From self-driving cars to fridge magnets that order pizza, 2012 saw more than its fair share of odd digital news stories. As part of our year in review series, we look back at the stranger side of marketing, with the 25 weirdest digital news stories of 2012.
Changing consumer habits have led to some unexpected developments- and rather bizarre news stories as a result. For example; who’d have thought a company as high-brow as Waterstone(‘)s would so brazenly abuse grammar by ditching their apostrophe to appear higher in search results? Or eBay banishing the sale of magic potions and spells from its marketplace?
We also got a sneak peek behind the scenes at Facebook and Apple, with leaked employee handbooks showing how the social network moderates content and how Apple ‘Geniuses’ make a sale.
Treading the thin line between cool and creepy, this year also saw ‘Minority Report’ style bus stop posters scanning user’s faces to tell if they are male of female- and broadcasting a different advert accordingly. Another creepy contraption was a jacket that ‘hugged’ you each time you got as ‘like’ on Facebook.
A 3-year-old girl managed to get Sainsbury’s to change their ‘Tiger Bread to ‘Giraffe Bread’ after her letter to the customer services team went viral, and a video from 1995 surfaced, predicting current technology trends with unnerving accuracy… right down to the web’s obsession with cats.
View our round up of the 25 weirdest ‘digital oddities’ of 2012 below:
Secret Apple handbook leaked- Banned words include ‘crash’, ‘bug’ and ‘freeze’
Apple’s customer service secrets have been leaked via a Genius handbook that bans employees from saying words that will alarm customers, according to a news report. The handbook, leaked by technology blog Gizmodo, instructs Apple employees on how to act and speak when dealing with customers and includes a list of banned words such as ‘crash’, ‘bug’ and ‘freeze’.
Internet killed the grammar star? Waterstone’s scraps apostrophe to boost search engine rankings
High street bookshop Waterstone’s is dropping the apostrophe from its name to make it more “versatile” for online use. Managing director James Daunt said the amendment was a “more versatile and practical” spelling of the name for the digital world. The book shop has also reinstated the Baskerville serif font with a capital W, which Daunt said “reflects authority and confidence”.
Hocus bogus? eBay bans spells, psychics and potion listings
eBay has stirred up controversy by banning the sale of spells, potions and other supernatural paraphernalia via its online marketplace. eBay had previously banned the sale of ‘intangible’ items, but potions and other magical items had not yet fallen under the restrictions. The firm’s previous policy said it would not allow the sale of “things that people won’t be able to use or be able to confirm whether they’ve received the items.” For example, listings that offer someone’s ‘soul’ or a container that claims to have someone’s ‘soul’ are not allowed.
Shopping, social media, YouTube and… cats? Eerily accurate 1995 video shows kids predicting future of the internet
Move over Nostradamus- this video from 1995 shows US school children predicting the future of the internet with unnerving accuracy, right down to the web’s obsession with cats. This public service announcement is currently doing the viral rounds, showing ten–year-olds from Montana’s Ray Bjork Elementary School answer the question, ‘Why should I be on the Internet?’ with some predictions of how the internet will be used by the time they are college-age.
Retailer PR stunt puts ‘tax’ on Internet Explorer 7 users
Australian online retailer Kogan.com has introduced a spoof ‘tax’ on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) browser. Customers who use IE7 will see a 6.8% extra surcharge on online purchases made through the firm’s site appear on their bill. However, once they go through to the final checkout phase, the ‘tax’ will disappear.
Facebook jacket hugs owner after each ‘like’
Students in the US have designed a jacket that gives the owner a cuddle every time they get a ‘like’ on Facebook. The ‘Like-A-Hug’ jacket inflates when someone clicks on a Like button on their Facebook profile, putting a little more reality into virtual reality. The contraption was designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students Melissa Chow, Andy Payne and Phil Seaton. Hugs can also be sent back to the original sender by squeezing the vest and deflating it.
Fridge magnet lets users order pizza at touch of a button
A Dubai-based pizza firm has created a fridge magnet device that lets users order pizza at the touch of a button. Created by restaurant Red Tomato Pizza, the device works by syncing up with the user’s smartphone. The user syncs the ‘VIP Fridge Magnet’ via Bluetooth with a smartphone, which they use to select their pizza order. The order is then tied to the user’s account.
‘Minority Report’ ads: Smart video posters use facial recognition to advertise to women
Non-profit organisation Plan UK has launched a new video poster campaign that recognises if a viewer is male or female using facial recognition technology, and displays different content accordingly. The advert is located on a bus stop in London’s Oxford Street, and will use a high-definition camera to scan hundreds of thousands of passers-by. The advertisement will run as a two-week trial, and allows commuters to view a 40-second video provided that they are female.
Google…what happened to us? Clothes retailer laments 70% drop in search traffic (video)
Most websites and online retailers live and die based on their natural search traffic, so when the US clothes retailer Big Tall Direct lost 70% of their traffic, it proved devastating. This video from their President describes what it’s like: watch, weep, and wonder how well protected your business is …
Google’s self-driving car gets first licence
The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has approved a license for Google’s self-driving car. Google’s self-driving car has been a project the company has long been working on, with a motor vehicle already having covered 140,000 test miles in California, including a trip across the Golden Gate bridge. But Nevada is the first state in the US to approve a self-driven vehicle license.
Never mind the bots? Entrepreneur claims Facebook ads made him $10K in one day
Facebook has had a turbulent few months following its IPO fiasco, tumbling shares and accusations that fake profiles (or bots) are driving up ad prices. But one entrepreneur has come to the social network’s defence, claiming to have made $10,000 in one day via a vinyl records sale advertised on Facebook. Brendan Irvine-Broque, the director of growth at PageLever, spent $150 to promote a garage sale using Facebook’s ‘Sponsored Stories’ events format, inviting people to come purchase his vintage vinyl records at $3 each.
Sainsbury’s renames Tiger bread to ‘Giraffe bread’ after social media buzz
Sainsbury’s has bowed to a social media campaign urging the supermarket to rename its Tiger Bread to ‘Giraffe Bread’ on the advice of a 3-year-old girl. The new Giraffe loaves went on sale this week, eight months after toddler Lily Robinson sent a letter to the supermarket suggesting the splotches on the bloomer’s crust resemble more a giraffe’s pelt than that of a tiger.
£22 ‘DIY’ mini computer goes on sale: Raspberry Pi teaches coding to kids
A hand-held computer called the Raspberry Pi has gone on sale in the UK for just £22 this week, aimed at teaching children how to programme and code. After going on sale yesterday, the motherboard device sold out within hours. Massive demand for the computer has caused the website of one supplier, Leeds-based Premier Farnell, to crash under the weight of heavy traffic.
Leaked docs show Facebook censorship guidelines ‘rule sex more offensive than blood and gore’
Facebook staff moderating user posts are ordered to delete all forms of sexual activity, but violent and gory images are allowed, according to a leaked document issued buy a disgruntled former employee. A 21 year old Moroccan man, who claims he was paid $1 an hour screening Facebook content through an out-sourcing firm, has reportedly leaked a document that sheds light on how the social networking website censors content.
‘Where the Internet lives’: Google offers peek behind scenes at secret data centre
Google has offered a sneak peek at one of its top secret (but rather beautiful) data centres, showing the technology that powers billions of web searches, YouTube clicks and Gmail conversations every day. Until now, the search engine giant has only allowed a handful of employees access to its eight buildings around the world.
Marie Claire runs first UK video ad in print magazine
In a UK first, Marie Claire is inserting a video ad on the pages of its October issue, set to play once a reader turns to page 35 and 35. The October issue of Marie Claire UK incorporates a black-and-white commercial for Dolce&Gabbana fragrance, the first UK display advert of its kind. Appearing on pages 34 and 35 in a limited run of a few thousand copies of the issue, a male and female model pose in a coastal scene and when the page is opened, the 45-second spot (directed by Mario Testino) automatically plays.
Huffington Post becomes first blog to win Pulitzer Prize
In landmark moment for the digital publishing sector, AOL’s The Huffington Post has become the first blog to win the prestigious Pulitzer prize in the US. The news site, formed in 2005, scooped American journalism’s top honor, winning this year’s Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
April fools round-up: Google maps for NES, Wi-Fi gnomes, and Apple patents the rectangle
This year’s crop of April’s fools jokes are among some of the strangest yet, including Google maps going low-fi with an 8-bit version, a one inch notebook and Hungry Hippos going iPad compatible. We provide a round-up from some of the best from yesterday’s hoaxes…
Fan comments are now ads? Landmark Diageo ruling makes brands liable for Facebook fan posts
Companies with Facebook profiles will be accountable for comments made by the public on their pages, following a ruling by an advertising watchdog in Australia. Drinks brand Diageo was referred to the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) in Australia, after complaints about its Smirnoff Facebook page. The complaints related to a number of sexist, racist and obscene comments appearing on the page, along with references to under-age drinking.
The Pirate Bay moves to cloud to thwart shutdown
The Pirate Bay has moved its servers to the cloud to hinder authorities’ attempts to take it offline. The file-sharing website will now operate from cloud-hosting providers around the world. It says the move will save money and make it harder for law-enforcement agencies to shut it down.
Germany: All web users forced to pay €17.98 TV license fee
A surprise decision by the German constitutional court on digital media regulation sees people with internet-enabled PCs liable for TV licence. It’s a media regulation that could travel across Europe…
Rise of ‘F-commerce’: Reckitt Benckiser sells new Cillit Bang product solely via Facebook
Consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser has embarked on a new Facebook campaign, using the social network as the exclusive platform to sell its latest Cillit Bang cleaning product. The Cillit Bang Facebook page and shop, allows consumers to buy the product direct from the Facebook page, without having to pay for postage and packaging, and is delivered within three days.
Xbox sales banned in Germany after Motorola court case
A number of Microsoft products, including Windows 7 OS, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and the Xbox console have been banned from sale in Germany, following an extraordinary ruling declared this week in a Mannheim court. The shock ruling is due to Motorola Mobility, a phones company which Google is in the process of acquiring, today being granted an injunction against the distribution of key Microsoft products in Germany.
Google tests augmented reality glasses
Google has revealed details of its research into augmented reality glasses, as part of a bid to introduce wearable computing into the mainstream technology industry. The firm released a short video demonstrating how the technology, still in development, could work. The wearer is seen taking pictures, checking the weather, getting directions, and placing a video call, all of which are controlled using voice activated icons that appear in the user’s field of vision.
Biggest hack yet? Anonymous takes down US Govt. sites to protest Megaupload shutdown
Hacker group Anonymous struck down government and industry Web sites this week, in what they claim was their biggest operation yet. The group, known for their high-profile ‘hacktivist’ protests, targeted the US government and copyright organisations following the shutdown of the Megaupload file-sharing website. The Department of Justice (DoJ), FBI and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) among others have been bombarded with internet traffic. The DoJ announced on Thursday that it had taken action to force Megaupload and related domain names offline, and had charged the firm’s co-founders and others with violating piracy laws.
‘Why I left Google’: Ex-employee blasts firm’s ‘obsession with beating Facebook’
Recently departed Google employee James Whittaker has criticised his former company, claiming the firm has sacrificed its focus on innovation to morph into an “advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus”, and that focus is Google+. He wrote on his blog this week that when he joined Google, it was “a technology company first and foremost; a company that hired smart people and placed a big bet on their ability to innovate”.
Are Facebook ‘likes’ being faked? BBC spoof bagel firm gets 3000 fans
Fake profiles could be responsible for a significant proportion of Facebook ‘likes’, causing inflated figures that lead brands and advertisers to waste time and money on social media campaigns, according to a new report. A BBC investigation set up a site for fake firm VirtualBagel on Facebook with a modest $10 ad campaign on the social network.By the end of his campaign’s first week, VirtualBagel had 2999 likes.
Entreprenurship: The ugly truth behind the ‘glamorous’ profession
Often perceived as a glamorous profession, the life of the entrepreneur is often fraught with stress and disappointment, according to a presentation from Mark Suster made earlier this month. Suster, a two-time entrepreneur turned venture capitalist made a keynote presentation at the Seedcon event in the US in November.