When bad tech ideas don't fail
Every new product idea can't be brilliant. Some are terrible. So why won't they go away?
Silicon Valley talks a lot about failure -- about how it's important for young entrepreneurs to "fail early, fail fast and fail often" so they can quickly learn from experience and do better next time.
It's a nice thought. But sometimes bad ideas don't fail. They get press attention, funding and even praise from the tech echo chamber, even though they really should be universally, immediately and vigorously slapped down.
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Here's a roundup of my favorite bad technology ideas that won't go away.
iPoo is a social network for people sitting on the toilet. The idea is that since you're sitting there anyway, you might as well "check in" and interact with others currently undergoing the same ordeal. iPoo is an app for iOS and Android. According to the site, iPoo lets you "Write messages, draw graffiti, earn points and badges [and] see what others are posting." Is this really desirable?
Food delivery is nothing new. But one company has a new way to do it. TacoCopter intends to deliver Mexican food in Silicon Valley via helicopter drones. Never mind that it's dangerous, illegal and unlikely to work. The idea is that you use a smartphone to order your food. Your location is then beamed to the restaurant, where a fleet of self-navigating drones are waiting. One of the drones will grab your bag of tacos and deliver it to you. It finds you, essentially, on Google Maps. A mock-up screenshot on the website shows a screen informing the customer that "your tacos are on their way to you" and to "please stay stationary." Yeah, good luck with that one, guys.
They say that the peer-to-peer, chat-with-a-random-stranger site Chatroulette failed because too many users (who can remain anonymous while using) exposed the wrong body parts on camera, which drove away respectable and/or female users. Chatroulette has decayed into a site for men who are looking women to chat with, but who never find them because only men use the site. Airtime hopes to avoid the depressing sleaze of Chatroulette by leveraging Facebook. Airtime (created by Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning) is supposed to mine your Facebook profile to connect you with strangers who share your interests. If you don't like what you see, you can press "Next" to try the next person. But, really, who wants to sit there and be connected one-on-one to a random stranger? Especially since we now have Google+, and it has become a great place for connecting with interesting strangers in a far less creepy and in-your-face way. Once you've tried Airtime, the appeal fades fast for everyone except those who form a pathological addiction to it. Next!
FactMeme is for typing in random statements of fact, which are then voted up or down by users, as on Reddit. Unlike Reddit, however, FactMeme is all about information nobody gives a rat's hiny about. For example: "Malden is a village in Bureau County, Illinois, United States." (No, really. That's a typical "fact" on FactMeme.) The problem FactMeme tries to solve is that we don't have enough useless information in our lives. Wrong problem!
CHKIN.at is like FourSquare. But instead of checking in at physical locations, you check in at websites, as in "I just checked in to DullMensClub.com! Nobody cares, people!
I Just Made Love is exactly what it sounds like, unfortunately. It's a mobile app (for both iOS and Android) that lets you announce your every sexual encounter to the world, including location generally (it places the event on a map for all to see) and location specifically (in a car, boat, house or wherever). You can even choose from a menu of "love positions." Worst of all, it enables users to keep track of how many "entries" they've made in the app. Instead, how about an app called "I Just Downloaded a Horrible App!"?
The world of technology and startups generates some amazingly brilliant ideas. But it also produces some amazingly bad ones. If only they would fail earlier, faster and more often.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free email newsletter, Mike's List. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.
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