10 terrible technology blunders of 2011

The year 2011 was a good one for technology. We saw a lot of great products and ideas, some of which could lay the groundwork for an even better 2012 and beyond. But like Las Vegas, for every winner, there were lots of losers. Not everyone or every technology made the grade this year.

While my colleague Greg Crowe gets to celebrate with the winners, I’m left to party with the infamous, the losers and the also-rans. It’s an A-list ticket to a D-grade affair. So here they are, technologies and people and news stories that made history this year, but for all the wrong reasons.

1. Taliban tweets to victory

In 2011, those wacky Taliban folks attacked Twitter, but not in the way you might think. Instead, they set up shop with that most Western of excesses, the self-promoting Twitter page. Perhaps they thought they would strike fear into the hearts of the United States with their rants. Instead, their claims were the stuff of storybooks. In one day alone, they claimed to have destroyed a dozen mainline battle tanks and taken over two U.S. airports. Dan Brown better watch out if these guys keep up the outlandish narratives. They might start to outsell him.

2. Chinese government exposes itself 

After years of denying any intrusion into U.S. computer networks, the Chinese got caught peacocking a bit too much, and fell into their own lies. A government-sponsored video shows off the country’s military might with displays of artillery shooting, planes attacking targets, ships rolling across the ocean and, oh yeah, a computer specifically designed to launch cyberattacks against targets within the United States. Launching from, of all things, a drop-down menu of targets, the hacker in question even instigates an attack right there for all to see. That the Chinese government would film something that contradicts its “we are an innocent, wrongly accused nation” stance is reckless. That they would broadcast it is downright foolish. Sorry, China. You’re busted. Don’t they have a good AV club over there?

3. HP loves the TouchPad, loves it not

In a terrible case of “we’re so large we don’t know what everyone is doing,” Hewlett-Packard released the HP TouchPad to great fanfare, while at the same time working behind the scenes to remove the entire computing division from the company like its big rival IBM did a few years ago. This was after paying billions to buy Palm, so it could own the WebOS used in the TouchPad in the first place. Did anyone at HP ever go to business school, or successfully balance a checkbook?

The TouchPad was a good product, and people really liked it. So when HP announced that it was getting the boot, there was outrage. Well, there was nerd rage, in any case. It wasn’t pretty. Then the company had to start selling them for $99, which really ramped up demand to the point that nerds were boxing in the streets over them, replacing homeless brawls and funny cats as the No. 1 thing to watch on YouTube when you don’t want to get any work done. So who knows what will happen with HP and its schizophrenic management style? Maybe the TouchPad will save the computing division, or make a fitting tombstone. But its follies made for fun watching this whole year.

4. ICANN’s diamond-plated Internet domain expansions

After years of debate, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers decided in 2011 to open the doors to “unleash the global human imagination.” Somehow letting Coca-Cola purchase .coke achieves this notable goal. Do the Nobel Prize people know about this decision?

Oh yea, and it only costs $185,000 to get your own top-level domain, you know, for all those shipping and handling fees over at ICANN. Someone has to enter that data into a keyboard after all. To date, almost no company has bought specific domains, except in an effort to protect them from falling into other’s hands. Why would they? After a company pays that ridiculous fee, they would then have to “train” all their users to stay away from .com and instead head over to .pepsi, .chevy and .Miami. Seems like a losing proposition, as was this idea. The money-making scheme helped to make ICANN wealthier, but we’re pretty sure global imagination remains unreleased.

5. Search engine wars

In the tech world imitation is a time honored tradition. But that’s not how Google put it earlier this year in accusing Bing of copying Google’s results for queries and then passing them off as their own. Microsoft promptly denied the charge, accusing Google of using the spammer tactic of ‘click fraud’ to make Bing look bad.

Google apparently laid a clever trap, making up search results for nonsense queries, such as “juegosdeben1ogrande.” When they went to Bing and typed in those nonsense words, guess what happened? The same fake search answers came up. Was Bing looking at Google for answers? Not according to Microsoft, which accused Google of a "spy-novelesque stunt" to falsely prove Bing was lifting results and called the ploy a “backhanded compliment.”  But whoever came out on top of the dust-up earlier this year, it just goes to show that among arch rivals, reverse engineering may be the sincerest form of flattery.

6. Google+ is a minus

Just what everyone needed in 2011, another social networking site to post photos of funny cats. As much as we love funny cats, Google+ is a bit much on top of everything else. As if federal network admins didn’t lose enough sleep.

Google needs to learn that it’s not the master of all things. It does search engines very well (see the entry above on how they schooled Microsoft). But to try and launch a social networking site to compete with Facebook is ridiculous. Everyone is (somewhat reluctantly in many cases) a part of Facebook.  Combined with Twitter, YouTube and a host of other sites, people are pretty much at social media fatigue levels. So although Google+ launched with much fanfare (something the tech industry is very good at) the number of active users stared dropping off after the first month.

Running in a race that already has a clear winner is tough. Google may eventually be able to surpass (or buy out) Facebook, resulting in a great triumph. But 2011 wasn’t the year for it. And 2012 doesn’t look too hot either.

7. Crazy like a Firefox

In a head-scratching moment of weirdness, the developers of the Firefox browser thought it would be a great idea to remove version numbers from the browser, you know, so people would have no idea if their system was up to date. Somehow they thought this would cause more people to keep Firefox updated. Instead, it almost caused a cyber riot. The version numbers on Firefox are back now, but the damage might have already been done, as reports are that Chrome is now the second most popular browser in the world. Perhaps removing version numbers was crazy like a fox, just without the fox part.

8. Feds take the bait

One of the least technical and easiest types of attack to defend against is phishing. Yet in 2011, lots of feds fell for it, including those who got snagged in the attack on Google’s Gmail. Granted, many were targeted because they were feds, but if you follow the simple advice of not opening attachments in e-mails or following them to Web pages, you will be 100 percent protected. It’s that simple. Go forth, and don’t get fooled again. This is the last time we want to see any feds on this list. Oh, and just in case it comes up, don’t take candy from strangers or hop into any weird vans.

9. Samsung CEO's gaffe

Honesty is the best policy, unless you happen to be the CEO of a large tech company trying to compete with Apple. When Samsung CEO Lee Dong-Joo was asked at a trade show how the pending Galaxy Tab 10.1 matched up with Apple, he described his own product as “inadequate” compared to the iPad 2. Wow, we wonder how this guy does on dating websites.

The inadequacies of the Galaxy Tab may or may not be true, but don’t concede the ground before the battle is fought. Even HP put a brave face on when it launched the TouchPad, and we all know now that the company had no intention of actually supporting the device. Generals win battles, and CEOs need faith in their products. Otherwise, there will be no victory.

10. WireDoo or don’t

Please Hammer, don’t hurt em! When rapper MC Hammer showed up at a Los Angeles tech convention saying he was working on a search engine that would beat the tar out of Google, everyone thought it was a joke – at first. But WireDoo exists, or at least the top page of a Website that offers users the ability to sign up to beta test the new search engine is real.

Had Hammer demonstrated how his engine was different from Google — like if it concentrated on the entertainment industry, for example — then he might have had something. But details were sparse to say the least, leading many to simply chuckle at the rapper trying to conquer the world’s largest search engine. We thought ending this list with Hammer would be funny, but really, it’s just a touch sad.

As for WireDoo, we don’t really know what to think yet, but we’ve been waiting months for our beta application to be approved. Perhaps in 2012? Hit us Hammer!


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