Top tech successes and failures of 2011

Successes1. Rise of Aussie tech entrepreneurs2. Rise of the tablets3. Power of individuals4. Use of social media for citizen uprisings5. Kids making cash on iTunesFailures1. Data breaches2. Vodafone’s network3. Banks’ outages4. Online anonymity debate5. Slow death of RIM Technological successes 1. Rise of Aussie tech entrepreneurs

Investment in Australian tech startups boomed in 2011, with several receiving funding from some of the biggest venture capital firms in the US. Perhaps a strong indication US investment will continue to boom well into 2012 is the fact US venture capital firm The Founders

top tech failure of 2011

Fund – headed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker – is sending three of its top executives to Australia in January 2012 to meet with local tech startups. In fact, in the past year or so more than $100 million has flowed in to Australian technology businesses either through investments or acquisitions. There was also Australian funding in local tech startups like Scoopon from people like James Packer in May. DesignCrowd, which specialises in crowdsourced graphics, also picked up $3 million from Melbourne-based investors in November. One of the Australian startups receiving funding from the US, similar to DesignCrowd, was 99Designs, which provides businesses with a cheaper, more effective way to outsource graphics design. It raised $US35 million in April. The Melbourne co-founders of Skitch announced in August that they had been acquired by Evernote for “millions”. Another Melbourne-based tech startup, game maker Firemint, sold to US giant Electronic Arts in May for an estimated $20m to $40m. BigCommerce – started in a spare room above a mate’s mobile phone shop with $25,000 in loans – is now a global e-commerce leader and raised $US15m in August. There was also Kaggle, which connects the world’s smartest minds with its toughest problems, which raised $US11 million in November, and Grabble, built to help bricks and mortar retailers take advantage of mobile apps at the checkout, which was acquired by Walmart in November. Perth-based Filter Squad, which is behind the Discovr range of apps that makes it easier to find new apps, received $1.1m from investors in October and Nikki Durkin, who created 99dresses when she was 18, an “infinite wardrobe” that allows users to buy and sell their unwanted fashion, recently got accepted into the YCombinator program, which got her about $US18,000 in investment. Another Melbourne-based startup,, was recently purchased by the co-founders of YouTube for an undisclosed amount. All in all, a big year for Aussie tech startups. 2. Rise of the tablets

Top tech successes of 2011

Although 2010 looked to be the year of the tablet computer it took until 2011 for any real competition against Apple’s iPad to really begin to show. This year a whole bunch of Android tablets came to market – as well as Windows tablets – to rival the iPad. Even Amazon jumped in with its Fire tablet, which isn’t yet available to Australians. Apple fought back against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet with legal action, and, in Australia, recently lost its appeal in the High Court to have it banned from sale. With flexible displays being shown off by both Nokia and Samsung this year, will 2012 be the year we can start bending our tablets and smartphones? The Consumer Electronics Show in January, where gadget makers show off their wares, should give us a good indication. But if we’re to believe Microsoft’s global chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie, who in March said that he did not know whether the booming tablet category was here to stay, maybe not. 3. Power of individuals

In recent years the power of what people can do with technology and, specifically, the internet, has been put on display for good and for bad. This year was no different to any other, with the web being used to help catch criminals, assist during the Queensland floods and save Sydney’s Macquarie Street fruit vendor Wayne from closing down. It even helped two young men secure jobs at Apple and Facebook after they demonstrated their tech skills on the web. In one specific criminal catching example, the Sydney owner of a dog who was stolen set-up a Facebook campaign to try and track him down. The campaign attracted a number of tips and eventually the thief and stolen dog were found. Other examples of people using the power of the web for good this year included Mark Bao catching his laptop thief by posting an embarassing video of them dancing he had retrieved through online back-up software. A similar case saw another thief caught out in the US after photos and information about him retrieved through a security program were posted on a blog and sent to police. A number of other people using tracking technology installed on their gadgets during 2011 were also able to successfully retrieve their stolen goods. The power of the web was not only used for good, however. For example, on numerous times throughout the year Facebook party event invites were hijacked, allowing for thousands of people to wreak havoc. In one example in February a Brisbane boy’s open house party attracted 4000 people saying they were going to attend. A Sydney girl was in March placed in a similar situation, with her Facebook birthday event invite spiraling out of control because she didn’t make the event invite private. A copy of it attracted in excess of 200,000 people indicating they would attend and saw a NSW school boy charged and his lawyer indicate a plea of guilty. In both cases the many that indicated they would go did not and were instead participating in a mass online joke. In one case in Germany in June, however, thousands did show up. Throughout 2011 brands like Qantas, Bing Lee, Gasp and Nissan also saw themselves embroiled in social media storms. And who could forget Hunter the Horrible, who exposed people’s private nude photos on his website along with screenshots of their Facebook profiles. 4. The use of social media for citizen uprisings

The London and Egyptian riots showed governments that if their citizens were upset with the current regime or way of life then they could rise up against them – and fast. Using social networking services, mass protests or riots were organised successfully in both London and Egypt. In Egypt it saw the government turn the internet off and in London saw its Prime Minister threaten to block social networking sites during civil unrest. But just as the sites were being used to cause public disorder in London, they were also being used to identify and make fun of looters. 5. Kids making cash on iTunes

During 2011 young men and women were spending their free time making a few bucks through Apple’s iTunes store – something Fairfax recently profiled. There was Robert Nay, the 14-year-old who made the Bubble Ball app, which has since been downloaded more than 9 millions times, and the many young Aussies such as Brendon Cowan, who made an app to help you remember where you parked your car. Technological failures 1. Data breaches

If anyone in the IT industry had to remember 2011 by something there is no doubt the amount of data breaches that occurred was significant and likely to have left a bad taste in the mouths of many. From the University of Sydney, ANZ, Westfield, News Limited, tech giants Sony and Dell, South Australian government-owned medical company Medvet, gaming behemoth Valve, now defunct web host and domain company Distribute.IT, First State Super, Computershare, Vodafone and telco giant Telstra, big corporates were exposing our personal information like there was no tomorrow. Sony exposed 77 million PlayStation accounts, 1.5 million of which were Australian, and Telstra reset the passwords of about 60,000 customers as a precaution of its recent privacy breach, which wasn’t the first time it hadn’t secured customer information. When Fairfax in January this year informed the University of Sydney of a breach exposing students’ full names, residential addresses, email addresses, which courses they studied and how much the course cost it informed students the day it went to print, and when an IT security expert thought he was doing the right thing by telling First State Super of a security flaw that exposed customers’ full names, addresses, email addresses, membership number, age, insurance information, superannuation amount, fund allocations, beneficiaries and employer information, it said “thank you” before sending the police knocking at his door and sending nasty legal letters. There were also of course the many privacy breaches by Facebook, whose privacy settings confused, and perhaps continue to confuse, users of the social network, leading to its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, saying the company had made “a bunch of mistakes”. Ironically a recent Facebook breach saw Mr Zuckerberg’s private photos exposed. 2. Vodafone’s network

It may have started to gain traction towards the end of 2010 but network problems continued to plague Vodafone customers well into 2011, with one of its own resellers threatening to sue. Users first began venting their frustrations about mobile calls dropping out, reception issues and poor data performance on web forums like Whirlpool in October 2010. In November of the same year Fairfax reported on the issue, with Vodafone chief technical officer Michael Young saying the telco “could have done a better job” in responding to customers problems, which he blamed on a software upgrade causing instability in its system. But the problems continued and it didn’t stop a damning report being released in January of this year by the founder of summarising accounts by 12,000 Vodafone customers of poor network coverage, customer service and complaint handling by the telco. It also didn’t stop the telco losing 375,000 customers in the first six months of this year. Only in February 2011 did Vodafone chief Nigel Dews plead for a second chance, saying he was “truly sorry” to have “let down” customers and had fast-tracked capacity upgrades to mobile towers. Two months later in April a video parody to the tune of Lady Gaga’s Telephone appeared on YouTube, making fun of call drop outs on the telco’s network. In the same month the telco’s SMS service was down for a whole afternoon. Whilst the network issues continued a class action lawsuit was being formed by more than 20,000 customers but has since stalled due to the Sydney law firm initiating it, PiperAlderman, seeking funding for the case. Now Vodafone is locked in a court battle for compensation from the company managing its network and has a Google curse, with the search giant’s auto complete feature showing “Cancelling Vodafone contract” as one of the first options when searching for “cancelling”. In addition to all of this, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman named in May Vodafone as the “main reason” for a continuing increase in complaints. 3. Banks’ outages

It wasn’t just Vodafone having issues with servicing customers throughout 2011. Commonwealth Bank also had issues of its own to deal with. In March, when its ATMs were letting customers overdraw their accounts due to a glitch, the news went viral, with many thinking they could get “free” cash. After some customers took advantage of the glitch, about 100 were referred to the police. It caused a backlash after the bank wanted its money returned in a lump sum payment, which many were unable to do. In June tech gremlins again hit the bank, this time causing downtime to its NetBank service, and just recently customers were unable to withdraw money from ATMs, pay with EFTPOS or access their online banking for hours. The glitch also prevented some people from being paid. Westpac and NAB weren’t immune from banking glitches this year either. 4. Online anonymity debate

Debate over whether people should have to use their real names on social networking websites didn’t seem to become a major issue until Google began requiring it with its rival to Facebook, Google+. Although Facebook had been requiring real names for years, it was only this year people began to become concerned after comments from people like Google’s Eric Schmidt in August suggested we needed to use our real names so that companies could know if we were a “real person as opposed to a dog, or a fake person, or a spammer”. He also said government would eventually require real names to be used on the web. Former marketing director of Facebook, and sister of co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said she believed anonymity on the web had “to go away”. 5. Slow death of RIM

It wasn’t a great year for Blackberry maker RIM, which is now facing calls from investors and commentators to ditch its BlackBerry product entirely, switch to Google’s Android platform or split up and sell the company. Its BlackBerry smartphones look aged compared to the iPhone and Android competition while it was slow to take off with apps and its network suffered several outages throughout the year. Even executives, the core market, are fast switching to other devices. RIM’s purported saviour, the PlayBook tablet, has struggled to gain any significant market share and is being shunned by many consumers because to get email on the device you need to pair it with a BlackBerry smartphone.


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