* Top 10 Technologies That Suck (And/Or That Suck At Explaining Themselves)

Don’t be one of the sheep. Think independently about new technologies before following the herd.

My original title for this piece was “Top 10 Technologies That I Don’t Care About,” but there’s the whole issue of ending sentences with a preposition that I didn’t want to put up with. (Yes, that “with” was intentional.) But these are really technologies that I’m sick of hearing about. (Again intentional.) Technologies that have been over-hyped by their proponents. Technologies that have been under-marketed (or under-skillfully-marketed) by their owners. Technologies that fail to answer the question, “Why should I, or any new user, care about this?” Technologies that don’t know or can’t communicate their value proposition. What is the key benefit of your offering? How do you differ from the competition? What is the value of the difference? Basic marketing 101 stuff. I embrace technology, but not blindly. Don’t follow the herd. Make your own decisions. But consider all of the issues. Do you need the technology? Or do you just want it? Could you do it yourself? Or would you be better off not doing it at all? Enough rhetorical questions, on to the list. In no particular order, here are my top ten technologies that suck.

1. Gmail (http://gmail.google.com/). Google’s Gmail service is free web-based email. Google pitches the service as follows: “Gmail is an experiment in a new kind of webmail, built on the idea that you should never have to delete mail and you should always be able to find the message you want.” The service is free, but you have to agree to Google’s terms and conditions. Your personal data lives on Google’s servers, where Google or subpoena-armed (subpoena optional these days) government entities may be able to access your data with or without your permission. Personally, I think that any lawyer using webmail such as Gmail is committing malpractice, and I think that anyone who trusts Google with their personal data is making a big mistake. Not only should you not keep all email (90% of it is spam), but you should periodically purge old email. Just because you can keep something doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes less is more. Every year, I purge financial records that are more than 10 years old, and I do the same for email and computer files. After 10 years, you gain a perspective about what is worth saving and what is not. Quality of data matters much more than quantity.

2. Bluetooth (http://www.bluetooth.com/). Bluetooth is a short range wireless connectivity standard. So you can … umm … to help you with … ahh. Whatever. Does anybody care about Bluetooth? Oh wait, I can use a Bluetooth-enabled wireless keyboard so that I can sit far away (well, not too far away) from my computer. But now I can’t see the screen. If I never hear the word “Bluetooth” again in advertisements for silly products, it will be too soon.

3. FeedBurner (http://www.feedburner.com/). You have to dig around on FeedBurner’s site to find their value proposition. And if you find it, it is not stated in a way that is meaningful to new users. Feedburner (sort of) pitches its service as follows: “FeedBurner helps bloggers, podcasters and commercial publishers get more value from the content they create. Our advanced feed management technology deftly delivers subscription services for publishers large and small so they can grow their reach, measure their audience and monetize their content.” What this means is that Feedburner will host your RSS or Atom feed and add bells and whistles to it. Do you remember the mid-1990s when lots of companies were selling personalized web pages (such as http://www.example.com/erikjheels.html) until people smartened up and realized they could get their own domain names and their own websites? That’s what Feedburner sounds like to me. An RSS (or Atom) feed is one or more files that are updated on a publisher’s website and are designed to be viewed or read in something other than a traditional web browser. Such as a desktop or web-based reader program. In this way, users can “subscribe” to RSS/Atom feeds and have new content delivered to them automatically. On my weblog, I have thousands of HTML pages and only one feed. Why would I want to let a third party host this one file? Feedburner can add bells and whistles to your feed, but any webmaster worth his weight in salt can modify a website’s feed to do everything that Feedburner does. How hard is it, really, to add an “email this” link to your feed? I tried Feedburner’s service and really tried to understand the value proposition. The fact that Feedburner has such a hard time explaining (to newcomers) why it matters suggest to me that, in the long run, Feedburner does not matter.

4. D.e.l.c.i.o.u.s (http://del.icio.us/). The ridiculously named del.icio.us is a user-generated bookmark sharing service and directory. But don’t expect to find that explanation on their site. Their home page says “keep your favorite websites, music, books, and more in a place where you can always find them. share your favorites with family, friends, and colleagues. discover new and interesting things by browsing popular & related items.” I already keep my websites, music, books, and more in a place where I can always find them. On my computer and on my bookshelf. I consider my bookmarks file a trade secret, as I bookmark websites for my competitors, clients, and my clients’ competitors. Why would I want to share this? I already share my favorite information on my weblog. And I read lots of websites, weblogs, email lists, and magazines. I don’t think I need del.icio.us to help me find anything new. If anything, I need fewer sources of information.

5. BlackBerry (http://www.blackberry.com/). “Oh no, a patent dispute might shut down the BlackBerry service! No it won’t! Yes it will! No it won’t! The judge is telling them to settle! It might shut down I tell you! The sky is falling! No, they settled.” That’s a summary of the last six months or so of blogging on this non-issue. A company has a fiscal responsibility to do what is in the best interest of its shareholders. It is not in the best interest of the shareholders to allow a judge to shut down your service because you are unable to settle a patent dispute. Patent silliness aside, the BlackBerry is a handheld device that lets you send and receive email. Oh boy! More ways to get spam! Honestly, do we need to spend more time sending and receiving email? Oh yeah, their website’s home page says nothing about their value proposition, but you get this text if you search for Blackberry on Google: “A wireless email solution for mobile professionals. It provides easy access to your business email wherever you go.” If you use a BlackBerry, there is a high likelihood that your friends and co-workers think you are really annoying. You might not be, but why chance it?

6. Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/). Flickr describes its value proposition as follows: “The best way to store, search, sort and share your photos.” Why would I want to share my photos? I take photos primarily of my friends and family, and I’m sure they would consider it a violation of their privacy to share them with Flickr. I use Apple’s iPhoto to manage my photos. I can upload those to a web page if I need to (which I do rarely), and I can password-protect that website if I need to. But honestly, if my photos are really important, I don’t want to entrust them to a third party. A third party that might go away, compromise my privacy, share my information with the government, or worse.

7. LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/). LinkedIn is a good way to communicate with total strangers who don’t want to hear from you. Or to get contacted by total strangers who happen to know somebody who knows you. At least that’s how it worked for me. LinkedIn is a “social networking” service. But my address book is one of my most valuable possessions. Why would I entrust this valuable data to a third party? I teach my kids not to take candy from strangers. Why would I give my friends’ email addresses away to total strangers? Here’s an idea. Pick up the phone and call your contacts every once and a while. Or better yet, visit them. Or send them a card. Or a letter. Or an email message. Anything more real and meaningful than LinkedIn. Here’s their value proposition: “Reconnect with long-lost co-workers; Stay connected to colleagues and clients; List job openings and find high-quality candidates; Get the inside track to the job you want; Open doors and reach millions of professionals.” Or not. Their website says “LinkedIn Relationships Matter.” I think that real relationships matter, because if you cannot relate to the other person, then you have no relationship.

8. Podcasting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcasting). See also http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts/. From Wikipedia: “Podcasting is the distribution of audio or video files, such as radio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either RSS or Atom syndication for listening on mobile devices and personal computers.” Snore. With the popularity of iPods and weblogs, webloggers started creating their own podcasts. There was a Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketch last week that satirized podcasting pretty well (season 31, episode 1440, host Matt Dillon, musical guest Arctic Monkeys). Most podcasts stink. Most radio programs stink. If I want to listen to the radio, I will listen to the radio. I briefly subscribed to one podcast, the very entertaining Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce on Star 98.7 (http://www.star987.com/), which I used to listen to (live) when I lived in Colorado. (See also http://www.thebestofjamieanddanny.com/). But then Star 98.7 fired Danny Bonaduce. Thus ended my podcasting.

9. Desktop Linux (http://www.kernel.org/). See also DesktopLinux.com and Linux Online (http://www.linux.org/). From the linux.org site: “Linux is a free Unix-type operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world. Developed under the GNU General Public License, the source code for Linux is freely available to everyone.” You may be asking, “So what?” Good question. A question I suspect the majority of people who have never used Linux ask. But the Linux community (to the extent that it exists) differs on the proper answer. On one side are the zealots who champion “free software” for free software’s sake. On the other (pragmatic) side are folks like Linus Torvalds (who wrote the Linux kernel) who emphasize “reciprocity of software.” It looks like the pragmatic ones will outlive the zealots, and so their views should (thankfully) become dominant in the future. See, for example, the brouhaha over the use of Linux in TiVo boxes (http://www.forbes.com/technology/2006/03/09/torvalds-linux-licensing-cz_dl_0309torvalds2.html), about which Torvalds said, “I only care that they give the source code back, not that they make it easy, or necessarily even possible, to play with their hardware.” Which brings me to Linux on the desktop. I don’t care about Linux on the desktop. I have installed Linux on desktop computers. And Linux on laptops. It’s just not ready for prime time. Servers yes, desktops no. Sorry guys. I have friends who use Linux on the desktop and swear by it, but they are also willing to spend all day getting a particular Linux desktop or laptop working with a particular piece of hardware (scanner, printer, monitor, or the like). I could do the same thing with Macintosh OS X or (gasp) Windows in about five minutes. I built a tree house with my kids. I could have build the tree house using nothing but hand tools, and I’m certain that I would have learned a lot more about carpentry and construction in the process. I’m also sure that it would have taken much longer.

10. TiVo (http://www.tivo.com/). For all the hype, TiVo’s website does an incredibly poor job of describing what it is and why it matters. It’s a television recorder that can also pause (etc.) live television. The homepage says “Only TiVo gives you the freedom to watch your favorite shows any time, anywhere.” Which is not true. You can use BeyondTV (http://www.snapstream.com/), MythTV (http://www.mythtv.org/), or even BitTorrent (http://www.bittorrent.com/) for the ethically challenged (your legality may vary). But the real question is, “Why bother?” Is television really that good? I haven’t watched a sitcom regularly since Seinfeld went off the air (the same day my daughter was born). I enjoy watching Saturday Night Live, Late Show With David Letterman, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, but all of those must be watched late at night – and preferably when you’re tired – in order to get the full effect. SNL over breakfast just doesn’t cut it. I enjoy watching Red Sox baseball games and American Idol, but those must be watched live. What else is there? Honestly, do I need to be spending more time watching television? Never in the history of television have we had so many channels to choose from and so little worth watching. How about if I read a book or practice the guitar instead? TiVo users say that it changes your life forever. So does a lobotomy.

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12 Replies to “* Top 10 Technologies That Suck (And/Or That Suck At Explaining Themselves)”

  1. I’ll go one step further – MOST all of the technology we use on a day-to-day basis SUCKS. I’ve been steeped in this tripe for 20+ years now (yes, as an occupation, on several different levels), and have grown to despise it for what it does to humanity, and for how far it has disconnected us from the *real*, finite, non-digital realm. And to despise it for how incredibly transparently (at least to some of us) we have become so entirely addicted to it. I could go into further dissertation on this subject, but it is always pointless to try to point out these shortcomings to the masses that have so blindly enslaved themselves to their silicon “captors”. I’m no luddite, but am beginning to see more and more value in being, or becoming, one. Someday, soon, many of you will realize exactly where I am coming from, and what I am feeling. Never mind the fact that some Stuxnet-type attack on ‘net backbone/infrastructure hardware/software will probably make you realize it even before you would have realized on your own.

    Good day.
    SC

  2. Looking past the privacy issues and storage advantages of Gmail, the real differentiator is the auto-grouping of emails as conversations. Of course, this is harder to explain than “we give you a lot of storage” so it won’t get much press.

    I couldn’t believe how hard they made it to delete emails when it first went live. It was more than a year before they added a delete button rather than forcing people to use a drop-down menu to delete emails.

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