The Tiny-Code Lesson
It’s story time today. Grab a seat and I’ll tell you how a third party iPhone developer shot from the lows of obscurity to the heights of fame in the matter of a few days with the help of a few lies here and there. Hopefully, we’ll all be a bit wiser by the time it ends. Let’s begin, shall we?
A few days ago, Kelly, the owner of Tiny-Code, an online repository for Installer.app, decided that he didn’t want to publish it anymore. But instead of simply posting a note on his website citing his problems and announcing the decision, this guy decided to have some fun. Here’s the note that appeared on the website on 15 February 2008:
Tiny Code no longer produces fixes or applications for firmware 1.1.3.
We can’t say much, but we are working with Apple and with their SDK for the next firmware release and SDK applications and we shouldn’t be missed for long. We will no longer update our Installer.app repo for legality reasons and you should see us soon on iTunes.
Furthermore, he posted an “update” in a column on the left that read “now targetting [sic] fw 1.1.4 Alpha 2”. He wasn’t working with Apple, had nothing to do with the SDK and was merely speculating that Apple would choose iTunes as the vehicle for distributing iPhone applications. In other words, he was lying.
Had this been the end of it, it wouldn’t have been a big deal and you wouldn’t have seen this article. What’s more interesting is what followed thereafter. Someone ran across this website and soon it was plastered all over the Internet, most sites reporting it almost as if it were fact that they could testify too. The headlines said that it was a “rumor” but not once was it assumed that there might be a possibility of this being a hoax.
There were several clues that should have triggered the, for lack of a better phrase, spider senses of all those experienced bloggers but as long as you have something sensational to publish, who cares for the details. It’s not like you’re publishing in a print magazine or newspaper. The details can sort themselves out. If something is wrong, there is always the edit button.
No one realized that the gist of the whole message was that the SDK, whenever it comes, would be partnered with a firmware update and it would be v1.1.4. Is that really something to get excited about? Isn’t it just plain old common sense that, leak or not, that’s what is going to happen? Of course there would be a new firmware to facilitate installation of third party applications when the SDK ships. In any case, firmware update or not, how does this insignificant bit of information qualify as a sensational news headline?
The speculation gained further momentum when Kelly started enjoying all this attention and instead of simply taking down the site, like he’d originally intended to, he made it redirect to Apple’s iPhone developer page for web applications. I’ve no idea why people with years of experience dealing with hoaxes and fake claims of insider information about Apple’s plans fell for this.
Isn’t it blindingly obvious that if Apple had indeed given someone, specially someone as much of a non-entity as the owner of an obscure website, the opportunity to work in tandem with them for the highly anticipated SDK and third party applications, they wouldn’t want to jeopardize the relationship in any way, let alone throw anvil sized hints about it on the Internet for all to see?
There was more to come, however, because Mr. Kelly was on a roll. Apparently, when you publish some lie without any intention to see it spread like wildfire and it does, the most obvious thing to do is to fan it and let it spread some more. On the next day, he posted on the MacRumors Forums that he’d been reprimanded by Apple for leaking the information after having signed an NDA and that the early builds of the SDK had been confiscated from him.
Again, you could smell something fishy here. Any person with a normal IQ would just have shut up by now after having messed up so badly and cut his losses. But then again, I’m guessing that most people had assumed that it wasn’t one of Mr. Kelly’s strongest suits. To the credit of the MacRumors forum members, quite a few of them started doubting the credibility of this whole rumor at this point.
He did finally come clean and apologized for his actions on the MacRumors Forums a few days later. He admits that there was no motive apart from an unusual desire to make a fool of himself. He didn’t expect to see it gain any traction and was (pleasantly) surprised by the amount of attention it received.
One particular statement from his apology makes me chuckle with mirth whenever I read it. He said, “To everyone who defended me: Thank you for your defense and had this not been a lie, you would have been defending someone and that is a good thing, be proud.” Yes, that’s right, people should be proud to have defended him. And theft victims should be proud that someone stole from them.
As unintentional and immature as it was, this incident has exposed a severe flaw in the Apple centric media. In the matter of a couple of days, the online Mac community had let an insignificant and untrue rumor spiral into the hottest topic of discussion among themselves. No one bothered to do any fact checking, look up the background of the perpetrator of these rumors, assess his credibility and the possibility of the rumor being untrue.
No one saw what was there for everyone to see — Apple is not the sort of company that lets such incidents happen. This is the company that shut down a rumor site because of its meddling nature. It’s the most secretive company in the world. Would someone really be able to get away with such a public misdemeanor where Apple was concerned?
I realize that I’m being a loudmouth now because I have the benefit of hindsight at my disposal. Perhaps there was the possibility of such an incident actually happening and I wouldn’t have been railing about the rumor sites then. Fair enough. I agree. Which is why my main aim in authoring this monologue is not to criticize those rumor sites for what they do.
All I intend to do is point out that Kelly was only able to misuse his freedom of free speech because he found a willing audience in all the rumor sites and their readers. I hope it teaches them that, at least henceforth, the most important thing they should strive to achieve through their postings is not the honor of being the first on the block to report something, but the one with the best and most accurate reporting. A little bit of carefulness goes a long way towards establishing a healthy reputation for oneself.
All said and done, one has to admit that, as outrageous as these incidents are, they are what keep things interesting. I don’t encourage the idea of the irresponsible use of your license to publish anything on the Internet. I’m sure Kelly isn’t a particularly happy man right now, when criticism for him is rolling in from all corners of the world, from people who aren’t related to him in any way. No one should put himself in such a position.
But people do. The community reacts. Everyone enjoys getting in on the rampant speculation, until the truth comes out. Some lessons are learnt; some people end up shouldering the harsh criticism — and then someone makes a fool out of himself again. Life goes on.