Web rumor becomes widely reported "truth" – I'm sure it's happened many times before, but VentureBeat did a good job of peeling back the layers on the latest example: the $99 Wal-Mart iPhone.
Here's how it began: a blog called Boy Genius Report got a tip in early December that the iPhone would be sold at Wal-Mart before the end of the year, and that the price might be $99 for a 4GB version, which is less capacity than Apple's current options.
Other blogs picked up the rumor, and some – oops! – forgot to mention that it was just a tip: a rumor, unconfirmed by any sort of trustworthy figure from either Apple or Wal-Mart. Still, blogs will be blogs, and reporting on rumors is just part of the fun. The real gaff came when "mainstream media" (first, the San Jose Mercury News, but then Bloomberg, Reuters, NYT, Yahoo News and other fun pals) started telling people it was true.
How did that happen? Well the Mercury News said that department manager of the cell phone department at a random Walmart told them she heard from an AT&T representative that her store would in fact be getting a 4GB version two days before Christmas. See where it starts getting sketchy? Like a game of telephone…
And Apple analysts jumped in on the rumor, eager to brag about their knowledge of Apple's business model. “A $99, Apple-branded cell phone is inevitable,” said a Kaufman Brothers analyst. Yes, inevitable. Except it's not, apparently. Wal-Mart shoppers will pay a whole $2 less for the same old models. Oh wait, except not really – it's cheaper at Best Buy.
Even on Dec. 9, when blogs started telling people that the rumor was not true, mainstream media was still insisting it was.
The bright side to this whole ordeal? (Besides mainstream media feeling a small blush in its cheeks for being too literal and then falling a step behind news blogs, of course.) There won't be any stampedes at Wal-Mart on the day of the iPhone's big debut.