TenYears: Biggest Losers in Tech

ten-yearsIt’s almost January 1st, 2010 and we’ve been mulling over our favorites of 2009 – and the previous decade. Here we present another installment of our “Of the Decade” lists.

Winner Loser: Brick and mortar stores


Once consumer trepidation regarding e-tailers wore off, it was really only a matter of time before physical stores with limited stock and pushy salespeople bit the dust. Among the fallen we have Circuit City, CompUSA, and Gateway stores among others. Sure, for sundries, your Wal-Mart and Big K are doing just fine, but they also sell sweaters and apples. Best Buy is doing all right, but they’re really the Alamo of tech retailers. Poor bastards know what’s coming to ’em, too.

The combination of low prices, reseller markets, the long tail effect, and the rise of internet literacy among the buying class has resulted in a ridiculous among of growth among the biggest e-tailers. And while I doubt we’re going to see a return of the glorious Kozmo.com, things like Amazon Fresh and Trojan horses like the Nook and Kindle suggest that even further dominance is to come.

Runners Up


Around the time of the iPhone being announced, the RAZR was the hottest handset on the market. It was thin as hell, looked futuristic, and did absolutely nothing different from any other phone. In fact, Motorola hadn’t made a phone that did anything different in years. And as things like Blackberrys and semi-smart phones began gaining traction on the mid-range-handset market, Moto continued to put out “improved” versions of the RAZR, or body modifications like the KRZR or whatever. Never mind that the phone was garbage fundamentally, let’s just keep pushing it! No long term plans necessary!

They’ve salvaged themselves somewhat with the Droid, but that can’t last long; the Android market is too mercurial. Moto threw away an enormous lead and brand name, and barring a miracle, I don’t see any way they can get it back.


What can I say here? These stodgy and litigious institutions continue to dig their grave to this day. A renaissance in media distribution was unfolding before their eyes, and instead of taking the bull by the horns, they sued the audience.

Can you think of a worse way to handle the last decade of technological and cultural changes? I can’t. At every turn these Associations (and their counterparts throughout the world) have made the exact wrong choices. Suing children, fabricating numbers, instituting ridiculous DRM schemes — it’s been a decade-long disaster, and when the major labels all fall over dead, I’ll dance on their graves.


Let me just say: I appreciate what AOL did. It put a lot of people online. It put them into a weird pseudo-internet, sure, but it broke the ice for millions and familiarized them with the web, e-mail, and A/S/L. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a lot of room for AOL in the new order of things — AOL or the other big services like it.

AOL’s role in the world today is much different than what it was, but instead of becoming a powerful brand in itself (like Yahoo!), it has receded into the background. And the fact is that’s because it represents all that was going to go wrong with the internet: it represents the corporate-controlled, content-locked, closely-monitored internet that the big guys would just love to foist on us.

Our take

Doug: Internet Explorer, both the mobile and desktop versions. At the height of its reign in the middle of the decade, it had over 95% market share. Now that number’s hovering around 65% thanks to Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome and, to a certain extent, Opera (especially on mobile devices). I haven’t personally used Internet Explorer for any significant amount of time in the past three years despite using it for everything in the early part of the decade. It’s mind boggling that Microsoft sat on its hands and watched other browsers eat its lunch for so long.

Matt: As much as Toshiba lost in its investment into HD DVD, the consumer lost even more because of the silly format war. All we ever wanted was an easy way to watch high definition content on our HDTVs. Instead we got the HD DVD vs Blu-ray format war that did nothing but confuse the general public and infuriate early adopters. Although the format war definitely caused more people to look take a serious look at digital downloads, which is somewhat of a win for everyone.

Nicholas: I’d nominate myself as biggest tech loser of the past decade, but that would sorta violate the spirit of this here category. That aside, I might go so far as to say Sirius XM just based on what the two companies (back when they were two companies) were supposed to be: revolutionary radio~! It very much has lost its appeal, as has radio in general thanks to things like the iTunes Store, Spotify, Pandora, and the less-than-legal sources of acquiring music. Talk radio—Hannity, Limbaugh, Opie and Anthony, Ron and Fez, Howard Stern (I guess, not really a fan) and the like—is obviously a different story;XM channel 202 is the only reason I still bother to subscribe. If O&A and R&F were ever to leave so would I. So yeah, the whole idea of commercial, music radio, specifically Sirius XM and how it/they tried to be different but really aren’t, would be a pretty big loser.

Dave: Print media has really taken it in the shorts in the last 10 years. Once considered the first, best, and only way to get your information, people have come to realize that traditional print media is a lumbering dinosaur, trying to keep pace with a fast changing world that they are always 12 hours behind. I do feel sympathy for the old guard, but unless they can learn to evolve quickly, print media will be going out with the baby boomers – because they are the only ones who actually buy newspapers any more.

John: Dead tree books. I just bought a Stephen King book – Under the Dome – for the Kindle. My buddy showed me the actual book. It was a 1000 pages long and so horribly thick that it looked overly daunting. When guys like me, guys who like to read, just don’t want to carry around a ream of paper onto the plane, the publishing industry needs to worry. Maybe they’ll get a boost from Mr. Sparky Pants but as Seth Godin writes:

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

I agree and I think books – in electronic form – still have a long and lucrative life ahead of them.