Internet folk thrive on controversy, they just can’t help themselves. Even in a medium that is based on the easier access to facts imaginable, a good controversy will trump any and all facts and logic, leaving a trail of destruction and carnage in their wake. Oddly enough, the geekiest and most fact based group of people, the tech folk, seem to have about as much love of controversy as the Weekly World News set does with celebrities.
This year, we here at Dead Tree Media saw so much carnage on the tech front, that we decided to write our first ever “yearend list” that highlights not only the biggest controversies, but those that actually turned out to be nothing once the facts came to the surface (yet, are still constantly used in jokes on Nerve… sorry Netflix).
#5. The Apple iPhone 5… Sorry, 4S
The folks over at Mashable and TechCrunch love a good Apple rumor. Even if they have absolutely no factual backup, they will let fly a collection of Apple myths and pose it as a full-fledged, fact-checked story that came right from the cold, dead lips of Steve Jobs himself. This year, it was all about the launch of the latest incarnation of the iPhone, which turned out to be called the iPhone 4S, much to the chagrin of those that swore it was going to be the iPhone 5.
The only problem… nobody actually knew what the difference between and iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 would actually be in the first place.
You see, all the Apple lovers out there (admission, I actually own an iPhone 4S) had been carefully watching all the rumors about the feature set of the next iPhone, wondering which features would make the cut and which would not, and all the while, calling it an iPhone 5, because, well hell, it was up to them to name another company’s product. Then, like a kid that gets dumped just before the prom, Apple decides that the feature set included in this update isn’t worthy of a full incremental update and ended up calling it the iPhone 4S, with the S standing for “speed” just like last time they did this with the iPhone 3GS.
The crazy thing… some people actually decided that they weren’t going to get the latest model because it wasn’t an iPhone 5. Wait… what? These idiots didn’t even know what an iPhone 5 is, yet they swore that this piece of vapor hardware is bound to be better than the model that actually exists. Ben Parr of Mashable and a bunch of other reporters actually said out loud during the press conference, “Wow, I was hoping it was the iPhone 5,” after the name was announced… before the list of features was even revealed.
I know you guys are all about the next big shiny thing, but could you at least wait for it to exist? No wonder the people over at Samsung made fun of you in their commercials.
Some tech controversies are so hot that they actually creep over into the non-tech world and get picked up by the regular media. Such was the case when it was discovered that if you tell the virtual assistant built into the iPhone 4S, Siri, that you want to get an abortion in the New York area, she suddenly can’t find any abortion clinics near your location. Not only did the media lose their shit over this one, but the ultra-religious, pro-life groups claimed it as a victory, and the pro-choice groups claimed that it was right wing plot.
The only problem: Siri’s a fucking computer program, and computer programs are only as smart as the people who create them. While Siri can do some amazing stuff (seriously, it’s a mind bending piece of technology… after I picked up my iPhone 4S, I lost a week of my life talking to her, so much so, my wife thought I was having an affair), it can’t go beyond its programming. So, when you ask her for an abortion, and there are no businesses that actually use the word “abortion” in their name, she won’t make the leap and show you abortion clinics. However, if you asked her for a Planned Parenthood location, she can whip up a list in seconds flat.
The real nutty thing here… everybody should have figured this out a lot faster than they actually did. Some of the best minds in the search engine marketing business wrote articles explaining the issue to people, yet the idiots over at Fox News and even some of the smarter members of the press, kept getting it wrong, over and over again.
Folks, they are just machines… they can’t be pro or con anything, they can’t be racist, they can’t love or hate or anything else that we do. So, the next time you think your phone is out to get you, do me a favor and just turn it back in to the store, you’re clearly not intelligent enough to own such a sophisticated piece of technology.
#3. Carrier IQ is Tracking Your Every Move
Back in November of 2011, an Android developer named Trevor Eckhart, released a video on YouTube and a blog posting on his site that claimed that he had been tinkering around inside of his phone’s software and discovered that a piece of software by a company called Carrier IQ actually logs keystrokes and tracks users’ locations. Once both the tech and regular news media got a hold of this, they lost their fucking minds like they had just discovered that someone had put a chip in their head… all without asking either the mobile carriers or Carrier IQ if it was actually true.
To make matters even worse, the mobile carriers, device manufacturers, and Carrier IQ said next to nothing after the story broke and ended up looking like they had actually been caught doing something. Eventually, when sites like Mashable wouldn’t shut up about it, they started to come forward to finally clear the whole mess up. Some of them plainly said that, no that’s not what that software does; while they do use it to improve the quality of their service, they aren’t tracking your keystrokes or location. A few came out and flat out denied that they used Carrier IQ at all, while others, went a bit extreme and said that they would stop using Carrier IQ immediately. Poor Carrier IQ came out and made it as clear as possible, over and over again, that they weren’t up to anything, but people still kept losing their shit like, to the point where Congress was asking for them to drop by for a chat.
Here’s the thing folks… tech companies like Carrier IQ or any other company that collects data on usage habits, purchasing habits, or whatever, doesn’t give a rats ass about you. In fact, they don’t even know who you are. And that’s on purpose, because of crazy shit like these trumped up charges against them. The usage patterns of one user are worthless; however, when you put them all together in one big pile, they are a goldmine of information that allows engineers and other analytics geeks to figure out how to improve things beyond your wildest dreams. Before they could do this, they would just base your satisfaction on surveys that only the feeble minded had time to answer, so the shit that was really bugging the paying customers, would never get solved. Now things get fixed so fast, people actually complain about how often their software updates instead of thanking the developers for handling bugs so rapidly.
Sorry people, Carrier IQ and all the other tech companies don’t know who you are and they prefer it that way.
#2. Netflix Raises Its Prices and Tries to Start a New Company, Quickster
I have to tell you right up front, I friggin’ love Netflix. Even back when it was all about DVDs, I thought the idea was the best thing since sliced bread. As someone who never had time to hang out in the video store on a Friday night, I loved the fact that freshly baked DVDs would arrive in my mailbox each week. Then, when they introduced streaming over the computer or Xbox or PS3 or a crapload of other devices, I about lost my mind. This was science fiction come to life… the ability to watch movies instantly over a dozen different devices was the stuff of legend and frankly, the world should all bow down and kiss Netflix’s bright red ass for figuring out how to do this.
One of the most amazing things about the streaming service was that it was included with your regular DVD subscription service, which was nice. Occasionally, when you were in the gap between the physical discs arriving at your door, you could go back and catch up on some old TV or some of the less popular titles. However, over the summer of 2011, now that everybody was comfortable with using streaming and completely addicted to its charms, Netflix decided to actually start charging people for something it had been giving away for free.
Let’s look at that again… Netflix, a company who is in the business of making money, had been giving their customers something for free, and then started charging for it when they decided the time was right. Notice I didn’t say they raised their prices, because they didn’t. Streaming video actually costs Netflix a lot of money to provide to its customers… a lot, a lot. If you somehow thought that they were getting the use of servers, internet lines, engineers, and a boat load of other things necessary to make streaming work for free, then I’ll just say it… you’re a fucking moron.
Netflix deciding to charge for something that they were losing money on isn’t a crime… it’s just a good business decision. I know, we all love to get shit for free, but if everybody did that, then we wouldn’t have anything left. Plus, it’s not like they forced you to take shit you didn’t want. If you wanted to just use the streaming service, you could do that. If you just wanted to do DVDs, you could do that, too. If you wanted both, then you were going to have to pay for both. Crazy, I know.
To confuse things further, Netflix decided to split off its physical DVD business into another company, called Quickster. It was a fairly simply concept really, Netflix was for streaming movies, and Quickster was for old school DVDs. While I never saw an article putting it this way, to me, this tacftic seemed like a way for the company to start the process of phasing out its DVD business, which was still making them money, but was more expensive and less profitable than the streaming business, plus, DVDs are bound to die out soon enough anyway (Blu-Rays are the last gasp of a dying industry, trust me). Think about it, Quickster could deal with all of the customers who still wanted DVDs, and when the time came for DVDs to go away, they could just shut the company down, while Netflix, which is now just doing streaming, was still running strong.
Did Netflix actually raise prices for its service? Nope. But, that didn’t matter, because every blog known to man took the idea of the change in pricing and ran with it, making Netflix look like a bunch of evil, money grubbing assholes. Then, with the launch of Quickster, people just thought that the people running the show had lost their minds. As you can imagine, I really felt bad for Netflix because in reality, the only thing they did wrong here was not handle their public relations properly.
Both the press and users claimed that Netflix wasn’t being transparent (which, by the way, they don’t have to be… it’s their company, if they want to make changes, they can) and were demanding the head of the CEO on a platter. In the wake of all the craziness, over 800,000 users left the service; however, if you think about it, these were probably people that were just upset that they were getting charged for something they once got for free, not the truly hardcore customers that loved the service no matter what. As a bonus, near the end of the year, some of the consumer satisfaction surveys came out stating that Netflix had lost some of its customer love, even though nothing about the service had actually changed.
People, get over yourselves; Netflix is in the business to make money and if you don’t want to pay for the service, then you don’t get to keep using the service. It’s just that simple. No great crime has been cast upon you; you’re just a pack of cheap bastards.
#1. Google is Out to Get Me and a Shitload of Other Crimes
Here on the cusp of 2012, you should know that Google is now a full-fledged, behemoth of a company. The goody two shoes, “Do No Harm” company that was born in a computer science lab has grown up into a good, old fashioned American company that employs thousands of people and makes billions of dollars. And, despite what you think, they are far from perfect… they fuck up like any other company out there and, you know what, we all need to stop taking it so personally.
Google was busy in 2011. They released a ton of new features, made a bunch of updates to their search algorithms, rolled out countless new products, bought dozens of startups, and pissed off a ton of people, all while smiling on their way to the bank. Some might think the pissing people off thing should make them feel bad or that someone should do something about that, but the thing is, they really don’t effing care anymore.
And frankly, I don’t blame them. Why, because they’re not in this business to make friends, they’re here to make money… a lot of money. If you don’t like the way Google does business, then please, go use some other product and shut the fuck up about it all… trust me, they won’t miss you in the slightest. For every one of you upright, controversy starved, raving lunatics that things that Google is out to take over the world, there are ten new users from kids in a classroom to your great aunt Matilda who used Google to find something today.
Plus, let’s just say it… you folks that think Google is out to rule the world, or that it favors the rich or big business, or that it’s out to sell your identity to the highest bidder, or whatever street corner lunatic theory you can come up with this week, you all are fucking crazy. Google has become so big, it has the same PR problems of the government; it’s never just the somebody screwed up, it’s that something evil is afoot and we should all fear for our lives.
My theory about life is this: there are two reasons why bad things happen to good people; either it’s because of something evil, or because of something stupid, and 99% of the time, it’s because of something stupid. Are there, in fact, evil corporations running around or even evil workers inside of what is a mostly good company? Absolutely. But, you simply can’t just think that everything Google rolls out each week is part of some Dr. Evil style plot to empty Fort Knox.
Google, in its attempt to continue to grow its business is going to continue to try new things, to update their software, to start or retire their products, and sometimes those things are going to work, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes Google makes some really fantastic decisions that nobody ever sees and sometimes it changing things just enough for a pack of nut jobs to think that they are out to steal your grandmother’s pearls. But folks, we need to get together here and realize that, when Google fucks up, it isn’t because they are evil, but because, they are a collection of humans doing things together and, as we should all know, humans fuck up all the time.
Get over it… it’s just a search engine, not the second coming.
Happy New Year.