Yes, that’s a new word in the blog title: collabortage. It’s a tech-industry phenomenon that needed a name and never had one before. Collabortage is what happens when a promising product or technology is compromised, slowed down, and ultimately ruined by a strategic alliance between corporations that was formed (at least ostensibly) to develop it and bring it to market.
Collabortage always looks accidental, like a result of exhaustion or management failure. Contributing factors tend to include: poor communication between project teams on opposite sides of an intercorporate barrier, never-resolved conflicts between partners about project objectives, understaffing by both partners because each expects the other to do the heavy lifting, and (very often) loss of internal resource-contention battles to efforts fully owned by one player.
Occasionally the suspicion develops that collabortage was deliberate, the underhanded tactic of one partner (usually the larger one) intended to derail a partner whose innovations might otherwise have disrupted a business plan.
I coined the term during an IRC conversation after a friend expressed dark suspicions that the MeeGo alliance between Intel and Nokia might have been a ploy by Intel to screw up Nokia’s ARM-centered product strategy in order to favor Intel’s Atom processors. I do not endorse this theory, but it started me thinking of various historical examples, such as Microsoft’s browser-technology collaboration with Spyglass, for which there is in fact strong reason to suspect deliberate collabortage.
Joint software projects seem especially prone to collabortage – joint software projects involving a port to new hardware even more so. Since I’ve been writing about it and people will ask, I don’t think Nokia’s just-concluded alliance with Microsoft is intentional collabortage; both companies need it to work too badly for that. On the other hand, read “In memoriam: Microsoft’s previous strategic mobile partners” to read about a great deal of (probably inadvertent) collabortage in Microsoft’s past.
Feel free to point out other examples in the comment thread. The most interesting examples would be those in which there is reason to suspect intentional collabortage, but the unintentional kind is interesting too as an illustration of diseconomies of scale and the way partnerships often suffer from misaligned incentives.