Memeburn’s tech losers of 2010: Google, Yahoo, netbooks, paywalls

Most of the widely publicised failures of the year have happened to the most successful companies — organisations that can easily weather experimental projects or changes. They are able to bounce back, even after massive setbacks because of their “failing forward” approaches: Risk management, PR, and monetary reserves set aside for research and development. They dare to break new ground, and provide valuable insight to entrepreneurs who were mulling similar experimental projects.

In part two of our series (read Part one: Tech winners here), we take a look at some of the less successful developments in the tech world during 2010.

1. HP and Oracle

HP is considered to be the world’s second largest technology company. For a company with such distinction, the departure of CEO Mark Hurd was an enormous embarrassment. The days following Hurd’s ousting turned into tabloid fodder as rumours of expense report misappropriation and marital infidelity surfaced. This was followed by the way in which HP’s board handled Hurd’s severance package, and Larry Ellison’s appointment of Hurd as Oracle’s co-president, after lambasting HP’s board for Hurd’s ousting and declaring it virtually impossible for Oracle to co-operate with HP.

The cherry on the cake was Ellison’s comments on the appointment of HP’s new CEO Leo Apotheker: “HP had several good internal candidates, but instead, they pick a guy who was recently fired because he did such a bad job of running SAP.”

2. Gawker Media

It hasn’t been a particularly good year for Gawker media. First gadget hub Gizmodo was banned from Apple events after the iPhone 4 debacle, and then the hacker group Gnosis gained access to more than 1.3-million user names and passwords from popular Gawker sites such as Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel and Kotaku. Gawker released a statement saying it was “deeply embarrassed” by the breach.

3. Microsoft Kin

Microsoft’s social media phone experiment, the Kin, was a tale of woe. Launched on April 12th, then discontinued 48 days later with its cloud service “Kin Studio” remaining intact, it was half-heartedly resurrected on the 18th November with a lower price point before being finally killed off on the 31st of January 2011 in conjunction with Kin Studio. This was a real low point in an otherwise good year for Microsoft.

4. Google

Not everything went Google’s way this year. Shortly after Google TV launched this year, television networks ABC, CBS and NBC shielded websites streaming to Google TV devices, citing concerns that the service did not adequately protect its programming from piracy. Buzz, Google’s answer to Twitter floundered after lukewarm reception and a privacy blunder, and Wave, Google’s real-time collaboration experiment was cancelled, leading to its creator, Lars Rasmussen taking up a position at Facebook.

5. Amazon

When its own servers came under attack following the release of documents regarding American foreign policy, WikiLeaks moved parts of its hosted content to Amazon’s Web Services. Shortly thereafter, Amazon pulled the plug on WikiLeaks, disconnecting it from its EC2 service following pressure from the US government. Amazon’s actions were deemed cowardly and sparked outrage among tech savvy consumers, who threatened a boycott as Amazon were not violating any laws by hosting WikiLeaks content.

6. 3DTV

3DTV struggled to gain traction as quality 3D content was scarce and consumers appeared unwilling to pay a premium for 3DTV sets in 2010. As the technology matures, more content becomes available and prices drop for 3D television sets in 2011, there might be hope for this technology yet. But right now, it’s dead in the water.

7. Netbooks

The impact of Apple’s iPad sent shockwaves through the netbook market, with sales declining an estimated 30%.

8. Android Tablets

Google famously renounced its support for Android tablets by saying that Android was never intended to be a tablet operating system. The market struggled to produce any compelling competition for the iPad until the introduction of the Galaxy Tab which managed to sell a million units within 3 months of its launch. The Android tablet market looks set to grow in 2011 however, with Google’s official tablet operating system called Honeycomb, waiting in the wings.

9. Social Media

Ping, Apple’s “social network for music”, got off to a slow start, MySpace and Digg struggled to stay relevant, Buzz and Wave flailed, Paul Chambers’s post on Twitter lead to his arrest, and Facebook’s continued disregard for privacy let to a widely publicised, but not very effective “Quit Facebook Day“, another epic fail of 2010.

10. Nintendo

Nintendo suffered its first financial loss in seven years. The Wii lost all sense of momentum, in part due to market saturation, but also due to stiff competition from Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move.

11. China and Google

China’s continued censorship of the internet, behind the Great Firewall of China reached boiling point after it threatened to ban Google’s services after Google decided to lift censorship of its search results. What followed was a year of cyber-attacks, rerouting of traffic and intermittent service and, ultimately, the withdrawal of Google, all while Chinese internet users looked on helplessly.

12. Yahoo

Yahoo continued to stuggle under CEO Carol Bartz’s leadership, leading to layoffs in late 2010, and the cancellation of services such as Altavista and Delicious.

13. Paywalls and magazines

With magazine sales declining and consumers turning to the web, publishers continued to search for ways to monetise content published online. Creating paywalls, and charging for content on a subscription basis, does not seem to be the answer as was evident with Rubert Murdoch’s struggling attempt to create a paywall for the UK newspaper “The Times”. It was widely publicised that The Times has lost 4-million readers to its paywall experiment.

14. Digital Economy Act 2010

The Act attempted to battle the downloading of copyrighted material by forcing ISPs to disconnect their infringing customers from the internet. There have been widespread objections as studies found that the most avid downloaders are also the most avid buyers and those who download most avidly will simply change tactics.

Part One: Tech winners of 2010



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