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Biggest Web Blunders of 2011

Posted on 12.29.2011

It’s been an eventful year on the Web, to say the least. The editors of Website Magazine have spent the past week recalling some of the biggest hits and greatest triumphs, as evidenced in our Best of 2011 series.

But now, with only mere hours until the dawn of 2012, we’d like to have some real fun and look at the biggest blunders of the past year. With any luck and some strategic planning, this is a list that your own Web property can avoid at this time next year.

Groupon’s Offenses
Where to begin with Groupon? The company faces lawsuits from its own employees, launches an IPO that many consider to be a flop, and realizes that its services are not being received well in China – not to mention the fact that it offends Trump and Tibet in the process.

While it seems that daily deal sites will be sticking around for a while, the company that invented the category stood on considerably stronger ground at this time last year – when Google offered a $6 billion buyout that Groupon brazenly spurned.

Amazon’s Outage
Amazon Web Services (AWS), the ecommerce giant’s cloud computing platform, is one of the most commercially popular cloud service solutions available. In April 2011, AWS suffered from a severe outage that had negative effects across the Web. Among the websites affected by the crash were Reddit, HootSuite, Quora and Foursquare. The issue lasted for over 12 hours and understandably upset many customers of AWS. It was caused, according to Amazon, by a networking event that “triggered a large amount of re-mirroring of EBS volumes in US-EAST-1.”

Needless to say, the total shutdown of these massive Web tools and traffic-heavy sites did little to ease the concerns that some may have had about cloud computing.

Blackberry’s Blackout
How ironic would it be if the Blackberry killer was Blackberry itself? Well, Blackberry is not dead yet, but it certainly did not do itself any favors this year when the company faced its largest-ever network disruption. The “Black-out” started from a hardware error and lasted because the company’s backup system did not work correctly. The October outage started on a Monday and lasted three days, which was more than enough time to anger millions of customers and allow them plenty of time to contemplate switching to competitors such as Apple or Android.

Google+ Just Isn’t Cool
When Google first released its own social network to compete with Facebook, Google+ was the cool new kid that everyone liked. A lot of its appeal came from being closed to the public and available to users through invitation only. Its user base grew rapidly, hitting 50 million users in just 88 days, but it didn’t take long for it to garner a reputation for being somewhat superfluous (do we really need another social network?) and just sort of uncool. Complaints were lodged about it being nothing more than a haven for techies and not terribly accommodating for more casual users, and it took less than a month for the number of active users to drop significantly.

People started to notice that higher-level Google employees weren’t even really using their profiles. Oh, and then there was the immense backlash that the network faced for their “real names only” policy, which upset a number of users who wanted to use pseudonyms on the site. Eventually, it was opened to the public, but definitely wasn’t met with the excitement that Google was probably anticipating and has since sort of languished.

Vanity Domains
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) used 2011 to try to push customized – and expensive – top-level domains (i.e. Volkswagon buying .vw or Wells Fargo buying .bank). This hasn't been a wildly popular idea, partially because they cost companies around $185,000 apiece and partially because no one wants to do the work of rebranding and trying to direct users to .car or .music when they have already established themselves with a .com domain. So far it looks like the results may be a few companies buying up vanity domains so that their brands won't be in danger, and a lot of businesses having to pay up for .xxx domains so that their brands aren’t associated with more nefarious content on the Web.

Mozilla by the Numbers
For whatever reason, developers at Mozilla decided that with the latest Firefox update they would just, you know, get rid of version numbers. Of course, this would mean users would have absolutely no idea whether or not their browsers were up-to-date, which can be problematic when it comes to troubleshooting or downloading add-ons. After hearing plenty of complaints from its user base, Firefox developers caved and restored version numbers, but not without tarnishing its reputation just a bit and driving even more people to Google’s Chrome browser, among others.

GoDaddy’s SOPA Opera
You’d think that people would have learned by now not to mess with the Web, although politicians are always a bit out of touch. This much was evidenced by the significant bipartisan support for the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) earlier this year. Though most Web companies and communities resoundingly opposed the bill, domain registrar GoDaddy apparently didn’t get the memo and came out in support of the proposed legislation. This led to massive outrage from customers and other concerned Internet users who quickly created Even after GoDaddy reversed its decision and claimed to oppose the bill, the company saw a notable spike in domain name transfers in late December.

Bad Touch
The general consensus was that Hewlett-Packard’s tablet device and iPad rival, the Touchpad, was a good device, which is why its dazzlingly epic failure earlier this year was so surprising. HP released the TouchPad on July 1, and by mid-August had permanently lowered the price of the device by $100. By the time the TouchPad was 49 days old, HP announced that it was leaving the PC market and killing off the device, which led to an 80-percent price dump in August. In the time since, HP has fired and replaced its CEO, decided to continue manufacturing personal computers, and released the TouchPad’s fated operating system, webOS, to developers under an open-source license.

Privacy, Please
Thanks to a Facebook security flaw, we found out that Mark Zuckerberg loves his little white puppy and fried chicken. The security flaw came after a Web expert found a glitch in the website’s photo reporting tool. Users were given access to private photos after reporting a profile picture as inappropriate. The security flaw has been fixed since then, of course, but the Facebook founder’s private pictures will always be in our memories – and all over the World Wide Web.

Best Buy Ruins Christmas
While you may have had a white Christmas, you may not have had a merry one if you ordered anything online from Best Buy. The company guaranteed that orders would be shipped by Christmas Day, but an overwhelming demand for certain products led to a problem redeeming orders that were placed as far back as November. Lesson learned: there are no guarantees in life.

Up in Smoke
Most folks know what a disaster Netflix got itself into this year, but one of the worst/funniest parts of the whole debacle came from Qwikster, which was supposed to be the new name for Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service (the idea has since been abandoned). If there is one lesson to be learned from the “what not to do in business” plan of Netflix this year, it would be to check the availability of a Twitter handle before naming your new company. In case you missed it, after Netflix announced its Qwikster plans, it was discovered that the company did not own @Qwikster on Twitter but the handle was already taken by someone named Jason Castillo, who, to say the least, was tweeting some inappropriate content at the time of this discovery.


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