The highs were high but the lows were lower in the tech world in 2011
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner makes our top 10 list for using Twitter to send lewd photos
PlayStation outage, "Duke Nukem Forever" and failed tablets also made the cut
It was a rough year for RIM and its BlackBerry, with a handful of "fails"
Can’t win ‘em all, can you?
The highs were pretty high in the tech world in 2011, as new gadgets, updates and advances delighted the masses. I mean, Facebook made a change that most people (so far) seemed to actually like. What are the odds?
But the lows were lower. For every moment of digital bliss, it seemed, there was a clunker of equal or greater magnitude.
So, who are we to not rub salt in the wounds of those who got it oh-so-wrong this year?
In fairness, some of these “Doh!” moments came from folks who had otherwise good years. And nobody, not even perennial tech darling Apple, is perfect. (One hard-working journalist even had to write this very story twice after he accidentally deleted it and was forced to start over. Sweet, sweet irony.).
Sure, tech successes are nice. But these social-media miscues, foot-in-mouth e-moves and other digital duds gave us more to talk about in 2011.
Here are our 2011 “Tech Fails of the Year.” Feel free to jump in the comments and let us know what we missed.
Weiner on Twitter
In a crowded and competitive field, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner grabs our “What Were You Thinking?” award for this one.
The congressman (we’re staying away from name jokes because … well … too easy) was being talked up as possibly the next mayor of New York City when his Twitter account was apparently hacked by someone who sent lewd photos to some of his female followers. That’s the story Weiner gave, anyway.
Except, as it turned out, that someone was him.
Many of us gave Weiner the benefit of the doubt in the scandal’s opening hours. I mean, what public official would be dumb enough to get raunchy on a platform like Twitter, where anyone who wants to can follow your every tweet?
Turns out …
He wasn’t alone. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried tweeted jokes about the Japan tsunami and earthquake that killed more than 15,000 people. Actor and Twitter pioneer Ashton Kutcher posted a hasty tweet defending Penn State coach Joe Paterno – before, he says, learning the full extent of the school’s child-sex scandal. The resulting backlash even led him to quit Twitter, at least temporarily.
But for so badly misunderstanding the public nature of Twitter, for the whirlwind of lies that followed before he fessed up and resigned and … yes … for thinking women like it when you send them closeup pictures of your crotch on the Internet, Weiner earns this bulging “Fail.”
Go Daddy’s SOPA misstep
When the vast majority of the Web’s most active players are against something, and when your livelihood depends on the Web’s most active players, it’s probably best to either go along or keep quiet about it, right?
Not so for Go Daddy, the Web registrar and hosting company known for its titillating TV ads. In December, the company made the ill-fated decision to come out in support of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Google, Yahoo and Facebook are just some of the Internet heavyweights that have lined up to stop the proposed federal law, which would penalize websites that host pirated content. The bill has come under fire from Web-freedom advocates, who say it could dampen online expression.
Go Daddy, which had submitted testimony to Congress in support of the bill, issued a public statement supporting it – even doubling down with a stronger statement when the Web backlash began.
Fast forward 24 hours and the company – which had already earned ire in some quarters for its racy (some might say sexist) TV commercials and its founder’s penchant for elephant hunting – changed its mind amid a rash of defections.
Tens of thousands of domains, including more than 50 owned by Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, were moved from Go Daddy, and that’s before a Reddit-organized boycott planned for Friday. Oops.
’Duke Nukem Forever’
When video gamers wait 14 years for a follow-up to one of their favorite titles, they sort of expect it not to suck. In the minds of many, “Duke Nukem Forever” failed that important test.
First announced in 1997, “Forever” was to be a follow-up to a game that got lots of love for good-heartedly pushing the boundaries of sex, violence and naughty language in the emerging field of shooter games.
It was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. What finally emerged in June hit with a thud.
“At best, it can look a few years out of date; at worst, it is a blurry, stuttering mess,” wrote CNN’s Ravi Hiranand, in what actually was one of the kinder reviews of the game “Playing the game feels like being thrown back into the mid-’90s, and not in a happy, nostalgic sense.”
In a post-“Grand Theft Auto” world, maybe waiting “forever” would have been a better idea after all.
The other tablets
As 2011 dawned, it appeared that Apple had created a thriving new space in personal computing with its iPad.
Beginning in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, a host of competing companies stepped forward with their rival tablets. The Motorola Xoom. BlackBerry’s PlayBook. Samsung Galaxy Tab. The HP TouchPad.
One problem: Nobody bought them.
Most of the new tablets, many running Google’s Android operating system, came in at roughly $500 – about the same price as Apple’s new iPad 2. And the public showed that at that price, they were happy going with the industry leader.
Some tablets got pulled. Others never made it off the production line. HP had some luck selling TouchPads – after throwing up its hands and slashing prices to fire-sale levels.
One exception. Amazon may have cracked the code late in the year with its Kindle Fire, a smaller, simpler tablet that, at $199, is $300 cheaper than the least-expensive iPad 2.
Game off at PlayStation Network
When roughly 70 million users lose access to your gaming and entertainment network, it’s a “fail.”
In April, a hacker accessed account information for users of Sony’s PlayStation Network, ultimately knocking the network offline in late April. It wasn’t completely restored until early June and some gamers lacked access for weeks.
While getting hacked was bad, some users were even madder after Sony took a week from the time of the attack to let them know what happened.
Another, much smaller, attack happened in October. In the end, it looks like most of the network’s fans stuck around – a fact no doubt aided by multiple blockbuster game releases this year.
iPhones and bars don’t mix
Seriously, Apple employees?
No … seriously?
In 2010, the tech world was aflutter after an Apple employee, reportedly celebrating his birthday, lost a prototype of the unreleased iPhone 4 in a California beer hall.
Tech blog Gizmodo bought the phone, showcased it on their site, and touched off a firestorm that included everything from police raids to legal threats.
Well, at least we know that after all of that, it could never possibly happen again.
No … wait. It happened again.
Tech blog CNET reported that an Appler left a prototype of the iPhone 4S in a Mexican bar and restaurant in San Francisco.
As our John Sutter wrote: “Here’s a theory: Maybe there’s some sort of connection between drinking and losing things?”
Netflix, the Web’s most popular movie-rental service, first rattled some customers by raising prices in July.
Then, in September, the company announced it was, basically, splitting itself in half. Web-streaming video would still come from Netflix. DVD-by-mail rentals would come from a separate company.
Called … “Qwikster.”
Where to start here? Customers who wanted both services complained about having to set up and maintain two different accounts on two different websites. Then there was the new name, which felt dated (Napster and Friendster, anyone?) and like it was spat out by some zany-misspelled-startup name generator.
Oh yeah … and there was the fact that the “Qwikster” Twitter handle was already owned by a guy whose avatar was a weed-smoking Elmo muppet.
Chris Taylor, of Mashable, questioned whether Qwikster was “the worst product launch since New Coke.”
It didn’t even last as long as that syrupy mistake. About three weeks later, Netflix announced that Qwikster was dead.
PayPal plays Scrooge
Shutting down a fund to give presents to children in need at Christmas? Sounds like something one-percenter Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life” would endorse.
But that’s essentially what Web-payment titan PayPal was doing before getting popped in the nose by the Internet.
Snarky blog Regretsy, when not mocking regrettable craft projects, has long maintained various charity funds. With the holidays approaching, actress and blog runner April Winchell (who writes on the site as “Helen Killer”) announced a fund drive to buy toys for 200 children submitted by community members.
It was hugely successful, meeting its fundraising goal in the first 24 hours. Then PayPal, which was processing the donations, stepped in and froze the fund because it said Winchell used a “Donate” button that’s supposed to be for nonprofits only.
The Web wasn’t pleased.
Winchell used her popular blog to blast PayPal in less-than-friendly terms. Twitter users and other sites amplified the outrage.
A day later, PayPal said it “recognized our error” and even offered to donate to the fund.
God bless us … every one.
iPhone 4S battery life
OK … this one never reached the fever pitch that the iPhone 4’s antenna problems did last year.
And maybe it’s a sign that, when millions of people buy your product in the first few hours it exists, there are bound to be problems.
Despite not being the mythical iPhone 5, the 4S flew out of Apple stores when it was released October 14. But within hours, users started flocking to Apple’s support forum to complain their batteries were running out of juice faster than Herman Cain’s presidential campaign.
Apple publicly ignored the complaints for a little over two weeks. Then the company issued a statement saying that “a small number of customers” had complained about the battery and that an update to the phone’s operating system was on the way.
As with the iPhone 4 “death grip,” we’ll call this a modest “fail” wrapped inside an epic win. The battery gripes didn’t stop Apple from selling an iLoad of the new phones.
Bad year for BlackBerry
Alas, poor BlackBerry.
Research in Motion’s crack-like gadget was once synonymous with “smartphone,” effectively ushering in the era of messaging, e-mail-checking and other Phone 2.0 behavior.
But, 2011 wasn’t kind.
It’s bad enough that the iPhone and the rise of the Androids continue to muscle BlackBerrys out of the limelight. Then the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM’s effort in the burgeoning tablet space, arrived with a thud in April.
The capper, however, was an October outage at a data center that caused users to lose messaging ability in parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa, Latin America and North America. (To their credit, RIM ultimately gave away a pile of free apps to the folks affected).
The outage lasted for several days and was the final straw for some users, who abandoned ship for other phones.