2011 in Review: The 52 Lamest Moments in Tech
26. Paying for pals.
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has an impressive 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Reportedly, however, only 8 percent of them are real people. The rest are dummy accounts or otherwise questionable.
27. A JooJoo by any other name would smell as putrid.
A mysterious startup called TabCo tries its darndest to generate buzz for its upcoming tablet. It turns out that “TabCo” is Fusion Garage, which shut TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington out of his own CrunchPad project and released it as the spectacularly unsuccessful JooJoo. Its new tablet, the Grid 10, is based on Android even though founder Chandra Rathakrishnan says it’s not an Android tablet. By December, the company has been fired by its own PR and law firms and has suspended sales of the Grid.
28. If at first you don’t succeed, give up.
After months of generating hype and raising expectations, HP finds that its TouchPad -- which is promising, but also buggy and unsatisfying -- isn’t an instant success. So it kills the tablet, along with its WebOS-based phones -- just six weeks after the tablet hit the market. The execution is so swift that the pricey TV campaign can’t be immediately canceled and continues on.
29. Or maybe it’s actually because of the “terrible idea effect.”
Along with its exit from the WebOS hardware businesses, HP says it’s considering spinning off or selling its PC business, the world’s largest, and says that deliberating the possibility may take as long as 18 months. CEO Léo Apotheker blames a mysterious “tablet effect” -- which presumably has something to do with the iPad -- for company’s lack of faith in the future of its PC division. (After Apotheker is fired in September, the company changes its mind and decides to stick with PCs after all.)
Copyright troll Righthaven, which aims to make money by suing sites for copyright infringement on behalf of newspapers, is told that it didn’t have the right to sue a forum poster who cut and pasted an op-ed piece -- and that his copying was fair use in any event. The company is required to pay his $34,000 legal bill. By the end of the year, the company’s lawsuits have left it owing so much money to so many people that the U.S. Marshals go after its assets and it’s forced to auction off its own domain name.
31. The name game.
Google is having trouble properly enforcing its real-names policy on Google+. which insists that members use their real names rather than anything even sightly pseudonym-like. The company briefly kicks off sex columnist Violet Blue, even though that’s her legal name. But for some reason it doesn’t tell 50 Cent that he must go by the name Curtis Jackson.
32. And people said it wouldn’t last.
One year after AOL’s acquisition of TechCrunch, founder Michael Arrington and other key staffers leave, after a bizarre soap opera involving a public power struggle between Arrington and his boss, Arianna Huffington. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong initially says that it’s fine for Arrington to continue to run TechCrunch while launching an AOL-backed venture-capital fund, but eventually decides that it’s unacceptable.
33. What’s ending.
On its Twitter feed, Web show What’s Trending incorrectly reports that Steve Jobs has passed away. It then says that the news is “completely unconfirmed.” But CBS, which had partnered with the show, instantly terminates its relationship after early news stories mistakenly blame CBS for the gaffe.
34. Ha ha ha. No really, what are your plans?
In a weirdly self-indulgent blog post/video that begins with an apology for mishandling the recent price hikes, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announces that the company is spinning off its discs-by-mail service into a new company called Qwikster. Even though Netflix will continue to own Qwikster, anyone who wants both streaming service and discs will have to maintain separate accounts. Customers despise the idea. Netflix comes to its senses and kills it after less than a month.
35. And thus ends the Apotheker error -- I mean era.
After eleven months of strange decisions poor communications, and a tumbling stock price, HP cans CEO Léo Apotheker, replacing him with former eBay CEO and unsuccessful California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Apotheker goes home with $25 million in severance.
36. Nanny nanny poo poo.
Database behemoth Oracle and just-agreed-to-be-acquired-by-HP enterprise software company Autonomy engage in a totally pointless, incredibly childish public spat over the question of whether Autonomy had previously shopped itself to Oracle. One of Oracle’s press releases on the topic is titled “Another Whopper from Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch.”
37. Heist indeed.
After theater owners squawk, Universal cancels plans to let Comcast subscribers rent a pay-per-view version of the Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy movie Tower Heist shortly after its theatrical debut. For $60.
BlackBerry users around the world are bedeviled by the worst outage ever -- a week of unreliable service that’s compounded by dismal communications by RIM executives. When the company tries to make amends, it does so with a mundane bundle of free software, including a poker game.
39. Um, does this mean we can stop worrying about Facebook privacy until 2031?
Facebook settles with the Federal Trade Commission over a bevy of privacy and security issues going back years. It agrees to undergo regular audits of its practices for the next two decades. In a blog post, Mark Zuckerberg admits to “a bunch of mistakes” and announces the appointment of not one but two Chief Privacy Officers.
40. Hey, every airline did without a website for decades.
Virgin America, an airline that caters to a tech-savvy crowd -- every flight is equipped with seatside power plugs and Wi-Fi -- suffers a severe case of technical gremlins when it switches reservation systems. For weeks, customers have trouble using the company’s site to make reservations or do much of anything with tickets they’ve already purchased; as of December 30th, the line’s home page still has a notification about nagging issues.
41. Con-Siri-cy theory.
The American Civil Liberties Union goes into a tizzy when it discovers that Siri, the voice assistant in Apple’s iPhone 4S, can’t tell you where to buy contraceptives or get an abortion. It wonders if the omissions are intentional on Apple’s part -- and apparently doesn’t notice that Siri is a rather rough beta that can’t do many, many things that you might expect it would be able to accomplish.
42. Now that’s frictionless sharing!
A Facebook bug makes some members’ private photos public -- such as snapshots uploaded by Mark Zuckerberg, including one of him brandishing a chicken.
43. Drowning their misery.
Two RIM executives are arrested and charged with belligerent, drunken behavior on a flight to Beijing. After being subdued and handcuffed by crew members, the duo reportedly chew through their restraints.
44. Silicon Valley’s own Amazing Kreskin.
On a European tour, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt starts issuing predictions. Within six months, he says, developers will abandon iOS as their preferred platform in favor of Google’s Android. By the same time, the majority of TVs will come with Google TV built in and Google will release an Android tablet “of the highest quality.” Journalists everywhere make mental notes to fact-check Schmidt’s assertions come mid-2012.
45. Zuck vs. Zuck.
Facebook sues Mark Zuckerberg -- who is, in this case, the Israeli owner of a Like-selling service that Facebook says violates its terms of service. The Israeli Zuck, the former Rotem Guez, had gone to court to legally change his name to that of Facebook’s founder in hopes of discouraging the company from going after him.
46. Except for the part about the forged contract, it all sounds so convincing.
Facebook lawyers tell a federal court that a 2004 contract between Paul Ceglia and Mark Zuckerberg giving Ceglia 50 percent of Facebook is a fake, no more than two years old. Ceglia has previously been in legal trouble for fraudulent sales of wood chips, as well as selling a plot of land which he didn’t actually own.
47. Better late than never. Probably.
RIM says the next-generation BlackBerry has been delayed until late 2012 because it’s waiting for a new dual-core LTE chip. It’s forced to deny a report that its excuse is a cover-up for massive software problems.
48. Oh, like Apple knows how many models it sells.
The New York Times, researching an article about the large quantity of BlackBerry models and the possibility that the line is being hurt by too many options, asks RIM how many different BlackBerry handsets are available. RIM says it doesn’t know.
49. Life’s good!
PR giant Ogilvy offers $500 Amex gift cards to bloggers who post about its client LG Electronics. (After I ask what’s going on, it admits that the offer violates its own policies and changes its plans.)
50. Flip! Flop!
Go Daddy explains its courageous stance in favor of SOPA, a controversial bill which would aim to discourage online piracy by blocking sites accused of enabling theft. Thousands of angry customers transfer their domains away from the company. Within 24 hours, it’s suddenly taking a courageous stance against SOPA.
51. Can’t TouchWiz this.
Samsung says it won’t update its enormously successful Galaxy S smartphone to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, even though the Nexus S, a slight variant of the Galaxy, already has it. It says that its TouchWiz user interface makes the upgrade impossible.
52. Out of Control.
A customer contacts Ocean Marketing’s Paul Christoforo, who does PR for a company called N-Control, about a back-ordered game controller called the Avenger. Christoforo begins by brushing off the buyer, who turns out to be persistent. The e-mail thread gets weird sfast as Christoforo begins hurling insults and veiled threats, bragging about his connections and accomplishments, and generally being a huge jackass. Surprise ending: N-Control fires him.
That’s it for 2011. Happy new year, everybody!
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