Tech Turkeys of 2009

Well, here it is, the beginning of a short holiday week. And if you’re like most, you’re probably not going to be doing all that much of anything this week, as clients and others put off meetings until after the Thanksgiving holiday. On the other hand, you may be working your butt off trying to keep your job during a recession. Either way, you’re probably in need of a break.

Me too.

So, in honor of decreasing productivity, increasing slack, and looking forward to Thursday’s annual gobbler-fest, I present to you the top tech turkeys of 2009 (in no particular order):

  1. AT&T, for suing Verizon over its “There’s a map for that” ad campaign. Ever heard of the Streisand effect, AT&T? Just because the truth hurts doesn’t mean that you have the right to try to squash it. Your coverage sucks. We all know it. Why not spend some of those legal fees trying to fix your network?
  2. Walmart, for mistraining its in-store photo employees to think that they’re not allowed to reprint 50-year-old photos because of “copyright issues.” Our copyright laws are bad enough as it is, and people are so misinformed that they think that “copyright is forever.” They’re even afraid to sing “Happy Birthday” for fear of getting sued. But refusing to print family photos for a funeral…well, that takes the cake.
  3., Pizza Hut,, and Continental Airlines (amongst others), for partnering with “discount clubs,” such as Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty. These services, which offer “discounts” to online shoppers in exchange for enrolling them in hard-to-cancel monthly-fee-based “clubs,” have come under scrutiny recently by Congress for shady business practices, according to this report in the LA Times. Thank goodness. Those of us who work in the legit world of online advertising have a tough enough time building loyalty and trust in our customers without having major brands tricking their customers. Here’s a hint, folks: scamming people might work on a short-term basis, but in the long run, it just ticks people off and damages your brand.
  4. Rupert Murdoch, for his idiotic plan to block Google from indexing his news sites. Go ahead and find out how many people read your online publications when they can’t find them in Google! Is it any wonder that the newspaper industry is failing with ideas like this? Here’s a clue: The New York Times saw its readership jump from 12 million to 20 million per day when it did away with its subscription model.
  5. Apple, for filing a consumer-unfriendly patent — an OS-related technology that forces users to answer questions about ads in order to keep using their computers. There’s been enough research at this point that proves that people hate intrusive advertising, and enough failed attempts at “we’ll give you free hardware in exchange for watching ads” business models to prove that stuff like this won’t fly with consumers.
  6. Sony and the MPAA, for shutting down free municipal Wi-Fi in a small town because one person downloaded one film. If “piracy” is such a horrible problem, why do industry revenues continue to go up? Someday the MPAA will figure out that its old business model won’t work anymore and that its arguments about why digital downloads are bad and why piracy is killing its business are a bunch of baloney. Here’s a clue for those of you in the industry who are trying to cling to the old ways: check out Blockbuster’s stock price and then go check out how Netflix is doing.
  7. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, for wanting to break our DVRs so that it can chuck more ads at us. When are you people going to learn? Consumers are used to (and demand) control over their media. Trying to take that control away is a bad idea. Why not spend some of that lobbying and legal cash trying to figure out how to create a business model that works in the digital age?
  8. Digimarc and other patent-crazy companies, who squash innovation by suing startups that are smart and agile enough to come up with good ideas. If you haven’t heard, Digimarc is suing popular iPhone music-identifying service, Shazam. Ugh. Digimarc doesn’t even sell anything remotely close to what Shazam’s doing. It’s almost as dumb as the lawsuit targeted at Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and others for appearing “larger than life” on giant screens during their performances. Um…yeah.

I know there are more, but that’s enough for now. Never underestimate the stupidity of big companies threatened by new technologies.

However, rather than send you off for the week on a down note, I wanted to end with something positive: a big, hearty “Thank you!” to Twitter CEO Biz Stone. In a recent appearance in London, Stone recognized that “if Twitter becomes ‘annoying to users’ and that there was ‘a sense of being guided by big corporate brother,’ the company risks alienating its user base.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you…at least somebody out there gets it.

Meet Sean at SES Chicago, December 7-9, 2009 at the Hilton Chicago.

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