Opinion: Did Engadget hurt Apple?

Editor’s Note: This story is reprinted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

The gadget blog Engadget Wednesday posted a rumor that Apple’s iPhone ship date would be delayed from June to October, a rumor that appears to have driven Apple’s stock price down more than three points — about 2.2 percent of the stock’s value.

The post read, in part, “we have it on authority that as of today, the iPhone launch is being pushed back from June to … October.”

As you probably know by now, the rumor was false and based on a fake internal memo.

Blogs are routinely lambasted by the mainstream press as unreliable sources of news because some report rumors as fact, and thereby cause ripples of misinformation to spread.

Apple fans, and especially Apple stockholders, are calling for an SEC investigation — not to mention the head of whoever created and leaked the false memo. They’re also blaming blogs in general and Engadget in particular.

I think they should count their blessings.

The news media of yesteryear — namely newspapers — sometimes printed false rumors, too. But in that medium corrections take a minimum of 24 hours — not minutes — and tend to be relegated to a broadly ignored section of the paper reserved for corrections.

In the case of the Engadget post, the correction came within 20 minutes, and Apple’s stock price recovered almost immediately.

Sure, it’s possible that the fake memo was created and “leaked” deliberately to drive down the stock price so the scammers could buy low and then sell high after the recovery. The SEC may investigate this possibility.

But that doesn’t mean blogs are to blame. Unscrupulous traders have long had a variety of methods for spreading rumors — especially since the advent of the Internet. E-mail, message boards — you name it.

The difference with blogs is how quickly and surely they can correct false rumors. Before blogs, rumors like this lingered for days or weeks before being gradually dispelled. Now, all doubt can be completely erased in minutes — thanks to blogs.

It’s also possible — I would argue, very likely — that Apple’s stock price, sales figures and recent competitive success are partly attributable to the work of blogs like Engadget. Gadget blogs — and, in the case of the Applesphere, Mac, iPod, iPhone and general Apple blogs — have created more buzz over Apple products than perhaps any other media. And much of that buzz has focused on false rumors — usually of cool new products that never happen.

It’s irrational to, on one hand, suggest that yesterday’s Engadget post was damaging to Apple or its shareholders and, on the other, to ignore the thousands of other posts on that blog and others that benefited, excited and informed Apple’s legendary fan base (and Wall Street).

It has to be said that, on the whole, blogs and even false rumors, have been very, very good to Apple.

Editor’s picks:

Apple fans and iPod enthusiasts may not understand the significance of Amazon’s announcement this week. The online retailer said it would sell downloadable songs that, unlike most songs available historically on iTunes, are DRM-free and can be played on any player. As always, the threat comes from the fact that Amazon already has the credit card information of millions of potential music customers, so buying will be easy.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, The Raw Feed.

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