Most of us may have had a good 2013, but the five following stories exemplify the absolute best of the worst stories to hit the news from 2013. There were companies who can't seem to get out of their own way, technology failures, and to on-going horror story of government's abuse of power and all illustrate the fine line between having a great year and just wishing the year would end.
The perpetually struggling mobile device company, BlackBerry, headed into the year desperate for some positivity
Instead, the company received a painful billion-dollar punch to the gut. BlackBerry tried to sell itself, then changed its mind, driving stock values into the ground. That lead to the removal of CEO Thorsten Heins and other executives, along with a number of layoffs that affected thousands of workers.
Now it's up to former Sybase chief John Chen to stabilize the company and prove that the once-dominant mobile player still has some life in it. If he pulls it off, he'll be a miracle worker.
The Affordable Care Act has been a lightning rod for criticism, and that was before HealthCare.gov went online. Sort of online, but not really... occasionally. Requiring health insurance without a way to evaluate options shows a stunning lack of foresight... or at the very least, developer testing. It simply defies logic that this disaster will end up costing the taxpayers at least $170 million.
The tech failure here mirrors the broken and fragmented nature of healthcare tech systems. Its basically what happens when government agencies and insurance companies, with their vast and incompatible databases, are suddenly called upon to make their systems talk to one another. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that creating a high-profile site on a tight deadline, when the demand for access and usage of the site will number in the thousands of users, if not hundreds of thousands, cranks the ridiculous factor up quite a bit.
Healthcare.gov still reportedly has issues. By early December, it met administration goals of serving 800,000 unique users and 18,000 enrollment requests a day, but glitches in the system have lost thousands of applicants. There's little doubt that this the biggest government tech failure of 2013.
NSA and Spygate
The conspiracy theorists were right. The government is spying on you and in more ways than even the most fanciful stories would have had you believe.
Edward Snowden handed over several thousand National Security Agency documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post, which broke the story on the Internet and telephone surveillance programs. The revelation stunned readers, and the PRISM program in particular drew attention for forcing U.S.-based technology companies to comply with demands for user data.
Whatever you think of Snowden, he'll be remembered for making everyday people think about information privacy in the technology age, and whether its a right, a privilege or simply make-believe.
Its never a good sign when a company's CEO feels compelled to apologize for a botched product.
This year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer joined that exalted group when she had to issue a mea culpa for Yahoo Mail's multiple-day outage that left a million people without access to their email. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though, as Yahoo Mail users have been flooding the Web with complaints for months over the service's redesign. Taking away the option to sort mail alphabetically by sender has seemed to inspire the most ire.
To make matters worse, a Change.org petition pleading for Yahoo to bring back the old Yahoo Mail now has more than 41,000 signatures. Here's hoping 2014 brings a little help to Yahoo users.
Yes, new versions are now out that might still turn around the dismal fortunes of Microsoft's troubled pseudo-tablet, pseudo-PC. But how do you recover from a nearly $1 billion write-off to cover unsold inventory.
Customers just didn't know what to make of the original Surface RT. It straddled the PC and tablet divide, offering a thin keyboard cover, mouse support, and an integrated kick-stand that made it look like a laptop. But, the Surface ran a stripped down version of Windows 8 called Windows RT, which barely supported any normal Windows applications.
With the cost at $499, plus $130 for the keyboard cover, left the RT in very pricey company. And to make matters worse, the RT did not perform well at all.
On top of the entire RT backlash, you would expect a multi-national technology company like Microsoft to learn from its mistakes and come out firing with a new and update product that covers all the inadequacies of the previous versions. You would be wrong. The upgraded Surface RT, now called the Surface 2, still uses Windows RT, and still appears to be just as confusing.