The Top 21 Tech Screwups of 2006

Biggest Mistakes #13-#15

13: RadioShack's Virtual Axe

When RadioShack downsized last August, it did some of the dirty work via e-mail--sending out electronic 'clean out your desk' notices to roughly 400 employees at its Fort Worth headquarters. In so doing, the troubled electronics retailer earned itself even more ill will than it did with those cloying TV commercials starring Howie Long and Terri Hatcher.

Big Mistake: Firing people by e-mail.

Bigger Mistake: Hiring Howie and Terri in the first place.

14. Wal-Mart Gets Flogged

After LonelyGirl15 was revealed as a hoax, the filmmakers behind the popular YouTube vixen became Hollywood darlings. When Walmarting Across America was discovered to be sponsored indirectly by the retailer itself, its creators were raked over the burning hot coals of the blogosphere.

Jim Thresher and Laura St. Claire's blog concept was appealingly simple: They'd drive their RV 2843 miles from Las Vegas to Atlanta, stopping each night at a different Wal-Mart and reporting on the "great people" they met there. The problem? The trip was paid for by Working Families for Wal-Mart, which is in turn largely funded by the retail juggernaut, and stage-managed by Edelman Public Relations--facts that were suspiciously absent from the blog's folksy entries.

Edelman made a public mea culpa and then revealed it managed two other flogs for the Godzilla of superstores: Working Families for Wal-Mart and Paid Critics.

Big Mistake: Confusing blogging with PR.

Bigger Mistake: Not hiring LonelyGirl15 actress Jennifer Rose to go along for the ride.

15. The New Newer Newest AOL

Maybe it was AOL's rapidly evaporating user base. Maybe it was the blogger whose taped phone conversation proved it's easier to quit the Mafia than to cancel your AOL account.

Or maybe they finally realized there was no one left on the planet who hadn't received (and thrown away) a free AOL disc. Whatever the inspiration, last August Time Warner announced that it was turning its pricey paid-access network into a free, ad-sponsored content service--the fourth "plan to save AOL" since the two companies merged five years ago. At the same time, AOL's Netscape subsidiary said it was reinventing itself as a Digg.com-style news site.

Four months later, the architects of these changes--CEO Jonathan Miller and Netscape honcho Jason Calacanis--are gone. Meet the new AOL, same as the old AOL.

Big Mistake: Changing direction so often even your own employees have vertigo.

Bigger Mistake: Anyone else caring.

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