Snafu over pricing of Microsoft Surface highlights trouble with web rumors

Snafu over pricing of Microsoft Surface highlights trouble with web rumors

Summary: Yesterday, the tech echo chamber went into a feeding frenzy over the discovery of a small Swedish web site that had posted prices for Microsoft's Surface tablets. The story was bogus, but what does it say about how the tech press covers rumors?

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TOPICS: Hardware, Microsoft
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A rumor can get halfway around the world while the facts are still struggling to get their shoes laced.

If you want a perfect example, just look at how the echo chamber amplified an unverified story about the pricing of Microsoft’s new Surface devices.

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It started at WPCentral, which captured a screenshot from Swedish website Webhallen.com, ostensibly showing that the new devices would be priced from 6990 kr (for a 32 GB Windows RT device) to 12,990 kr (for 64 GB running Windows 8 Pro). If you don’t have a currency converter handy, let me save you the trouble of looking it up. Those amounts convert to $1017 and $1,891, respectively.

From that meager beginning and wafer-thin sourcing, the story took on a life of its own, being picked up by mainstream tech news outlets like The Next Web, CNET News, The Cult of Mac (naturally), and even ZDNet, where our very own Adrian Kingsley-Hughes was ready to pronounce the entire Surface line D.O.A.

Here’s the feeding frenzy, as captured by Techmeme, at 5:00AM today.

 

eb-surface-pricing-snafu-1

 

One tiny problem: the entire story was untrue. And none of the names on that roster practiced anything remotely like journalism. Fortunately, Paul Paliath of Techie-Buzz.com looked at the story and decided it made no sense. So he did what no one thought to do yesterday: he sent an email to the Swedish company that owns the web site. And they responded promptly:

Our customers are very interested in pre-ordering these products, so we have set a high preliminary pricing for the lineup so that they may be able to pre-order them.

Just to clarify, we have not recieved [sic] any pricing from Microsoft regarding MRSP or purchasing net cost, and any people who have booked the Surface at this high price will of course have their order adjusted before any product is shipped. So we’re not going to overcharge anyone for being an early adopter.

Got that? They made up the numbers.

As Paliath noted this morning, "What fascinates me is that there are posts aggregating this 'story' that don’t immediately ridicule, but rather entertain the idea, as though it’s even plausible. ... I understand that Microsoft does some pretty unusual things, but they're not batshit crazy."

I saw this story yesterday, before it had achieved critical mass, and just rolled my eyes. Most experienced Microsoft watchers did, too. I had this brief exchange on Twitter with Becky Nagel, executive editor of Redmondmag.com and related sites:

 

eb-surface-pricing-snafu-2

 

Nagel hoped that Microsoft would comment just to "end this silliness." But The Next Web chose to end their post by scolding Microsoft and demanding that they respond:

Microsoft has promised that its Surface machines will be roughly price competitive with two market points: other ARM tablets for the RT machine, and around ultrabook pricing for the Pro version. If these prices are kept, Microsoft will be above both, by a fat margin. It would be nice to simply laugh off the above figures, but given their specificity, it’s not easy to do.

From a PR perspective, Microsoft needs to clear the air, and start talking numbers.

I have a big problem with that. Journalists can disagree with the disclosure policies of companies they cover, and I certainly know colleagues who are frustrated that Microsoft has chosen to hold back on many details of the Surface after its initial announcement.

But the idea that a company or an individual has an obligation to respond to every rumor is insane.

We already know that modern tech journalism exists on what we could politely call a broad ethical continuum. Some reporters have no qualms about making stuff up. Others are perfectly willing to quote sources that don’t exist, or to unquestioningly accept leaks from sources that might be trying to manipulate a market. And for some reason most tech blogs are still willing to write stories based on rumors from DigiTimes, even after that source has proven that it’s completely unreliable.

If the companies we cover get in the habit of responding to every rumor, no matter how ludicrous, all that does is encourage more rumors. Although, frankly, it’s hard to imagine how the tech blogosphere could reasonably handle any more unfounded speculation without exploding like Mr Creosote.

Meanwhile, a confidential source just told me that Microsoft has released the first build of Windows 9 to testers. [*] It’s only a rumor, but I’m running with it. If Microsoft won’t confirm or deny it, then I will write a story based on my own assumptions.

It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

[*] For the humor-impaired, that's me using humor to make a point.

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft

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81 comments
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  • Snafu over pricing of Microsoft Surface highlights trouble with web rumors

    I agree, can we get AKH fired for posting his nonsense of a nontrue rumor? Its not like he would ever check facts on any of the things he writes anyway. This is the second article on ZDNet to smack him down to reality. The lesson to be learnt: Click baiting makes you look foolish.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Ya, if the Surface does cost that much...

      ...Microsoft will have a problem!!! Ha!

      A BIG ONE.
      Cayble
    • Clickbaiting not the issue here - FUD is the issue.

      The story took on a life of it's own because the global membership of the Anti-Microsoft Choral Howling Assoc. could not resist a story that suggested that MS was going to shoot itself in the head. They wanted to believe it was true so badly that they did not care whether it in fact was true or not. One of the first rules of evaluating a story is "does it play into something that some large and noisy group want to believe is true"? If it does, be sceptical.
      FrederickLeeson
    • Of course, you mean...

      unless it's a rumor about Apple. Those are ok, right?
      msalzberg
    • What do qualifications have to do with it?

      I've been in IT for 40 years. Learned on cards. Have post grad qualifications in IT as well as BA in Pysch and Ltierature. Taught secondary for 15 years, ran a software development business for 30 years, developed an authoring tool with over 1 million lines of code in its 15th version. Developed for Win Phone, Apple and Windows environments. My experience also include elearning development, scripting, video production, audio engineering, acting, voice-over and tons and tons of gaming.

      But none of this matters on ZDNet. It just matters if you are Horde or Alliance - oops Windows or 'Nix (OS/X, Linux. Unix). Because I prefer modern software that the vast majority of the world uses and I can see the benefits of MS R&D, I'm a troll. Ironically, I am a troll and a fire mage at that ;-)

      Experience, understanding and analysis mean nothing on ZDNet, generally only opinions are required by posters and for the majority of bloggers. I often think Ed and Mary would be better on a site where they would be appreciated, but it would be to the detriment of ZDNet.

      Keep up the good work Ed.
      Tony_McS
      • and how does all that

        relate to this story? The real issue hear is the lack of good reporting, not technical competance! And if any one believes this lack of real ability in reporting is limited to technical blogs, you are really fooling yourself or are ignorant of the everyday rush of the media to be first and very seldom accurate
        arlkay@...
    • Speaking of click baiting and reporting on unverified rumors...

      Has anyone verified that Android botnet yet?
      techadmin.cc@...
  • What??? Actual Journalism and doing real research???

    Your stock is rising "Number 1"...
    Drewidian
    • or sue them

      Or Microsoft can start to sue a few of those so called journalists that cause damage to them by spreading sh&t.
      wmac1
  • Sweet!

    What's coming in Windows 9? Any changes? :)
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I heard...

      Windows 9 will have the ability to create more memory on the fly, increase CPU throughput and eliminate defects before they are seen. Much like Linux does today.
      CriticalSection
      • More memory on the fly

        Isn't that what a paging file does?
        dsa791
        • sort of.

          It pages out pagable marked memory to disk giving a backing store for virtual pages so that a 32 bit system with 1 gig of memory can seem to access ~2gig in user space. It is different than a 32 big system with 4gig of memory and no pagefile.
          CriticalSection
      • You're right!

        ... Linux is the answer! Now just tell me where i can get my linux version of Photoshop and I am IN!

        Asshat. Sorry. I mean, RedHat.
        kstagg
        • Sarcasm was missed

          BTW: a CriticalSection is a Windows construct.
          CriticalSection
      • Nope

        Windows 9 will just emit 9/8 the amount of Fairy Dust that Windows 8 is supposed to emit, when eventually released.

        What you describe are the observable side effects of Fairy Dust in physical space -- it's primary effects are on the user's mental state (and other dimensions, but let's not talk here...)
        danbi
    • Obviously.....

      Windows 9 : Windows 8 :: Windows 7 : Windows Vista.
      Hazydave
    • Changes...

      They have realized the huge mistakes in Win 8 early and have removed the metro interface woohoo!
      IgnorantBugger
  • The Fun Part is

    that all their "early adopters" will have to wait for them to purchase the Surfaces from Microsoft through the regular end user retail channel first, since Microsoft is not selling through any channels but their own stores and web site(s).
    WebSiteManager
    • I hear Windows 9

      Will have a "replicator" app like the one on Star Trek TNG... and that you'll be able to stream snacks directly to your Xbox using Smart Glass...
      widow maker