TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference has come to London, promising to introduce technology that will disrupt our lives in ever more disruptive ways (why else would they call it Disrupt?). The best technology and apps are transformative (look at Facebook, or Oculus Rift’s potential)—but for every polished gem, there’s a misguided attempt to “disrupt” basic human interaction. Just look at Good2Go, attempting to “revolutionize” sexual consent, or Mingleton, which wants to kill serendipity by helping you find eligible singletons in the same bar as you.
Not every product at Disrupt is like this by any means. But some of them are. We set out to find some of the most egregious offenders—sorry—#disruptors.
Gum: Disrupting the Internet—with barcodes
First up, Gum aims to create a “social network of things”—but what these promises amount to is sticking virtual toilet-cubicle-graffiti on the side of consumer goods. Users can scan any barcode and write messages for others to find, read, and vote on. It styles itself as a potential consumer revolution—forgetting that a vast database for user-submitted content about products already exists, and it’s called the Internet.
If you want an idea of what this might look like in practice, cast your mind back to Paintthatshitgold.com. Now discontinued, it let you draw graffiti anywhere over the top of any website on the Internet. Like Gum, the options seemed limitless—but in practice, it just meant dick pics and curse words, everywhere.
Moodoo: Disrupting planning—by getting rid of language
Whenever I make plans with friends, I can’t help but think: This would be so much easier if I wasn’t using any words. And that’s where Moodoo comes in. Promising “spontaneous get-togethers” made simple, the app scraps the standard formula of, y’know, just texting each other with a plan—replacing it with a series of clickable options (coffee, bar, cinema), a list of contacts, and a map, where you can all stab down geolocated pins wildly until you eventually collide. All without actually talking to each other.
The uncharitable might suggest Moodoo pointlessly complicates something as simple as a phone call for no apparent reason—but hey: At least you can use it while doing yoga.
La-La: Disrupting speech—with copyrighted song snippets
It’s “the app that lets us chat with song snippets instead of written words.” Which is actually incredibly time-consuming, and relies on encyclopedic song knowledge. The app has a licensed library that users can draw from, including part of Sony’s catalogue—though Sony tells them as soon as they get big, they’re going have to start paying licensing fees. Which is a problem, because they’ve got no funding or plans for monetization.
Apart from that, the app lets you rip videos from YouTube and use up to 54-second clips from them—without the original rights holder’s permission, the founders admitted to me. Not a problem for songs, which are invariably longer than a minute, but nonetheless offering the potential to shaft the content creators of shorter, viral clips. You can practically hear the lawyers sniffing about.
Photo by Rob Price