These Are the Dumbest, Most Absurd Tech Startups

Jun 24 at 9am

Well, the tech balloon, which appeared to be rapidly emitting air and flying erratically around the room only the other day, seems to have re-inflated pretty quickly. Or maybe Twitter’s problems and the emergence of some of the most ridiculous apps ever conceived are actually related phenomena. But in the last couple weeks, we’ve got Titcoin, Washboard, and Yo. Remember how at the end of the first tech boom, online grocery shopping was considered fringe? Now the big players are all over that – and the new revolutionary concept is making money off of people willing to pay $26 to get $20.

It sounds like parody, but laundry is a theater of war in the tech world, as New York magazine spelled out. If your building uses Laundry Locker and you thought that was advanced, you are way behind the times, sister. There are multiple companies vying to do your wash for you, but only Washboard charges $26 and mails you $20 bucks in quarters every month so you can do it yourself. Presumably, their target demo is people who earn enough to afford some extravagances yet not enough to buy a washer-dryer or send their soiled undies out, whose laundromats lack change machines, and whose pockets never accumulate quarters.

It’s not as dumb as Yo, the app built in hours and which tells your friends “Yo.” Everyone’s heard about it, either because Stephen Colbert and his intern tore it apart or because it got hacked. My friend Yo’d me and it made me laugh, because every single Yo user is in on the joke – which is the joke. It has an arch, zen minimalism, but is there a better formula for stealing information from people who are too savvy to fall for the Nigerian-Western Union thing?

Then there’s Titcoin, the crypto-currency for anonymous porn purchases. It’s basically a joke that came to life, as a founder all but admitted to Vice. Not to sound humorless, but there’s a reason why 19th-century banks look like impregnable fortresses or Venetian palazzos; everybody wants their money taken seriously, and not to be based on a pun. Bitcoin had anarchist sex appeal because the idea that the U.S. dollar and maybe even all economic statistics are based on absolute bullshit feels frighteningly possible to people, and they want an alternative for when civilization collapses. Bitcoin collapsed first, but you can still mine a Titcoin. There are going to be 69 million of them, even though most porn is free.

Money has never felt less tethered to reality. Even sites that track cyber-currency valuations ask you to donate to keep them running. But it’s now out in the open that the ads clogging up Facebook aren’t even bringing them any cash. George Packer wrote in the New Yorker last year that, “The hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.” It was a burn then, but it’s no longer fully true, because two of the three buzzed-about apps are meant to help people with the wrong cash turn it into the right cash. The third one just says, “Yo.”

[Image via Thinkstock]


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