Nostalgia turns cold hearts into poets. A few bars of a song, a wafting scent, a random sentence, and we’re off in our own world, reliving a time gone by.
Remember the Walkman? Sony’s portable tape player revolutionized the music industry. In the past, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing those headphones with the Walkman tucked into their belt buckle. As with anything, technology evolved, people moved on. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.
It’s not the only geeky thing to have once been the talk of the town, only to have faded into irrelevance now. Let’s take a moment and remember a few items in recent history that were buzzwords in the technological landscape, and are now stimulus to bring a smile to our memory.
The iPod and MP3 Players
Sony’s Walkman was replaced by Steve Jobs’s first major success on his return to Apple, the venerable iPod. But over the past few years, iPod sales have declined tremendously, Microsoft’s competitor Zune never took off, and other dedicated MP3 players have closed shop too.
A combination of factors has led to this moment: smartphones became ubiquitous, offered the same audio quality, and have plenty of storage space, so no one wanted two devices in their pocket. Spotify and other streaming services changed the music download experience and are killing iTunes.
HD DVD, Zip Drives and Other Storage Media
Technology has seen its fair share of duels, right from the days of the BetaMax vs. VHS video format war. Sony lost that one, but it stormed back during the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war, also known as the PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360 war. It’s an important chapter in the history of Blu-ray technology, but at the time, there were several people rooting for Microsoft and the HD DVD. The HD DVD was an optical disc that offered marginal benefits over existing DVDs — mainly in the form of more storage.
Removable storage formats are always changing in technology. You can go back further in time and reminisce about the microdrive, a one-inch hard disk that was eventually replaced by flash memory cards. The time machine has other relics of unforsaken love, like the Zip Drive that never really took off thanks to CDs, and the good old floppy disc. Don’t look now, but Blu-ray and its brethren might soon be in this list if cloud storage has its way.
Palm Pilot and PDAs
Sometimes, a shift in technology can make a great company obsolete. The smartphone killed its predecessor, the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) or Pocket PC, and with it, Palm. It’s ridiculous to hear “back in the day” from a writer who isn’t even 30, but back in the day, every business executive rocked a PalmPilot, a touchscreen portable device with a stylus, running PalmOS.
To give context to our younger readers, PalmPilot was the BlackBerry before BlackBerry was BlackBerry. Other Pocket PCs ran the predecessor to Windows Phone, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile. The death of the PDA came down to the evolution of touchscreen technology. The iPhone turned your finger into a stylus with the advent of capacitive touchscreens, a leap in technology over resistive touchscreens. As technology shifted, so did people’s choice. And before anyone could figure out what happened, Palm went out of business.
Why should you change your schedule according to TV show timings? You should be able to watch your favourite TV programs when you want to watch them. TiVo was the first big DVR (Digital Video Recorder) service and a must-have for everyone who watched a lot of TV — which is, well, everyone.
“A decade ago, TiVo was an obvious thing to own for anyone who took television seriously. It had basically invented the DVR, after all,” writes Chris Ziegler at The Verge. “It had years of experience on its scattershot competition. The user interface was fantastic. The iconic ‘peanut’ remote felt at home in the hand.” But TiVo’s slow pace of innovation was making it obsolete, and the final nail in the coffin was the entry of on-demand video services like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes.
Some people still have TiVos in their living rooms, but hardly anyone talks about it. Even its CEO sold around $132K in stock. ‘Nuff said.
MySpace and Orkut
Before the times of Facebook and Twitter, there were only two social networks that were relevant: MySpace and Orkut. These were the precursors to the social networks we use today, but the thing about social networks is that people go where, their friends go. MySpace and Orkut became uncool, Facebook became cool, and before you knew it, notifications on those networks dropped from several a day to one in several days.
Forbes reasoned that it came down to bad management: Facebook’s owners let the users decide what the site should be about, while MySpace tried to make the site into an entertainment hub and enforced that on users. MySpace is still around as a place for music-makers and aficionados to network, but it’s little more than that. Orkut remained relevant in the Facebook age in markets like Brazil and India, but eventually lost out to Zuckerberg’s creation. It was shut down after being bought by Google. The bigger question now is whether we will be talking about Facebook and Twitter in the same breath a few years down the line. Is Facebook going the same way as MySpace?
Second Life isn’t dead, it has just dropped off the map. Launched in 2003, this online virtual world was what everyone talked about. Most of us probably still have Second Life accounts, our avatars sitting quietly in a hard drive somewhere. But people stopped talking about it.
It has been in decline for some time. Almost 70% of regular users don’t explore the world at all. Wagner James Au puts things in perspective in GigaOm: “I’ve been writing about Second Life since 2003, first as Linden Lab’s ’embedded journalist,’ then as a GigaOM editor and for a book, and still continue covering it on my own blog. Still, I recognize that it’s very much a niche product that today isn’t adding users.”
He is still hopeful that Second Life has a second life, but don’t count on it.
Instead, let it be a happy memory of how you spent hours customizing your avatar and building a virtual life. A little escapism is healthy, eh?
Ah Google Wave, we hardly knew ye. Google failed spectacularly in its attempt to reinvent email with Wave, but not before drawing a legion of fans who still swear by it. While discussing candidates for this list, here’s what the MakeUseOf chatroom looked like:
There were plenty of reasons it didn’t work out, like the invite-only system. Gina Trapani, the first person to write a guide on Google Wave, explained it best: “The tool didn’t explain itself well enough. The barriers to entry were just too high. The use cases weren’t clear. People didn’t get it.”
What do you think is the next addition to this list? Which once-popular technological artifact is teetering at the edge of the cliff? Point-and-shoot cameras? Netbooks? Firefox OS?