Home Top 10 Failures of 2009

Top 10 Failures of 2009

In our yearly wrap-ups of the best products of 2009, we cannot but notice the shadow that falls over the editorial desk.

We are chilled and saddened by the ghosts of the past year – the apps that should have been, the startups that failed to launch, the brilliant ideas that were throttled, the great minds that were fired, the tech heroes that committed tragic gaffes. But some failures were so monumental that they require specific enumeration and commentary. Here are the 10 worst tech failures of 2009.

Google Wave Sucked

This is one case where the hype was as noisy as the app – and both were deafening. We have to hand it to Google’s publicity team; we don’t know one geek who wasn’t positively salivating for a Wave invite. The ReadWriteWeb back channel was a complete melee when the first invites were rolled out to team members. But once we got there and saw the new tech tricks, like watching one another type, we started thinking about use cases. And the more we struggled to understand and use this product, the more frustrated and bored we became. Blame it on the steep learning curve. Blame it on our misunderstanding the product. Mount whatever feeble defense you like, but techies know Wave was a flop.

The TabletPads Went to the Deadpool

All we wanted was a $200-500 flat piece of glass and plastic with some fancy gizmodgery inside so we could look at the Internet from the comfort of our couches. And what did we get? Rumors, Photoshopped gadget porn, promises – lies, all lies. We’d have been better off if we’d spent those months drawing the Yahoo! home page on an Etch-A-Sketch. Although the Crunchpad has resurfaced as the JooJoo, the price has been marked up considerably, and the whole project just seems wrong to us now. Moreover, five will get you ten that Michael Arrington, father of the Crunchpad and a former attorney, is fixing to get litigious right about now, which might significantly delay the product’s appearance on the market.

Powerset Resurfaced as Bing

In 2008, Powerset was one of the stealthiest, sexiest startups on the Silicon Valley block. About five minutes after launching, Powerset got snatched up by Microsoft to the tune of $100 million. When everyone had retrieved their dentures from the ground and changed their pants, they noticed that Powerset’s ever-so-sexy tech had been folded quietly into the Borg for assimilation. And about a year later, Bing was born, reportedly from the tech that Microsoft scraped off the infant carcass of Powerset. And Bing sucked. We had such high hopes.

Twitter Failed to Innovate

While some of us had our money on a Twitter sale in 2009, others were simply waiting for the company to debut a radical, interesting, mutually beneficial revenue model. At the very least, most users were hoping that the scalability issues and downtime that made Twitter the tragic heroine of 2008 would be put to rest.

Twitter’s failures this year were less about the headlines they made than the ones they didn’t make. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Twitter didn’t capitalize on their massive adoption increase (a.k.a., their Oprahtization) and sell. Worse yet, they didn’t buy. When one recalls the purchase of Summize and then contrasts it with this year’s explosion of excellent Twitter apps, one wonders why none of these small startups or one-off side projects were acquired. Perhaps this was a case of “Hey, we can do that!” as Twitter certainly seemed intent on pilfering features (such as lists and retweets) from third-party developers. Too bad the “official” Twitter features suck a lot more than the original third-party designs.

But worst of all, we are still consistently experiencing downtime at a level that is unacceptable for any major web app. Google couldn’t get away with this kind of failure; why should Twitter be allowed to do so?

The Great Firewall of China Drama Continued and Worsened

To date, China’s “Golden Shield Project” restrictions on Internet use are throttling traffic from that country to websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Bing, and many, many more. Banned sites include news organizations that cover controversial events, pro-democracy sites and blogs, any site acknowledging the existence of Taiwan, YouTube, most blogging websites (WordPress, Blogger, etc.) and anything the government deems to be obscene or profane. In countries where creative self expression and the ability to browse, learn and make decisions independently are freedoms too often taken for granted, these restrictions are indeed unthinkable. The project began in 1998 and still made plenty of headlines this year for its renewed affronts to freedom on the Internet. For example, in June, the Chinese government announced it would be rolling out censorship software on every new computer sold in the country.

Microsoft Dumped Don Dodge

Not too long ago, we at ReadWriteWeb were shocked to learn from startup guru and longtime Microsoft ambassador Don Dodge that the Big M had given him the kiss-off. Dodge was seen by many as an intelligent, approachable personality in front of a huge, out-of-touch, unpopular brand. It was the tech industry equivalent of FOX cancelling the Simpsons. It’s been noted that Microsoft makes its paper from the enterprise, not startups, which would make Dodge a natural candidate for the chopping block. Still, the move was hugely criticized by bloggers, VCs and others. Microsoft’s PR plot thickened a few days later when Google snatched up the briefly unemployed Dodge.

Spotify Didn’t Launch in the US… Yet

It tops our list of Most Highly Anticipated Products Yankees Can’t Get Their Mitts On. Streaming music service Spotify is changing the world – with the exception of the United States. We’ve already got a crowded market of players here, including Pandora, Last.fm and Imeem. Call us greedy, but we want the new hotness that is Spotify, too.

The Web 1.0 Comeback Campaigns Were Embarrassing to Watch

Now, we at ReadWriteWeb have no desire to kick a company when it’s down, but a couple of the mastodons of the mid-nineties dotcom boom have been valiantly attempting to stage comebacks, some more successfully than others. Yahoo! did some good things for developers this year, but AOL/Aol’s rebranding was pitiful. And don’t get Dana Oshiro started on the affront to end-user dignity that is Friendster.

Oracle Acquired MySQL

Open-source geeks have been sporting metaphorical black armbands for the loss of MySQL, the world’s largest open-source database, to Oracle, the largest pay-to-play database, following that company’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems. We reported last week that MySQL usage is expected to drop by around 10 percent over the next 5 years. Here’s another handy stat: Oracle also this year raised their own prices by 40 percent. Will MySQL remain free-as-in-beer and open source? Or will it succumb to corporate lameness?

And the Worst Fail of 2009… LeapFish Made a God-Awful Promotional Video

Tonight, we dine in hell! LeapFish’s bombastic promo clip (which you have to watch in 10-second segments to avoid waves of misplaced inspiration alternating with waves of nausea) is as horrifying as the company itself is sketchy. The startup says it made $10 million before it even launched, and the CEO Ben Behrouzi is an infamous contrepreneur with a background in lead generation and threatening employees.

So, there you have it: our list of the worst tech-related disasters of 2009. What did we omit? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t hold back. Clearly, we didn’t.

And to the companies mentioned in this report: 2009 isn’t over yet. You’ve still got three weeks to make it right with end users.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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