We are at a very interesting stage in the way content is produced and distributed in our lives and two recent developments serve to demonstrate the challenges that are coming our way.
The first is the Apple iPad
The fact that it is not available in the market as yet has not stopped every self-styled pundit from predicting whether your mom (or grandmom) will line up to buy it and change the fate of the world, or if it will bomb.
In the months before the launch announcement, the degree of speculation regarding the device reached heights unseen before, all based on guesswork and 'informed' deep-throats. Now that it has been announced, the race is on to predict whether the world will end or if it will be rescued because of it. The fact is that nobody knows how it will do in the future, not even Apple, for that matter.
Both media and the blogging/tweeting brigade loves a sensational headline and the iPad is now an excellent muse for that.
The second development is Hiphop, which is Facebook's PHP-to-C++ convertor/compiler.
When the news first filtered out that Facebook was up to something that had to do with the guts of PHP, it caught on pretty fast. The story ran with the implied notion that Facebook was developing a new PHP runtime of its own because normal PHP was getting to be too slow for it.
This was tweeted and written about in a lot of publications, citing the original post as the only source. The original post itself was largely speculative and had zero comments from anyone who could be qualified enough on the situation.
Speculation, guesswork etc are are fine within the realm of publishing content, especially news content. The problem kicks in where nobody bothers to correct these wrong assumptions once, they have been found to be wrong.
Since that time, Facebook publicly unveiled the project which turned out to be anything but a new runtime. The project – HipHop – converts PHP code into C++ and allows you to run it as a compiled binary. Nothing outstanding or exceptional about it. But the merit of the project itself is not the issue here.
The problem is when people who write about these things don't do their homework, nor won't they update previously published erroneous stories. Case in point is the RWW story: Facebook Rewrites PHP Runtime With HipHop. The post even has a comment by David Recordon, who is both a Facebook employee and a noted geek saying the story is wrong. The author responds to the comment, but the story stands uncorrected.
What is common in both the cases is how well both bloggers and media are getting played these days. Yes, the whole PR/Media loop is a bit of a game of cat-and-mouse and on an average the good and the bad tends to balance each other out, but that is no longer the case anymore.
Companies are now using the desperate need for journalists to brand everything as a 'killer-this' or a 'flop' that they are playing them more than ever before. Even with the bloggers they are now extending the concept of exclusive previews. Look at the case of both the the Nexus One. Some of the prominent bloggers were given units to play around with, but it was under an embargo/NDA. This has an interesting side-effect of effectively silencing a bunch of thought leaders while leaving the floor open for rank speculation and calculated leaks and it worked extremely well for Google. For a me-too Android phone, it got excellent coverage and Google could really control the message too very well.
In the case of Facebook's HipHop, the company seems to have gained enough mileage from the launch, but what remains now as urban legend is that the PHP runtime is not 'fast enough'. This, when tweeted and retweeted by people who don't even understand what is being talked about, slowly gets into the public's psyche, eventually trickling down into purchasing and platform decisions.
Looking at the information landscape these days, it is a worrying picture that I get to see. There are near-zero sources of information that are either accurate or objective or both. Yes, we all love to be read more and as firms we would love to have our products sell well, but there has to be limits to all of these things. There is little wonder that I don't miss reading much news as it breaks these days. The real flavour of it comes to the surface a few days down the line.