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Fact vs Fantasy and the endless struggle of the rumor mill

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Fact vs Fantasy and the endless struggle of the rumor mill
Fair warning dear reader, because I am about to give you something of an inside look at the world of tech news. You may not think that is something that requires a warning, but it does because an inside look at the world of tech news is, ultimately, an inside look at you, the reader. I know that some of you do get uncomfortable when asked to do a bit of self-reflection, rather than being allowed to remain in the echo chamber that only tells you what you think you already know; but, the echo chamber is limiting and removes all perspective, which is an important thing in determining what is accurate, or what is true. Whenever possible, we like to pull people out of the echo chamber, because that’s when things get really interesting.

There are some of you out there who often come out and complain that our coverage is nothing more than an endless stream of incremental rumors, and that is true far more often than we’d prefer. Depending on the time of year, you could almost script the news yourself. If it is January we get to start off the year with the excitement of CES, but by February, we’re likely talking about what the new Samsung Galaxy S device will feature, and what to expect from the new HTC flagship. March and April focuses on what to expect at Google I/O. May looks at what to expect at Apple’s WWDC. June is for rumors about the new Nexus 7. July and August are filled with speculation (or more recently, accurate leaks) about the new iPhone, and Galaxy Note devices. September shifts to speculation on the newest Nexus and Nokia smartphones, and the next major iteration of Android.

Sure, there will be other devices that catch some buzz at different times, but in general that’s the way the news has panned out the last few years. This year, the interesting side stories were focused on the Moto X over the summer, then the recent sales of Nokia and BlackBerry. Of course, the rumors on each of those could be followed back quite a while, and that’s the real issue here: the rumor mill is what you all really want.

It’s all about potential


Fact vs Fantasy and the endless struggle of the rumor mill
Here’s where I let you in on the reality that we deal with in the tech blogosphere: the rumors are always more interesting than the reality. Even when the rumors are completely accurate, they are more interesting (and generate far more hits) than anything else we run. In the leadup to a big announcement, any small news story about a hot topic will receive an inordinate amount of hits (you would be shocked at how many pageviews we’ve gotten on a simple story about the HTC One Max pictured with Verizon branding.) But, once the big news has hit, no one really cares anymore.

The big example from this year has been the Motorola Moto X. During the rumor phase, we worked hard and got quite a bit of info from an inside source. We kept the rumors grounded, and tried to not let the hype overpower the real picture that was forming. We reiterated multiple times that the device would not have cutting edge hardware (though many of you ignored that and kept up hope for a Snapdragon 800 or 1080p display), because Motorola would be focused on performance and the software and hardware customizations. Even so, every tiny rumor grabbed your attention like nothing else we could post. The speculation in the comment threads routinely had no bearing on the information contained in the actual articles.

Then, the official announcement happened, and despite the expectations set, there was a backlash against the device, and then most of you lost interest. By the time the device was actually released, it almost wasn’t worth posting the news about it, because so few of you cared to read about the story. The fantasy was ruined by reality, even though there was little reason to believe the fantasy in the first place.

Fact vs Fantasy and the endless struggle of the rumor mill
The Moto X example is one that repeats itself over and over. Right now, any small bit of news or a new photo of the Nexus 5 racks up huge page view numbers, but after the official announcement happens sometime in the next couple of weeks, all of the potential that has been built up will collapse into the mundane reality that the device will be a standard yearly upgrade. It may come through on rumors of a much improved camera, but after the Nokia Lumia 1020, it’s hard to get that excited. More likely, there will be some interesting features in Android 4.4 KitKat that will excite users, but even the software reality sees the same treatment, especially with Android where it can take such a long time for most users to see the improvements.

Proving this phenomenon further are the various concept designs that come out throughout the year, which usually generate huge numbers, because readers don’t care about what is as much as about what could be, regardless of how believable the ideas in the concept may be. And, of course, concept renders often try to fix the issues around a product raised by the most vocal opponents, which adds for some rarely acquired vindication.

A twisted web


The most troubling aspect of the rumor mill is just how pervasive it is. We here at PA used to have a “rumor” tag that we would put on posts that had no real verification available, but eventually that tag was removed partially due to overuse, partially because it was ignored by readers, and partially because we as writers have a duty to make sure that it is blatantly clear in our writing whether or not a story has any verifiable fact behind it. It’s unlikely that we’re going to bring back the “rumor” tag, but it might actually be better to add a tag to the relatively few posts around that are verifiably true.

Fact vs Fantasy and the endless struggle of the rumor mill
Because the rumor mill encompases so much of what we report, it leads to misunderstandings in the realm of “bias”. I’ve talked before about the idea of bias and how it is often misinterpreted and how bias is often read by the reader more than it is written by the author. The rumor mill intensifies this, because readers mistakenly think that because we are reporting a rumor, it must reflect the personal feelings of the author.

The trouble with that view is that it removes a key factor of the equation: you, the reader. We write stories based on what interests us, and what interests our audience. We know what kinds of stories interest our audience based on internal statistics, as well as comment thread activity. Whether or not you agree with the information of a story, the ideas presented, or the company’s involved in the story, you express interest with engagement: reading, sharing, and commenting. If a topic doesn’t resonate with users, we don’t cover it as much (like Google Glass). If a topic does resonate, it gets more coverage (anything Apple/Samsung related).

Fact vs Fantasy and the endless struggle of the rumor mill
The extension of this is in how active the rumor mill is in general. Apple’s rumor mill is constantly in motion, and has far more people engaged in its maintenance than most. There is a reason why there are more Apple rumors (and more suspiciously timed Apple rumors) than for most other companies. While we at PA do admit to playing a part by passing along the most interesting mobile-oriented rumors from the Apple watchers, we don’t do it out of a personal affinity for the company. We do it because our audience has shown us it wants those stories. The same holds for Samsung, Google, Nokia, and the rest. 

Conclusion


Ultimately, that’s one of the more awkward parts of this job. Perhaps it is all part of the anonymity of the Internet, but it is amazing how much we get blamed for doing our jobs, and how often readers ignore the fact that we don’t do this for free. All we ask in return for bringing you news and commentary every day is that you turn off your ad blocker.

We don’t make the news, we simply report it. Sure we have opinions on the news, because we are passionate about the subject matter. The aim is never to start an argument, merely to start discussions. We know that you all are just as interested in mobile tech as we are, or else you wouldn’t be here. But, we aren’t on opposing sides of a battle; we’re all in the same world together. Based on the data we have, you all love rumors far more than you are interested in established information; so, it seems reasonable to me that we all come together to sift through the same pile of rumors to find the truth.

12 Comments
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posted on 08 Oct 2013, 14:56 10

1. jellmoo (Posts: 461; Member since: 31 Oct 2011)


I don't know how much of an issue this has been for the staff here at PA, but rumours and interesting commentary (to which I include articles like this one) are why I visit, and what I consider the strengths of the site. Rumours are called rumours for a reason, and I do agree that they need to be taken with a grain of salt.

I would honestly like to see some sort of commentary in regards to the decisions made in device reviews and camera comparisons, as those are the areas that I feel are woefully inadequate on PA.

posted on 08 Oct 2013, 14:58 6

2. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks for the comment! I'll definitely pass along your concerns.

posted on 08 Oct 2013, 15:06 1

3. eN16HTMAR3 (Posts: 84; Member since: 08 Oct 2013)


Those are aome of the coolest concept phones ever. Looks like the LG one is some sort of a boomerang. A killer one at that...............and it has GPS. It better come back to me after I throw it now.

posted on 08 Oct 2013, 15:08 1

4. MalakiMills (Posts: 255; Member since: 15 Jun 2010)


I loved this post. I've never had an issue with what gets posted in this site, but it's almost expected now to go through the comments and see "Enough with the *insert company or device* posts, why aren't there more about *insert company or device*? This really puts it into perspective, whatever gets the most clicks, gets the most attention later on.

posted on 08 Oct 2013, 15:23

5. shahrooz (Posts: 86; Member since: 17 Sep 2013)


I'm not turning off my add blocker but "Allow some non-intrusive advertising" option is always enabled. Good ads make it through ad-blocker

posted on 08 Oct 2013, 15:37 7

6. Dr.Phil (Posts: 821; Member since: 14 Feb 2011)


Posting rumors or inside information is not the culprit here. I think the true culprit is when you are allowing "anonymous tips" to be plastered on the site when there is no indication that they are truthful in nature. Sometimes I feel like you are doing it just so you can use the "Exclusive" tag on the post.

All I am asking is that you check your sources and that you use common sense when posting news or information. If you are unsure, then make sure it is known to the reader that it is simply a rumor and you have no way of knowing whether it is true or not. However, if you don't start checking your sources or using common knowledge you're going to turn into the Star magazine, or whatever those fake newspapers you see when you're checking out from a grocery store, of phone sites. Learn to be critical and have an actual opinion. Also, again going back to a previous comment under a review, I would like to see more critical reviews of devices. I want you all to be the ones to raise the bar so that way devices like the S4 and iPhone 5S are at 8/10 instead of 9.5/10. It then communicates to the manufacturers that they have to strive harder to achieve greatness.

posted on 08 Oct 2013, 18:27

10. papss (Posts: 3458; Member since: 03 Sep 2012)


Great read Michael! I have always tried to respect the writers but recently I feel there's been a complete lack of consistency in review scores, professionalism in some of the writing (I'm looking at you Ray) and overall quality that I've come to expect from my time on this site.
With that being said I feel you do a great job at keeping this place troll free (no pun intended :) and keeping up with the news on all three OS's.

posted on 09 Oct 2013, 04:27

11. techguyone (Posts: 91; Member since: 18 May 2013)


At the risk of upsetting PA staff, you could do worse than look at how GSMArena do their reviews of devices, they are much more in depth than PA (typically 12 pages vs 4) this is an area which desperately needs looking at, as is the seemingly endless 'comparisons' of completely different spectrum phones which bear no relevance to anything bar the fact that they have telephony functions. Compare like for like by all means, that would be welcomed, not phones at different ends of the spectrum.

posted on 09 Oct 2013, 12:20

12. PhoneCritic (Posts: 331; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


I for one would like to see the Rumor tag return. But, I agree with what others are saying here. The reviews are lacking consistency and are overly skewed by comments such as " company (A) has made this material kool again" comments such as these really should not be included in a review when ( and this is the reason) it has always been seen as a negative for any other company that utilize the same material. In fact when the cost of a device is a con for one manufacture but not for another ( who's device maybe more expensive) it is breeding inconsistency and bias in said review.

Anyway I always liked your reporting and find you to be one of the few here that tries to take a real un-bias approach. Please pass on our suggestions to the managing staff.

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