Ryan Block has formally responded to what is now being referred to as “AppleGate” in Silicon Valley. Yesterday Engadget posted that the iPhone was going to be delayed several months, relying on what turned out to be a bogus email for the story. Four billion dollars in market cap was wiped off of Apple’s stock price in six minutes as the “news” hit the market. Engadget quickly corrected the story and the stock recovered within twenty minutes, but many investors had lost a staggering amount of money in the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth.
I have to say that I, too, would have posted this news based on the source. The email was in fact sent from Apple’s email server to Apple employees and was then forwarded to Engadget from a trusted source. Ryan says “For a reporter, this kind of thing — an internal memo to a company’s employees — is solid gold” and I agree. This was almost as good as a formally issued press release. Block says he contacted Apple PR and received no immediate response (it took Apple two hours to deal with the situation). That, too, is standard practice. When stories are breaking, internal PR is the least useful source of information. The fact that they didn’t respond looked more like a confirmation of the news than a red flag that the story was bogus. Apple made two critical mistakes – allowing their internal email system to be hacked, and then not responding immediately to Engadget to tell them the story was incorrect.
Whether Engadget screwed up or not will be debated endlessly by the blogosphere, and some mainstream media will pick up the story to gleefully report the inadequacies of fact checking procedures at blogs. The next time Engadget breaks a rumor people will speculate on their credibility, and it will be a long time before they fully recover from this.
But the fact is that big blogs now have an incredible amount of power to move information quickly, and influence people more broadly than ever before. I’m not sure we (bloggers) understood quite how much influence we really had until yesterday. “AppleGate” will become an important historical footnote for the development of blogs and the evolution of the news and editorial business more generally. With power comes responsibility. And I think Engadget handled the situation with an appropriate degree of professionalism.