use of questionable patents to create or enforce market advantages in the technology sector. Tech companies from Seattle's own Amazon to DoubleClick to Pitney Bowes used patents on such Net basics as one-click ordering, privacy preferences, and banner-ad delivery to browbeat competitors and chill the market.
At least high-tech's finagling only hurts computers. In a year where most biogenetics stories were pushed from the news by dot-com IPOs, Monsanto's attempt to introduce single-planting GM (genetically modified) seeds drew wide attention from environmentalists and farmers in developing nations, who argued convincingly that these seeds were only healthy for Monsanto's stockholders.
Expect these and other patent issues to become increasingly important in the months to come, as landgrab-style litigation becomes more financially appealing than innovation.
Honorable mention: personal/consumer privacy concerns, the digital divide, MP3.