Top IT Turkeys of 2008

Not Sarah Palin!

  • Five years ago, Negotiated Data Solutions, or N-Data, obtained the patents related to Ethernet autonegotiation. It then proceeded to squeeze Ethernet hardware companies for huge licensing payments. The problem was that the original patent-holder had already struck a deal with the IEEE many years before for much smaller payments. Luckily for the network hardware industry, the FTC earlier this year ruled that consumers would be hurt by N-Data and reached a deal with the company. Still, N-Data was back in the news later in the year, this time over patents related to USB and High Definition Audio.

  • Applications using cloud computing are great - until it rains. Even big-time players like Google and Amazon have had occasional problems this year with availability. When Gmail goes down for hours on end, as it did multiple times this year, a lot of people are affected. Same thing goes for Amazon's S3 storage service.

  • Comcast got in hot water when the US FCC ordered the service provider to stop interfering with peer-to-peer traffic on its broadband network, saying it was being "invasive." Comcast was then reported to be looking into slowing traffic for its heaviest users during times of congestion, a move that some called counter-intuitive. And then Comcast said it would put a bandwidth usage cap on all users, which apparently it had been doing all along. Some observers saw this as anticompetitive behavior. At minimum, the whole episode was a PR nightmare.

  • This year, City of San Francisco network administrator Terry Childs allegedly reset administrative passwords on the city's switches and routers and refused to hand them over. The city found itself locked out of its own network. It took an intervention by the mayor to get back in, and the city expects costs to be about US$1 million. One could argue that the real turkey is the City of San Francisco, which established in Childs a "single point of failure."

  • Did anyone really expect the CAN-SPAM Act to be anything more than a clever acronym? Though there have been high-profile prosecutions, after five years, spam volume has actually grown by an order of magnitude. Some of the most effective attacks on spam have come from the Internet community itself. But those efforts won't be enough and the US federal government needs to be more aggressive on this front.

  • Some Google engineers broke away to found their own search-engine startup, called Cuil, which got hyped way too much and of course was unable to live up to expectations. When the site went live, people complained of performance and availability problems and the quality of its search results was called "dismal." Even the name was ripped apart by critics.

  • Did we miss any obvious turkeys (again, besides Sarah Palin)? We want to hear from you. Add your nominations to the comments.

  • In what is becoming an annual tradition, we are naming the top IT turkeys of the year. This year, we had several nominations for VP candidate Sarah Palin, but except for one notable hiccup, it would be hard to call her a turkey of the IT variety. And we should also note that columnist Mark Gibbs has his own idea about the perfect IT turkey: American Express. With all that said, let's take a peek at this year's list.

  • Sprint had a hard time holding on to its customers in 2008. Customer satisfaction rates kept dropping despite efforts to turn them around. The company lost 1.1 million wireless subscribers in the first quarter, 900,000 in the second quarter, and 1.3 million in the third quarter, earning Sprint a place among our five tech companies that could use a bailout.

  • By the time Nortel laid off 1,300 employees and restructured the company amid mounting losses in November, it was regarded as too little, too late. Observers say it looks like Nortel is trying to break itself into pieces, but they fear the company might not be really committed to the idea. Nortel has been trying to sell off one of its business units, but it waited too long on that move, too - putting the unit up for sale right before the economic goo really hit the fan. Financial analysts are skeptical of Nortel's future, with one analyst even posting a target share price that resembles a goose egg - or perhaps a turkey egg.

  • Microsoft certainly created quite a buzz when it was discovered that the company had hired comedian Jerry Seinfeld to the tune of US$10 million to participate in its ad campaign. Now, if you're going to hire A-list talent and spend that kind of money, you had better deliver. Instead, viewers found the first ad, which also starred Bill Gates, a) confusing and b) not funny. The second ad wasn't much better, and the campaign was scuttled not long after. (By the way, Microsoft made this list in 2006 and 2007 as well.)

  • Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang was one of the biggest opponents to Microsoft's proposed buyout of Yahoo - a buyout offer that seems pretty darn sweet in retrospect. Microsoft had offered US$33 a share earlier this year, but Yahoo stonewalled, Microsoft stopped trying and Yahoo shareholders were upset. Yang tried to bring Microsoft back to the table in November, but Microsoft didn't bite. With Yahoo stock at US$11 a share, Yang stepped down as CEO, but will retain his title as Chief, Chief Yahoo.

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