Welcome to CNET's 2012 Tech Turkeys, from a hyped startup that’s gone nowhere fast to a national intellectual property system that's crushing American innovation. We start you with the guys who brought us Napster so many years ago:
10. Sean Parker's AirTime
We promised ourselves we wouldn't start this with a "You know what’s cool?" joke about Sean Parker's dismally disappointing AirTime. But we admit to that being painfully difficult. AirTime, in case you forgot, and let's face it, most people already have, was Parker and Shawn Fanning's PG-rated answer to Chatroulette, the chat service.
AirTime opened in June with a celebrity-infused, but buggy, press conference demonstration, with big names such as Jim Carrey and Alicia Keys. It was a classic, how-these-things-work-these-days moment for tech: lots of sizzle but not a whole lot of steak. (Insert your own metaphor: more smoke than fire, more bark than bite, all hat and no cattle, etc.).
And then very few people used AirTime. Parker said at the D conference in October that his site had just 10,000 active users. Fanning no longer has a day-to-day role in the company, and Parker is terribly busy serving on six different boards. Still, he assured his audience that Airtime will be "transforming communications."
All is not well on the virtual farm. There have been layoffs, a collapsing stock price, and just about everything that could go wrong at a young company after it's gone public.
But perhaps the most shocking development at the San Francisco maker of FarmVille and other games is the volume of executives heading out the door. Since August, the chief revenue officer, chief infrastructure officer, chief operating officer, and chief creative officer have all left the company, along with the treasurer, and general managers of CityVille and Mafia Wars 2. This, we assure you, is only a partial list.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Zynga's share price has dropped more than 75 percent since it went public last December. The good news for the executives leaving Zynga is they appear to be heading to greener pastures at companies like Facebook and Twitter. The bad news for the rank-and-file is there doesn't seem to be much reason to hope for a turnaround.
Mike Daisey was a complicated figure for the tech industry in 2012. On one hand, he forced us to pay attention to working conditions at the sprawling contracting manufacturing plants in China. On the other hand, he made stuff up, offering heartbreaking stories of suffering that simply weren’t true.
Perhaps you can get away with embellishments in the theater, where Daisey makes a living, but his mistake was to air those same prevarications on respected radio show "This American Life." Daisey's reappearance on the show and his subsequent roasting by clearly peeved host Ira Glass was one of the most cringe-worthy moments of American media, right up there with Dan Rather's "Courage" sign-off and Sarah Palin's fear of Vladimir Putin rearing his head into American airspace.
And there's this: Daisey's exaggerations were a disservice to the issue to which he was drawing attention, and forced real journalists to work twice as hard to convince their readers of their believability.
What should have been the crowning achievement for controversial Microsoft executive Steven Sinofksy turned out to be his swan song.
Sinofsky has a reputation for being hard-headed and for getting things done. He was the exec who got the Windows franchise back on track and who drove the development of the radically different Windows 8. Just a few weeks after the new operating system was released, Sinofsky left Microsoft.
Sinofsky and CEO Steve Ballmer agreed it was time for him to leave, but we still don't entirely know why. We assume it was not that Windows 8 was so awesome he had nothing left to prove, and more like Windows 8 was finally out the door and Ballmer didn't want to have to deal with Sinofsky anymore.
In case you're counting, that's three PC operating systems in five years for Microsoft and two executives in charge of said operating systems who left the company not long after they were released. Tough gig.
In hindsight, the expectations for Facebook's initial public offering were more than out of this world: They were out of this world, beyond the solar system, and somewhere in deep space we won't be visiting until someone invents the warp drive.
Just a quick recap: Shortly after Facebook's stock began trading on May 18 at $42.05, shares tumbled to their $38 offering price. Shares dropped all the way to $17.55 before settling where they are now at about $23 per share.
There were also trading glitches at Nasdaq, accusations of unfair practices by the big banking houses that helped Facebook go public, bankers insulted by Mark Zuckberg's casual style, lots and lots of all-day live blogs on tech sites including this one, breathless CNBC coverage (unlike the normally calm and measured CNBC coverage) money lost (but a whole lot made at Facebook and by its early investors), and the requisite lawsuits that followed.
The good news is you can still "poke" someone on Facebook. That seems important, too.
Let’s face it, many us have done it: That slight fudge to the resume, that miserable, soul-sucking job you had for four months when you were 22 that seems to disappear from the work history as the decades pass.
But what most of us haven't done is add big credentials like, oh, college degrees. That brings us to Scott Thompson, the briefest of Yahoo CEOs in a long line of brief Yahoo CEOs. Thompson claimed he has a computer science degree when he only had an accounting degree. Whoops. Already an unpopular figure in Silicon Valley because he had picked a patent fight with Facebook, Thompson resigned under pressure.
But there was a silver lining to l'affaire Thompson for Yahoo. His departure cleared the way to hire Google's Marissa Mayer, long considered one of the brightest execs in the Valley and a strong candidate to one day lead her own company. And she really does have a computer science degree.
Oh, RIM, you're killing us. We hoped you could get back on track this year, we really did. But we got tired of hiding our BlackBerrys in public, lest we be labeled old farts. Still, we believed in your tactile keyboards and said great apps really weren't that important. What really mattered was a phone and e-mail and security and, oh, who the hell are we kidding?
We gave up on you when you -- yet again -- delayed BlackBerry 10. Now it's due in January. You know, right after the Christmas season -- that way it won't be a gift option (and what gadget fan doesn't want a BlackBerry under the Christmas tree?). We gave up on you when our security-conscious IT administrators gave up on you and started welcoming iPhones and Android phones into the network. And when government agencies even started talking about switching off BlackBerry, we decided enough was enough.
We wish you well with the next release, we really do. But it's too late for most of us. We've made the switch. We're locked into contracts. We've moved on. Good luck.
Nokia confirmed for the tech press what many of us have wondered for years: Just how many of these awesome on-stage demonstrations are a bunch of baloney? And has Apple really been hiring tribute bands and not mega-stars like Tony Bennett for its product launches?
We kid about Tony Bennett (we hope), but Nokia's demo fakery really happened. In September, Nokia showed off its Windows phone 8 devices, particularly the Lumia 920 and its optical image stabilization (OIS). They showed a promotional video comparing a phone with OIS to one without OIS and -- guess what? -- OIS won. We know, go figure!
But there was a catch: Some eagle-eyed writers at The Verge noticed an odd reflection in the clip, forcing Nokia to admit that the OIS video was actually shot by a normal camera. Nokia also admitted to using still images from that faked video, promised an ethics probe to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again, and the rest of us went back to forgetting that Nokia was still making smartphones.
Apple makes products that just work...unless they don’t.
Apple completely revamped its mapping software to replace Google's maps in iOS 6. Why? Because they really, really dislike Google, that's why. But it turns out that replacing a complicated service that's taken years to develop isn't the easiest thing to do, even for Apple. Sure, the new Apple Maps looked great; many reviewers loved it.
But there was just one problem: Customers (and developers figured it out months earlier) found the Maps application was filled with errors. And even with the new features like 3D imagery and spoken turn-by-turn directions, Apple's Maps was missing what many viewed as key features like public transit data and Google's Street View.
To his credit, Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted the software "fell short" and said it would be fixed. Meanwhile, in other iPhone peeves, we are still waiting for Siri to properly call us "rock god."
True story: Henry Ford had go to court in a fight with the owners of a patent that could have blocked the sale of the mass-produced Ford cars. We mention this now to point out that patent law in the U.S. has always been contentious, meant to reward entrepreneurs but often used instead by entrenched powers to block innovation.
But 2012 was the year "patent system" became a cuss word in tech, right up there with "cash bar" and "Bravo reality shows about Silicon Valley." Giant patent holding companies like Intellectual Ventures looked to cash in on tens of thousands of companies, while smaller "patent trolls" sent nastygrams to everyone from the NBA to The New York Times demanding money from so-obvious-they-should-have-a-laugh-track patents granted years ago.
Meanwhile, the big guys spent billions gobbling up patent portfolios while asking for billions in damages in the courtroom. Apple vs. Samsung forced America to learn you could, in fact, patent a pinch gesture (so, next time you pinch someone, be careful!). What's more, it made Americans learn that having the best lawyers is just as important as having the best product.
Too cynical? Maybe, but when you put a pinch of salt on your turkey this holiday and the lawyers show up with a cease-and-desist order, don’t say we didn't warn you.