Your Votes Tallied: The Biggest Tech Flop of All Time

Our readers have spoken. Additional comments ranged from 'Where's Y2k?' to 'I can't believe you nominated Dreamcast!' to 'What constitutes a flop, anyway?'

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What were you thinking?

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Several readers questioned our criteria for inclusion in the list. First, there were those who objected to our inclusion of both products and technologies.

The fallacy that's present here is that this list claims to be *technologies* but then is half full of specific *products.* Take the Newton as a prime example. Yes, the Newton as a product was a "flop." However, as a *technology,* it is a PDA which is still going strong, in the incarnation of Palm, BlackBerry, etc. Can't call that a flop.

Throughout this list, I see repeated instances where the author crossed between technology and product. Sorry, you're either talking about the one OR the other... not both, because they are simply not interchangeable.

Please go back down through this list, replacing all of the product names with descriptions of what underlying technologies that they represent. For example, Newton becomes PDA, and MS Bob becomes "Interactive Operating System," etc. Then take another long, hard look at them to see if these really all have been failures... or not. The results are likely to surprise.

-- hh

This point is a valid one, and indeed, we had some of the same doubts when selecting the items for our list. However, we deliberately said "technology flops" in the title rather than "technologies that flopped" because we wanted to include both products and technologies.

Here's why: When you start reminiscing about great tech flops, your mind naturally includes both products and technologies. Why not go along with it? We wanted this article to be fun, not subject to strict rules and divisions. We understand why this mishmash of technologies and products bothers some people. But we think it's OK to loosen up every once in a while.

A second group of readers took umbrage with our definition of "flop." We explained in the story that some of our candidates were quite good from a technological perspective but were either too far ahead of their time or were victims of overblown expectations. By flop, we simply meant a product or technology that enjoyed a huge amount of hype but failed to achieve commercial success. But many readers don't see it that way.

I find it ironic that the media would highlight those technologies which THEY likely overhyped in the first place! Are they learning anything about their own behavior from all of this?

Also, there are many items on this list that are NOT technology failures but instead marketing or consumer failures. That's probably why there are so many argumentative posts throughout.

How you measure and evaluate overhypes and flops is very subjective -- I don't believe it should be based on whether the product or technology exists today. If you do, then black-and-white TV is a flop! It came and went, thanks in large part to color TV. Dang! So many people purchased black-and-white TVs!

Media organizations love to make lists, whether they are overhyping technologies and products or they are reviewing how they were dead wrong. -- Gene

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To me a flop is something that is a dead end; a total write-off. Some of the "flops" on the list are clearly not, as they paved the way for something else (e.g., Newton) or were used heavily in vertical markets (e.g., DAT). I think MS Bob is far out in front on this one. -- jazzace

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This has to be one of the dumbest tech articles I've read in a long, long time. It doesn't even qualify as an article. What technique was used to determine which technology should be included? If OS/2 was included, why not Windoze 3.0 or 3.1 (or any of them, for that matter)? Windoze has single-handedly been the platform friendliest to virus authors than any other OS in history, more users curse its name, and yet it has no mention here. What a load of crap.

-- Frakety Frak

Other readers, however, took the article in the spirit it was meant.

Check your sense of humor. I really enjoyed this article. I can personally remember the "buzz" created around things like Iridium and MiniDisc, and it's worth recalling these cases when reading contemporary "advertorials."

Don't bring religious OS-wars into this -- Windows has been successful by any measure. OS/2 may have been a better product, but you can't call it successful, and that was the point of the article.

-- COB

Well put, COB. Our aim was to fondly remember some of the most overpromoted products and technologies of the past few decades, and to laugh at ourselves for being taken in by the technology hype machine.

I'll admit it: I was one of the editors mentioned in the first article who put off buying a CD player for years because I kept hearing that DAT was going to be the next great consumer audio technology. I can't remember the reasons why, but at the time I was convinced that this format was superior to CDs in many ways and would soon make CDs obsolete. I waited, and waited, and waited ... and then sheepishly went out and bought a CD player after all.

Haven't you ever been taken in by technology hype? And now that the pain has worn off, isn't it fun to laugh about it? That's what we hoped our readers would take away from the story: a good chuckle.

Final thoughts on success and failure

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There are two last reader comments we'd like to share with you for their thoughtfulness and insight:

In hindsight it's usually pretty easy to tell what product has been stupid or crazy or wacky or whatever. This list contains some Apple/Steve Jobs, IBM and Microsoft inventions. Those companies have a great record of making innovative products that everybody wants to have. The world would not be the same without those companies.

Could it just be that we sometimes need failure to reach success? -- KC

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I am old enough to have purchased and used a PCjr. Read about Lisa in PC World magazine. Like most of the so-called flops in the article they were but stepping stones enriching our lives and focusing our vision of what is possible, what works, and what doesn't. Not all dreams succeed, but we learn much from failures.

-- RL Scott (via e-mail)

See the original tech flops article, or add your own thoughts in the comments area at the bottom of the page.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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