The 11 stupidest moments in tech for 2008

Rumours of Steve's Death, a Wikipedia Love Story, Cuil and more.

Tech is overflowing with creative and hypermotivated people who do a lot of pretty incredible things. But they can be counted on to do some pretty silly things, too--which is lucky for us, since high-profile pratfalls are part of what makes this industry fun to watch. Certainly 2008 had no shortage of silly goings-on. Caught up in the Christmas spirit (and spirits), I'll toast 11 of my favorite flights of industry foolishness from the past year, and match each with a fresh Brandy and Egg Nog. So this list is sure to get more insightful and coherent as we go along.

Microsoft Advertising: Down the Rabbit Hole

I think Microsoft's marketing and advertising people took a vow last New Year's Eve to spend all of 2008 on acid. First the "Mojave" campaign, in which the company introduced people to the coolest parts of Vista under a different name ("Mojave") and recorded the results (people liked the Mojave demo). Then the publicity trust enlisted Jerry Seinfeld to star in a series of truly strange commercials that had almost nothing to do with computers or anything else. I admit to enjoying them (exactly for their weirdness), but Microsoft clipped short its arrangement with Seinfeld after making only two spots. (Seinfeld earned $10 million for his efforts.)

The company's next big thing was the "I'm a PC" campaign, whose main message seems to be "See, really hip, creative people who do wacky things for a living use PCs, too, not just Apples." Campaign cost: $300 million. All of these ads are defenses against Apple's gains toward winning the hearts and minds of the computer-buying public, though Microsoft still controls a huge share of the consumer OS market, and an even greater share of the business market. Hey Microsoft: Spend 2009 sober; take your massive advertising budget and use it to hire the software design people you need to bring your OS back to the top of the heap.

Rumours of Steve's Death...

On October 3, some genius started a bogus rumour on the micro-blogging site Twitter that Apple's Steve Jobs had suffered a severe heart attack and had been rushed to a hospital. The "news" spread like wildfire on Twitter and elsewhere, bringing panic to many in the tech industry, and causing Apple stock to take a dive before quickly recovering. All in all, it was a bad day for "citizen journalism."

'New Facebook' Angers Many, No 'Facebook Classic' in Sight

Social networking site Facebook got many of its members' undies in a twist earlier this year when it revamped the design of its front page. Numerous groups with cheery names like "New Facebook Blows" sprang up almost overnight, and the biggest of these, "Petition Against the 'New Facebook'," attracted more than a million members.

With the new design, users have to click a couple of times to get to their beloved Facebook apps. The old design had all of the apps listed in a prominent vertical menu on the home page. For a while Facebookers could choose the design they preferred, but the service eventually deactivated the old version.

"The new design is different, and we understand that some people will be uncomfortable with the changes," Facebook's Mark Slee announced in the site's official blog. "But over time, we think people will appreciate the advantages of the new design and the new features it offers."

Truth be told, the new Facebook looks cleaner and more usable now than it did before. Clearly Facebook intends to be more about communication between members, and not so much about accessorizing a personal profile page with messy and browser crashing trinkets à la MySpace.

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Mark Sullivan

PC World

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