Americans, as Winston Churchill famously pointed out, can be counted on to do the right thing -- after exhausting all other possibilities. It’s the same deal with tech companies. The wonders they bring us are many, varied, and never-ending, but they’ve always been accompanied by an equally rich assortment of misadventures and wrongheaded ideas. The successes and failures feed off each other, propelling the entire industry forward in herky-jerky, unpredictable fashion.
It may just be me, but I can’t remember many years as peculiar as 2011 turned out to be for this business. Even demonstrably gifted and sensible people like Netflix’s Reed Hastings seemed to fall victim to a fever that made them do strange, ill-advised things. I hope that 2012 is a tad less weird, but 2011 has been fascinating to cover, and never, ever boring.
In hallowed Technologizer tradition, it’s time to recap the year in dumb. Celebrities, corporate intrigue, sex, violence -- they’re all here. Gird yourself, people: Things are about to get really stupid.
1. Stop this woman before she tweets again.
Proceedings begin in a court case charging that rocker Courtney Love defamed fashion designer Dawn “Boudoir Queen” Simorangkir on Twitter and MySpace. A judge eventually rules that Love is guilty. She’s booted off Twitter for more than two months and must pay Simorangkir $430,000. By May, Love is in Twitter legal hot water again -- this time over her tweets about her former lawyer.
2. Thrilling! At least if you hated Flock.
Social gaming behemoth Zynga buys pioneering social browser Flock. Shawn Hardin, Flock’s CEO, says he’s “thrilled” by the development. But it’s not until three months later that anyone involved admits that the acquisition is terrible news for Flock fans: the browser is being discontinued.
3. Bing sting.
Google injects fake results into search results to confirm its suspicion that Microsoft’s Bing is watching IE users’ Google searches and blending data from the results into Bing results. It publicly accuses Microsoft of cheating; Microsoft responds by mocking Google’s “spy-novelesque stunt.”
4. Penney which way you can.
The New York Times’ David Segal reports that retail relic J.C. Penney’s impressive rankings in Google search results on an array of topics have been goosed by the creation of phantom sites such as bulgariapropertyportal.com, which exist only to be stuffed with links to Penney’s pages. Google promises to take “corrective action” and Penney denies all knowledge.
5. Pity they couldn’t have bided their time until this digital thing blew over.
Once-mighty bookstore chain Borders declares bankruptcy and starts shuttering stores. In July, it announces that it’s going out of business, period. The retailer’s many missteps included refusing to operate its own Web site for years, doubling down on CD sales at the same time that the iPod was changing music forever, and taking e-books far less seriously than its major rivals, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
6. But wait -- actors are real people too, aren’t they? Aren’t they?
At the CTIA conference in Orlando, Samsung shows videos featuring “real” people heartily endorsing its Galaxy Tab. They’re real, all right -- real actors, as I eventually figure out.
7. Good to hear they can take a little criticism.
In the same video presentation, Samsung shows a mock article about the Galaxy Tab from a fake business magazine. The text is cribbed from my not-entirely-positive review of the original Galaxy Tab.
8. $3 billion worth of fail.
AT&T launches a $39 billion bid to acquire T-Mobile USA. The former Ma Bell is apparently pretty darn confident that the deal will go through: It tells T-Mobile that it’ll pay it a $3 billion fee (plus valuable spectrum) if it doesn’t. But both the Justice Department and the FCC hate the merger. In December, AT&T pulls the plug and says that T-Mobile will get its cash and spectrum.
9. In the 1990s, this would have been done with VHS and dial-up modems.
Rather than striking deals with movie companies, super-genius startup Zediva’s new streaming service takes advantage of what its founders think is a legal loophole: It involves DVDs and banks of Internet-connected DVD players. Oddly enough, Hollywood is nonplussed. In August, a judge closes the loophole.
10. Bring me the head of Babar the First.
Bob Parsons, founder of exuberantly cheesy domain registrar GoDaddy sparks outrage when he shares a video of himself shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe. He says that the pachyderm was a rogue and that starving villagers will benefit from the protein it provides. PETA, oddly enough, isn’t placated.
11. A blow to dupes and patsies everywhere.
12. A day or two? Hey, no biggie.
Sony’s PlayStation Network suffers an outage, for unspecified reasons; Sony calmly says it may take “a full day or two” to restore service.
13. Flippin’ ridiculous.
Two years after spending $550 million for Flip camcorder maker Pure Digital -- and one day before a new Flip was scheduled to debut -- Cisco suddenly loses interest in consumer products and kills the entire Flip line. At the time of its death, it’s the nation’s best-selling camcorder.
14. Apparently he was under the mistaken impression that BBC stood for “BlackBerry Cheerleaders.”
Irritated at questions about BlackBerry security and censorship issues in India and the Middle East, RIM founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis abruptly declares that his TV interview with the BBC is over.
Sony says that the PlayStation Network has suffered an “external intrusion” and won’t be back online until it’s been fortified against further attacks. It make no predictions about when that might be. In all, it takes almost six weeks before it’s fully up and running again -- and it turns out that whoever broken in stole personal information such as names and address for 70 million customers. Oh, and maybe credit-card information, too.
16. We said “professional.” We didn’t say “good.”
After seven months of ever-increasing hype, RIM releases the BlackBerry PlayBook, which it calls “the first professional tablet.” It’s remarkably buggy, includes a nearly unusable version of Flash, and lacks the one software feature that’s synonymous with the BlackBerry name: built-in e-mail.
17. The fine art of pointlessly raising expectations.
In an interview, HP’s European honcho says that its TouchPad -- which was announced in February and isn’t supposed to ship until an unspecified date in the summer -- will be better than the iPad. “We call it number one plus,” he helpfully explains.
18. Insert your own “weiner” joke here.
Anthony Weiner, a Democratic congressman from New York, means to send a dirty photograph of himself to a woman he doesn’t know as a direct message on Twitter. He accidentally posts it as a public tweet. After trying to convince the world that his account was hacked -- and additional disclosures about other embarrassing tweets -- he admits the cover-up and eventually resigns.
19. I love you. You love me.
Addressing mounting criticism from shareholders and the media, RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie lavish praise on each other. “Jim and I have the perfect balance to make the hard decisions,” says Lazaridis. “…RIM has taken a unique path and the reason why we do things might not always be obvious from the outside.”
20. Maybe “never” would have been a better release date after all.
After fourteen years of delays, legendary unreleased game Duke Nukem -- perhaps the most vaporous single product in the history of vaporware -- is finally released. The reviews are unanimous: It’s a disaster in virtually every way a game can be disastrous, from the abysmal taste (alien rape jokes!) to the antiquated gameplay.
21. Sadly, threatening to withhold copies of Duke Nukem Forever II proved a surprisingly ineffective threat.
Griping about the “venom” in reviews of Duke Nukem Forever, PR firm the Redner Group says it might stop sending review copies of games to the publications in question. It ends up having to apologize for the threat and is fired by 2K, the game’s publisher.
22. Bad Revue.
Logitech says the failure of the lackluster software platform known as Google TV has cost it tens of millions of dollars, and that sales of its Google TV-based Revue box are “negative“ -- apparently meaning that more of them are being returned than sold.
23. You can’t miss it -- it’s right in between the fake Sunglass Hut and the place selling counterfeit Cinnabons.
A blogger visiting Kunming, China visits an “Apple Store” that turns out to be an elaborate fraud -- from the tasteful wooden tabletops to the spiral staircase to the name tags worn by employees. It and another faux store are soon shut down by Chinese officials.
24. Ungrateful Netflix customers unfairly resent perfectly reasonable massive price hike.
Netflix changes its pricing policies in ways that impose much higher prices on many customers: a $9.99 plan now costs $16.98. Its cryptic blog post on the changes gets more than 12,000 comments. Very few of them are from customers who are delighted by the news. Many say they’re quitting the service; the company goes on to lose 800,000 subscribers in the third quarter alone.
25. Apple losing iPhone prototypes? Sorry, not plausible.
In an incident that doesn’t make the news until September, Apple security employees enter a San Francisco home and search it for a lost iPhone prototype which they believe is inside. The San Francisco Police Department initially denies being involved in the visit, then says that it was; the home’s occupant says he didn’t know the searchers were Apple staffers rather than police officers, and that he wouldn’t have allowed them inside if that had been clear.