I have seen a lot of things in the motorcycle industry since I started Asphalt & Rubber, but never before have I seen something like this. During the autumn months, it is not uncommon for A&R to receive tips about new motorcycle models that are about to debut, and today was seemingly no different.
This morning we got an enthusiastic email from a purported regular reader (make that two readers now), asking why we weren’t covering the leaked details on the supercharged Kawasaki H2, which were apparently “going viral” all over the internet, as the email told us. To give us proof of that assertion, they included in the emails links to a Facebook page for a new web forum for the H2, which is where the leak apparently occurred.
A quick check on our massive RSS feed (roughly 600 publications now) showed the viral story had only been picked up by one other publication, Motorcycle.com. MO ran the story with the headline “Inside Info About Kawasaki’s Radical H2 Sportbike?” — which had been written by the ever loveable “Motorcycle.com Staff” author, and qualified with the profession’s ubiquitous “?” phrasing.
Our friends at MO certainly do a bit of traffic (I say that with sincerity), though I normally wouldn’t use a single publication covering a story as an indication of that story going viral, but ok whatever…hyperbole is part of the game.
Like any good editor though, I dove into the story deeper. What I found has me supremely worried.
The website for this “leaked information” is a bulletin board forum that has been online for roughly two weeks now. It has 51 members as of this writing, 69 threads, and 318 posts — practically a virgin site, in the web forum world (I have a bit of experience in this space).
The poster of the information was apparently brand new too, as his leaked information was his first and only post to the message board at the time of this writing. Of note, the user’s name – “Nessuno” — is Italian for “nobody”.
So literally, an anonymous Italian-speaker posts on a previously unheard of website that “a friend of a friend with inside connections to KHI” has leaked to them the details on a new motorcycle. Hmm…ok. It is the internet, this happens just about every day, right?
We dig deeper.
What I haven’t told you is that there is a link connecting the emails we received, to the forum in question here, and the Motorcycle.com story. That link is a company called VerticalScope.
One of the largest players in the motorcycle industry, VerticalScope owns just about every major forum in the two-wheeled space. They own Motorcycle.com. They also employ the people/person who emailed us twice today.
To help us verify information that comes to us via the A&R tips page, we quietly record the IP addresses of the messages sent, including the IP address (188.8.131.52) of our avid readers in our scenario here.
A simple IP address lookup shows that these emails came to us via a computers operated by VerticalScope, and that actually our “Mark” and “Michael” contacted us from the same IP address, though different email addresses, asking us to look into the story. Hmm…interesting.
So where does that leave us?
Seemingly one person from VerticalScope, tipped us off to a story that was “going viral” on their most recently launched web forum. They included links to two VerticalScope web properties. As of this writing, that company’s own “news” outlet was the only publisher to cover this “viral” story, albeit by an equally anonymous author.
Unfortunately for us the “Staff Writer” at Motorcycle.com, who was apparently too cowardly to attach their actual name to the story, could only verify that “this thing will be absolutely the quickest and most powerful Kawasaki motorcycle of all time, by far” — essentially admitting that they have broken the first rule in journalism, verifying a source.
That’s some of the best marketing Newspeak I’ve ever heard from a journalist.
It is good to know that the marketing hype could be confirmed, because after all, the meat of the story — the engine displacement, the engine design, and the power figures — has about as much credibility as my cat’s Tumblr blog.
I would be content merely to fling some mud at publication that I had just yesterday been singing the praises of, since this is some of the laziest journalism the motorcycle industry has ever seen since I’ve been at this gig, which is saying something with the current state of affairs in moto-journalism.
The trouble is though, there is something bigger going on here.
Internet leaks happen all the time, often on message boards. However, it is interesting for a source with actual knowledge to be posting on a forum that has just over 50 members and 70 threads to-date (most of which are seeded posts, I might add).
You would expect a moth to be attracted to the much brighter flame of the KawiForums, which is also a VerticalScope property I might add, which boasts tens of thousands of users. However, if you wanted a good way to solidify a new site as a go-to source for people interested in the Kawasaki H2, having a post like the one in question here would be a great way of doing it.
Thinking more about this poster, it’s interesting that this “Nobody” refers to KHI and not Kawasaki, the latter being the more vernacular verbiage, the prior being more in tune with the H2’s marketing thus far, which has focused on promoting Kawasaki Heavy Industries experience with turbines, rather than Kawasaki’s prowess in building motorcycles.
It is perhaps unnerving to see such a large entity, responsible for so many eyeballs in the motorcycle industry, pushing so hard on a story that lacks so greatly in creditability and contains so much marketing-speak.
At its best, this is MO is practicing some very sloppy journalism; and at its worst, VerticalScope and its properties are working very hard to promote the words of our “Nobody” protagonist, whoever that may be.