As always around this time of year, I like to look back with a Grinch-like smile at the dumbest moves made during the past year in the world of tech. As always, the competition in 2011 was intense. Here are 10 companies that deserve a big lump of coal in their stockings.
Where is the world's No. 1 computer maker headed? I haven't a clue -- and neither, apparently, does HP. Trying to figure out HP's direction in 2011 was like following a blind man through a house of mirrors. It hired Léo Apotheker as CEO, who decided to kill HP's PC biz and focus on services for the enterprise, only to fire him after 11 months. It launched a long-awaited tablet based on the Palm's WebOS, then killed it a month later. Now with the electorally challenged Meg Whitman holding the reins, HP is back in the PC biz and may re-enter tablets as well. She needs to decide who and what HP is before the rest of us stop caring.
Remember the BlackBerry? You soon won't. The troubled smartphone maker is sinking fast, thanks in part to a dual CEO team that has two heads too many. Can you say "acquisition bait"? I knew that you could.
The little-known company was looking to make a big splash at the RSA security conference last February by pulling the mask off "Anonymous" -- or, at least, one of the key Anonymii. But the splash turned into a splat, as not only did CEO Aaron Barr finger the wrong guy as ringleader, he got his clock handed to him by the real Anonymousers, who broke into his company servers and exposed Barr's personal data -- and his company's ineptitude.
After taking a hard line against PlayStation 3 jailbreakers George "Geohot" Hotz and fail0verflow, Sony got thoroughly spanked by hackers who took down the PlayStation Network and the Sony Online Entertainment offline for a week, spilling the data on more than 100 million customers. Sony then pointed the finger at Anonymous for the attacks, instead of accepting responsibility for its own pitiful security lapses.
I knew when AOL bought TechCrunch in Sept. 2010 it was only matter of time before the sparks began to fly. When AOL added the Huffington Post to its stable of news/rumor sites last February -- and put L'Arianna in charge of Mr. Crunchy, Michael Arrington -- that was like dumping gasoline on lit embers. After Arrington and
AOL jefe Tim Armstrong launched a venture fund to invest in some of the companies TechCrunch was (ahem) writing about, the blaze grew into a conflagration that's still burning. Nearly everyone who was on board at TC then has left for greener (hopefully less ethically challenged) pastures. Still, AOL-HuffCrunch is the gift that keeps on giving.
Just when we were starting to forget about all of its nasty privacy indiscretions, Facebook tried to put the smear on Google by claiming that the Googlers are -- wait for it -- violating users' privacy by displaying information from Facebook and other social nets. The smear campaign stumbled when it was revealed to have been orchestrated by Facebook PR firm Burston Marseller, though a handful of news orgs still took the bait. Can you say "adult supervision needed"? I knew you could.
Never before has a tiny company vaulted from total obscurity to complete idiocy virtually overnight -- except for maybe HBGary. CIQ's first mistake: Trying to sue Trevor Eckhard instead of answering the security geek's questions about what its software was doing on his phone. Mistake No. 2: Hiding under their desks for weeks as bloggers and reporters pummeled CIQ with questions about what data it was collecting from our phones and who else got to see it. Now Sprint and Apple are dumping CIQ, while the U.S. Senate and the FTC are demanding answers. It's not going to be a merry Christmas or a happy new year for these folks -- can't say I feel sorry for them, though.
The United States Congress
There are so many reasons why members of both houses deserve lumps of coal in their stockings, but the recent debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is reason enough. Shouldn't some sort of digital literacy test be required before they're allowed to take the oath of office?
Last February, the largest U.S. cable TV and Internet service provider (and owner of NBC) fired an employee for posting a 17-year-old clip from the "Today" show on YouTube. The content of that 1994 video? Show hosts Bryan Gumbel, Katie Couric, and Elizabeth Vargas discussing a strange, geeky phenomenon known as "the Internet." Who else posted the very same clip on the Web but did not get fired: the 2011 version of the "Today" show.
The purveyor of craptastic websites couldn't make the poorly paid minions at its Demand Studios content farm happy, so it did the next best thing: sued them to stop them from complaining. So far, DemandStudiosSucks.com is still standing, and Demand is still sucking. But Arianna must be happy -- DM makes her Huffington Post look like the New York Times.
What's on your list of the dumbest tech moves of 2011? Share your list below or email it to me here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "The 10 dumbest tech moves of 2011," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.
This story, "The 10 Dumbest Tech Moves of 2011" was originally published by InfoWorld.