Thanksgiving is nearly here in the U.S. and people are dreaming of stuffing themselves with succulent roasted turkey. In honor of this holiday, Growing Up Otaku has decided to look at things a little more figuratively. 2011 saw a great many fumbles and disruptions to the landscape of technology and the culture of the Internet. Let’s take a moment to point and laugh (or cry, in some cases) at five of the 2011’s less than desirable turkeys.
Our first entry is easily the most contentious of the bunch. Once the golden boy of Internet companies, 2011 saw Google alienating both business partners and end users alike. In its seemingly single minded push of their fledgling social network, Google+, the tech giant introduced sweeping, often unwarranted, changes to everything from YouTube, to Chat, to GMail, to its bread and butter, Google Search. The two official blog posts alerting users to the Google+ inspired changes for RSS app Google Reader spend an inordinate amount of time saying goodbye to its users and telling them how to get their data off of the service. The message is clear: Google+ is the future of Google. If you don’t like it; Leave.
Speaking of Google+, the social service has already seen tremendous swings in popularity in its short lifespan. Originally launching in a huge, albeit closed, beta test, Google+ quickly became a media sensation. Ironically, soon after the doors were open to the public early adopters grew bored and went back to using the big G’s rival social network, Facebook. Unpopular rules such as disallowing non-personal entities accounts and the enforcement of a real name only policy created a wave of bad press for the service. While these rules would later be recanted, this only caused those in charge to seem fickle and many wondered why anyone bothered to enforce them in the first place. Although Google is insistent on forcing everyone to use the new service, it seems that its controllers know neither who nor what the service is for yet. Worse, in the drive to create a new Facebook, Google is pushing away loyal users who had, until now, found a service where they didn’t need to use a social network. It could be argued that the most tragic effect of this Google+ initiative has yet to be felt. By contaminating the market leader’s search results with bias based on social networking recommendations, Google has effectively shrunk the context Internet from a global melting pot back down to the crowd at your local water cooler.
Things were no less rosy for Google’s Android business partners. Market fragmentation and poor update support by cellular phone providers continues to tarnish Android’s reputation. Add in an overdramatized yet well publicized malware problem and the iOS alternative operating system continues to face an uphill PR battle. A patent lawsuit happy Microsoft certainly isn’t helping the situation by bullying Android manufacturing partners into paying $10-15 on every Android handset while Google sat on the sidelines. With revenue generated for Android generated not from selling licenses, but via ad revenue sharing with carriers, it may be just a matter of time before Google and its partners start turning phone handsets into pocket billboards to compensate. Likewise, Android for tablets faces all of these problems in addition to a consumer market that shows little interest in a device not sporting a picture of fruit on the back.
Finally, Google just isn’t as interesting of a company as it used to be. The shuttering of innovative projects such as Google Health, Scribe, Image Labeler, and feature generators Google Labs pushes the company more in line with perceptions of large, faceless multinational corporations like Microsoft rather than the quirky .com upstart we knew. Newly launched services like Google+ and Google Music feel more like “me too” projects than serving any truly exciting new technology. Only the Google Chromebook, an outrageously overpriced cloud based netbook, felt like something different. Introduced to a public high on tablets the Chromebook unsurprisingly failed to spark consumer interest.
At the close of 2010 hacktivist group Anonymous had, ironically, established a name, identity, and agenda for itself. Most famously known for attempting to expose the abuses of Scientology, their denial of service attack campaign in support of the Wikileaks Foundation, and the anti-copyright attacks of Operation Payback, Anonymous had gathered a great many followers and fans.
The Anon that was in 2010 would not survive the close of 2011. As the meaning, message, and direction of the group became harder to discern, core Anonymous members left to form their own organizations. The two most notable examples being Anon spokesperson Barrett Brown who formed Project PM and, most famously, renegade IRC moderator Ryan Cleary who formed Lulz Security. A number of large scale arrests around the world would further thin the ranks. In addition to losing key members of the movement, Anonymous is now burdened with number of smaller hacktivist groups operating independently under the name Anonymous. By the end of the year, we would have back-to-back toothless threats from Anonymous in the form of an aborted operation against the Mexican drug cartel and the bizarre promise to "kill" Facebook on November 5th.
3) Duke Nukem Forever
After 14 years in development, untold vaporware jokes, and a bushel of Internet flame wars involving outspoken game developer George Broussard, Duke Nukem Forever was finally released to nearly universal disgust. Following the closure of once renowned development house 3D Realms, former DNF dev and current front man of Gearbox Software Randy Pitchford dug up the incomplete corpse of the macho man, stitched it back together, and released this gaming turkey to critics hungry for blood and desperate to justify a decade and a half of jokes. It is a sure fire bet for worst game of the year, not explicitly due to the quality of the product, but rather the fact it never had a snowball’s chance of living up to the generation of promises its creators made. Schizophrenic, poorly paced, anachronistic, and embarrassing juvenile, the shambling Frankenstein that is Duke Nukem Forever is a reminder to both creators and consumers that, sometimes, you just need to let go.
2) Any Tablet Not Named iPad
It seems anyone with the ability to manufacture a device with an LCD screen launched a tablet in the past two years. By mid-2011 it became apparent that these manufacturers had no idea what they were doing. The problems with the non-Apple tablet market were varied. 2010’s cheap Android tablets were many consumers first, bitter taste of the gadgets. Unresponsive or overly modified operating systems affected hands on demos. Starting price points were equal or higher than the current market leader. Advertising campaigns were non-existent or haphazardly thrown together seemingly without thought to the device’s use, or market. Finally, the sheer number of Android tablets caused reviewers to become overly picky about every minute detail and continually evangelize the “next great tablet” being hyped for imminent release. The closing months of 2011, we now see rows of also-ran tablets lining retail displays with price tags nearly half of what they originally cost. Worse, Apple is now winning patent cases against tablet manufacturers, banning rival products from sale.
While the HP Touchpad garnered the wealth of this year’s news due to the $99 “fire sale” clearance, perhaps the best example of 3rd party tablet horror came in the form of RIM’s Blackberry Playbook. The Playbook is the very model of a reactionary product thrown together without thought. Bewilderingly, the device failed to properly integrate the only software RIM was known for: Blackberry Messenger and email. The press were so ill informed and confused by the lead-up to launch that many wondered if the tablet required a connection to a Blackberry phone to function at all even after the release of the device. The trend continues to this day, with critics lamenting the launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet as being exactly what it’s tech specs promised: Another cheap, barely acceptable v2 Android tablet just like the ones from late 2010.
NPD data shows that sales of ALL non-iPad tablets for January thru October of 2011 totaled 1.2 million. 17% of these were the discontinued HP Touchpad. In comparison, the iPad 2 sold nearly 1 million in its first weekend.
Oh, goodness, where to start…
The obvious place would be the hack of the Playstation Network. The theft of 77 million user’s account credentials, personal details, and credit card information was seemingly child’s play to hackers. Even more shocking than the scale of the attack was the lax security measures taken by the electronics giant whose customer data was not encrypted and systems unprotected by even the most basic firewall. Dozens of Sony and Sony affiliated websites around the world would be attacked for months to come.
The PSN hack was hardly the only bit of bad press Sony has had to weather this year. Continuing a tradition of attacking customers, Sony was taking fire for suing end users who created modifications to products they had purchased. Further incensing the matter was Sony’s petitioning the courts for anyone even remotely connected to the issue, such as the IP address of YouTube viewers.
Even Sony’s hardware lineup for 2011 is full of ridiculous blunders. At the exact time gadget manufacturers were waking up to the fact that chasing New Shiny Tablet Market wasn’t as easy as it looked, Sony released TWO Android v3 tabs mere months before the launch of the new version 4 of Android. The PlayStation 3D Display, a “low cost” $500 3D TV aimed at college students, eschews basic television features such as a TV tuner or remote control. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play “PlayStation phone”, failed to capture the imagination of the masses. Finally, we have Sony’s upcoming handheld gaming device, PlayStation Vita, missing the holiday shopping season everywhere except Japan in addition to being introduced introduced into a market where even leading force Nintendo has failed to top kids’ Christmas lists.