Welcome to the echo chamber, Long

Long Zheng is shocked, shocked to discover that A-list online writers, given the choice between getting to the top of Techmeme or waiting to do some fact-checking, choose to hit Publish:

When the blogs catch fire, there’s really no stopping, even when it’s burning the wrong house. I’ve made several mistakes in the past so this is not a cheap shot at other bloggers, but something like this clearly demonstrates how susceptible blogs can become to misinformation spreading like wild fire and how that problem can be compounded by the Chinese-whispers effect.

In this case, a video-on-demand software made by British developer, Skinkers, can be mislabeled as “Microsoft’s Joost-killer” when it’s not made by Microsoft at all. …

The real surprise came when the streams of A-listers jumped on the story without really investigating the real story. May I be so bold as to suggest some of these bloggers fought so hard to get the story out sooner than doing any real facts-checking? I’m no blogosphere-expert but it’s not the first time this has happened.

Imagine that.

And not only do they not bother to get the story right in the first place, they rarely do corrections either.

Surely you remember these not-so-great moments in online tech reporting?

(And that’s just a random sampling of stories that pissed me off enough that I went out and did the research that the original correspondents couldn’t be bothered with. I could find a dozen more examples without breaking a sweat.)

All of those stories were completely wrong and widely distributed. And yet they remain uncorrected to this day, popping up in Google searches and misinforming a whole new generation, all because A-list bloggers have the attention span of a hyperactive fruit fly and no penalty for getting things wrong.

For all the flogging of the MSM that the blogosphere indulges in, it’s my experience that the old-school journalist/bloggers (Walt Mossberg, David Pogue, Dwight Silverman, Todd Bishop) are the ones who get the story right the first time and issue prompt corrections on the rare occasions when they get it wrong. It’s no accident that none of them lives in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the echo chamber.

Update: Scoble says I’m “whining”:

But the problem with Ed’s whine is that I see three headlines on TechMeme, one from “One Microsoft Way;” another from “TechCrunch”; and another from Don Dodge who works at Microsoft. That’s it. And all three stories don’t have the problems that Ed is going on and on about.

I don’t know what version of TechMeme you’re looking at, Robert, but maybe a picture will help. Every single one of these stories, from certified A-listers, talks about what Microsoft is doing. TechCrunch even calls it Microsoft LiveStation:


Scoble mentions Ars Technica’s One Microsoft Way and claims they got the story right. Oh yeah? Here’s the opening: “Sometimes it seems like Microsoft just can’t be happy with improving its current software lineup.  Instead, the company feels the need to reinvent, or flat-out buy, what someone else has already done. … In its most recent effort to reinvent and polish the wheel, Microsoft has announced what could be called the Slingbox- or Joost-killer, although the company formally refers to it as LiveStation.”

I feel bad for the folks at LiveStation, who are getting their achievement completely dismissed here. In this comment from the LiveStation team at One Microsoft Way, they note:

While Microsoft has a minority stake in Skinkers (the company developing LiveStation), this project is very much our own initiative. We are developing the platform on technology originally developed by Microsoft Research in Cambridge but now it’s fair to say that we are going forward with our own engineers (with the occasional phone-call to the MS researchers for hard-to-find answers!.

Ars Technica adds an update at the end of the story, saying “It should also be noted that LiveStation is a trademark of Skinkers Ltd and not Microsoft.” But anyone who reads the first two paragraphs and doesn’t scroll down will miss it. If you’re going to correct something, correct it!

So, let’s review: TechCrunch calls it Microsoft LiveStation. Wrong. Arrington says it’s a “Microsoft Research initiative, built in partnership” with Skinkers. Wrong. Om Malik says “Microsoft does P2P with Skinkers.” Wrong. Mathew Ingram says “Microsoft plays with P2P TV.” Wrong.

And I left out another dozen or so sites from the top of Techmeme, all of whom are blindly parroting the story that this is a Microsoft product. Wrong.

Let’s see how many corrections appear in the next few days. Or ever, for that matter.

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14 thoughts on “Welcome to the echo chamber, Long

  1. “…A-list bloggers have the attention span of a hyperactive fruit fly and no penalty for getting things wrong.”

    Very true. Perhaps there needs to be an independent site that tracks errors in reporting by the A-list. This would be like those non-profit fact checking sites that track the veracity of statements made by political candidates. Each A-list blogger would have a rating that shows the frequency and magnitude of misreporting and also the promptness of corrections, if any. The rating would be a kind of ‘trust metric’ so you know who to trust and who not to.

    As you say, the only way this BS will stop is if there is a penalty. Somehow shining a bright light on the bad bloggers who make everyone else look bad by association is the only way.

  2. I’ve been on Techmeme all day with the news;

    Microsoft Research and a new unit called IP Ventures struck a deal with the European start-up Skinkers, they get to use Microsoft peer 2 peer technology in exchange for a piece of the action, some equity. Silverlight will play a leading role and Sharepoint will become interactive.

  3. Hmm, at that Boing Boing link I see…

    Update: Damien sez: “Microsoft have not actually acquired Claria, but were simply rumoured to be in negotiations to do so.”

  4. Scott, the headline in the Boing Boing story still reads “MSFT acquiring spyware firm, changes antispyware app to ignore its products.”

    The allegation still remains in the story that somehow Microsoft changed the way its antispyware software works because it was considering an acquisition, even though the change had been made six months earlier.

    That little update takes care of about 10% of the problem. Anyone who finds this story in Google will see the headline and the opening line. If they click through, they’ll read the allegation that Microsoft was up to hanky-panky with a sleazy spyware vendor.

    If you’re going to correct something, do it right.

  5. The GigaCrunch group blogs never make corrections, they just change the subject and bury the questionable post with new posts.

  6. My point exactly, Paul. They figure their readers have the same sort of short attention span, and corrections are so five minutes ago.

  7. in the rush to get an exclusive, several so called A listers got this story wrong. I mean, all they had to do was watch the interview with Matteo IN FULL rather than grab a headline and publish. People do watch these videos right?? 🙂

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