The Difference Between Rumor and Speculation

As the “MacRumors guy”, I take rumors very seriously. One common misconception that appears again and again is the lack of distinction between “Rumor” and “Speculation”.

I find it surprising that I need to spell out this distinction, but it’s a recurrent source of confusion on the Mac web.

In November 2006, I got a call from a reporter writing about the building iPhone hype and was specifically questioned about the rumors that Apple might sell the iPhone as an “unlocked” phone and allow customers to simply use their own SIM cards. Perhaps I was being pedantic, but I responded by saying that this was not actually a rumor. Instead, I said that this was just one person’s opinion on what Apple could do.

To be fair, the reporter was not the only one who thought this was a legitimate rumor. The “rumor” was popularized by a digg.com article entitled Apple iPhone to be sold ‘UNLOCKED’(?)..Apple Marketing thinks Different which points to a blog entry on Black Friars Inc entitled Apple thinks different about marketing iPhones. In the blog entry, the author wrote:

One of the rather interesting marketing aspects I’ve read about is the idea that the iPhone won’t be tied to any specific carrier. Instead, it will be sold “unlocked”, requiring you to insert a GSM subscriber identity (SIM) card.

The story/idea was also picked up and posted on TUAW under the title Rumor: Apple iPhone could be sold unlocked?.

Tracking back the source of this information (not linked from Black Friars) leads us to a Jupiter Research’s brainstorming article where the author presents 4 possible options for Apple to market a phone, and even points out that “only the first three have been seriously debated by Apple watchers”:

1. Continue licensing software to established handset vendors
2. Create its own iPod mobile phone handset and sell via mobile operators
3. Apple could chose to bypass current operators by launching one or more MVNOs
4. Apple could sell its iPod mobile phone in retail – Consumers would just slot in an existing SIM and have a working combination device.

The last item in this four item list about what Apple could do ended up spawning a prominent rumor that Apple might seriously be considering selling an unlocked phone.

To me the distinction between rumors and speculation is clear. Rumors have a legitimate (albeit small) chance of being true. Rumors come from individuals who claim to have actual inside knowledge about these happenings. (Whether or not these individuals are reliable or not is the whole focus of MacRumors.com)

Meanwhile, speculation can range from educated guessing to wild dreams. You might as well put “Dear Santa, I want…” in front of any speculative opinion.

At MacRumors we keep this distinction clear, and generally avoid purely speculative opinions on what Apple should/could do.

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10 Responses to The Difference Between Rumor and Speculation

  1. Fest says:

    Dude… one of your best posts yet! Keep them coming!

  2. mrkramer says:

    great post, all of your posts have been very interesting to read. keep posting more.

  3. displaced says:

    Spot on, Arn!

    *scurries off to register macspeculation.com*

    (I kid, I kid!)

    Seriously though, as you’ve noted the difference between these two ideas is really important. It’s something which the ‘fog of war’ in the MacRumors forums frequently obscures.

    Having said that, one of the strengths of MR is that the stories posted and the forums themselves are two very different entities. Too many sites of a similar structure to MR tend to let the forums bleed into the stories too much, with articles posted that are almost based on discussions in the forums (macslash springs to mind, although I’ve not been a regular there for a few years now). MR stands out as a collator and filterer of the weird and wacky mac-web, without actually adding to the insanity itself :)

    Nice blog so far!


    Cheers,
    Chris

  4. kevin says:

    I agree that there’s a difference in the two thing you’re talking about, but you can’t distinguish one as “rumor” and one as “speculation” – both instances, by definitions are “rumors” once the idea has been passed around. (Dictionary.com defines “rumor” as “a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts”). What you’re pointed out is the difference between the source, and it’s often – if not almost always – the case that when a story is being passed around that its source is not verified.. and those are rumors. Perhaps you need to distinguish between a “Pure-Speculation-Originating Rumor” and a “Trusted-Source-Originating Rumor” because that’s really what you’re talking about. I’m sure there’s a more concise way of phrasing that, but you get my point.

  5. Matthew says:

    There is a difference between Rumour and Speculation, contrary to Kevin’s assertions, though it is subtle.

    All definitions from American Heritage via dictionary.com

    Rumour: A piece of unverified information of uncertain origin usually spread by word of mouth.

    Speculation: A conclusion, opinion, or theory reached by conjecture.

    Conjecture: Inference or judgment based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence; guesswork

    So in essence, rumour is theory based on unconfirmed fact, whereas speculation is theory based on guesswork.

    So I think Arnold is correct in his insistence on the distinction, subtle as it may be.

  6. Frank says:

    Might this not mean that speculation is in fact rumor until proven otherwise to be conjecture?

    Perhaps what we should be differentiating between is conjecture and inside information?

  7. mrm says:

    The real relationship is somewhere between what Kevin and Matthew describe.

    Speculation can become rumor, and rumor can drive speculation. Conjecture may be based on available facts, but it guesses at the final outcome. A rumor, on the other hand, is the assumption of a possible fact which guesses ONLY the truth value of the statement, not the implications.

    To make this more concrete, consider:
    An unknown source indicates that iLife is going to be pulled from shelves next week. That’s a rumor. When someone goes from there to say that this must mean that the new iLife is coming next week as well, that’s speculation.

    A rumor is only a passing of “facts” with, as Arn described, some possibility of being true. Anything that goes beyond the available information is speculation, even if it is logically inevitable based on past experience.

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