Sorry Virginia, There is no Think Secret

Hi, I’m a Mac.
And I’m an Apple Lawyer.

(Later: Yes, you have
my permission
to duplicate this
bit of parody.)

[Note: This post will grow as I learn more details of what this is all about.]

This is a sad post. It’s like a “we’ve all been bad and are getting a lump-of-coal in the stocking” sad post. It’s like a “my favorite toy has just been destroyed by a bully like in the Pixar (back when it was owned by Steve Jobs) movie Toy Story” post.

It’s a post about one of my favorite websites shutting down.

First, I need to say this: I can tell you exactly the day I went from being an Apple fanboy cultist to being merely a customer. It was almost three years ago, January 5, 2005, the day I blogged the following:

“Those who know me best would suggest if the only place one could use a Mac was some small encampment in Guyana, I’d likely pack up and move. They know how much it pains me to watch the company I’ve toasted with garbage cans full of kool-aid sue a website (Think Secret) devoted to servicing the crack-addict-like need those like me have to learn every sliver of rumor we can about the future of products we not only love, but ponder and defend and take pilgrimages to worship.”

Fast-forward three years and here’s the press release posted late yesterday on Think Secret:

“PRESS RELEASE: Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published. Nick Ciarelli, Think Secret’s publisher, said “I’m pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits.”

Huh? “Positive solution for both sides”? There’s another side here. My side. (I’m speaking collectively for readers, of course.) And there’s nothing positive about this settlement for my side.

Think Secret itself is an amazing story — and I’ve already called its creator one of my heroes. It was started in 1998 by a 13-year-old middle-schooler in New Woodstock, N.Y. named Nicholas M. Ciarelli who used the clever alias Nick dePlume. Nick, despite his youth, benefitted from the nobody knows you’re a dog law of the Internet and because of his innate skills and hard work, over time became the go-to source (and conduit) for accurate inside tidbits and predictions regarding products in the Apple pipeline.

By the time Nick got sued, he was a Harvard freshman and the advertising revenues from the site were more-than-covering his tuition and iTunes purchases. (Again, I’ve already said he’s one of my heroes.)

I will now start digging through the coverage of last night’s announcement and try to figure out the rest of the story.

One thing is certain: Nick Ciarelli is to online journalism what Lebron James to the NBA. He’s already changed the game — and he’s barely started playing. Oh, and another thing is certain: this sucks.

Later (4:11 CST): Bonus links…

  • Dave Winer sends an Amen, brother on my observation that my side got nothing out of this settlement. He adds what we’re all thinking, as well: “Apple is fascist scum for shutting down Think Secret.”
  • Jon Gordon of American Public Media’s Future Tense interviewed me for his report on this story. Don’t know if any of my ramblings will make it into his story, however. If you don’t get the program (about 5 mins. each) in your market, it’s available as a podcast on their website or iTunes.
  • Jacqui Cheng of ars technica reports the EEF’s Kurt Opashi provided a somewhat bizarre silver lining quote: “I’m very happy to see that no sources were disclosed….We understand that Nick is very satisfied with the outcome of the case…We hope that Apple learns a lesson over this.” I hope EEF learns a lesson from those quotes: Get another spokesperson.
  • John Gruber of Daring Fireball (of which I’m a fan) suggests that I (he points here, at least) am “jumping to conclusions” by suggesting that Apple “somehow forced” Think Secret to cease publication. I’m trying my best to figure out how it’s jumping to a conclusion by interpreting the following quote as something else: “As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published.” There is nothing ambiguous about that statement: If it is part of a settlement, then Apple is a party to the decision to shut the site down. If the sites closure is not a part of the legal settlement, then Ciarelli needs to issue a correction.

    • Pingback: Think Secret: Damn you, Steve Jobs - - mathewingram.com/work()

    • http://www.ipdemocracy.com Cynthia Brumfield

      Rex, I wan’t fully aware of how young Nicholas was when he started ThinkSecret, but my admiration for him only grows knowing this. This kid went toe-to-toe with Apple(!) and seemingly came out of it OK. See my post at http://www.ipdemocracy.com/archives/002816nick_ciarelli_i_salute_you_for_your_guts_and_stamina.php

    • Pingback: A sad day for Apple customers and bloggers | WinExtra()

    • http://www.stephanmiller.com Stephan Miller

      I just took the only Mac I owned and saw how far I could throw it. There is more than one way to skin an Apple.

    • http://www.sax.net/live Mike Sax

      The ThinkSecret mess exposes the smallness of Steve Jobs as a person and of Apple as a company.

    • vondur

      I would imagine that as part of the terms for the agreement with Apple, Nick was probably paid a nice sum of money. I do laugh at the people who think that exposing trade secrets is somehow a free speech issue.

    • Rex Hammock

      To: vondur, who writes, “I would imagine that as part of the terms for the agreement with Apple, Nick was probably paid a nice sum of money. I do laugh at the people who think that exposing trade secrets is somehow a free speech issue.:

      1. I hope he got a boatload of money and I hope Apple agreed to pay his legal fees. I hope they suffer from the negative publicity as well. And I hope that fanboy cultists like you will learn how to love Apple products without embracing their theology.

      2. And what tribunal do you suggest be set up to determine what is news vs. what are “trade secrets.” For the record — and this is the heart of the legal issue that Apple is folding over — the “trade secrets” were revealed by Apple employees. Apple couldn’t discover who revealed them, so they went after Think Secret and other bloggers. Apple was intimidating Ciarelli into revealing who his sources were. Any “trade secret” issues are not with the media in this case, they’re with the sources. They would have never used such tactics with the New York Times, et al.

    • Nick

      Maybe they called off the lawsuit and offered to pay his college fees and gave him fifty grand and promised him every new machine they ever make as long as he stopped TS. Maybe they went round to his mother and stuck a gun at her head and said it’s TS or your mom. Maybe they offered him a job in the PR department and a pension. Maybe they told him to stop TS or they would stick a 17″ MacBook Pro up his fundament. You can’t fire off in anger about this shit unless you know what happened – and we don’t. If it was that awful why would he post this: “I’m pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits”? I maybe wrong, but for me at least, everything suggests that there was something in it for Nick.

    • Rex Hammock

      “There was something in it for Nick?”

      I’m not following this thread of, “Nick got paid so therefore this is all swell”

      I hope he got compensated for the harassment Apple’s legal goons have put him through for the past three years.

      He’s happy. This is all amicable. So what? You’re missing the point, fanboys.

      The issue here is not the settlement. It’s the notion that Apple would sue in the first place — and that they’d then be party to a settlement that includes (at least according to the statement) the shuttering of a website.

      I love Apple products, okay. I’m first in line for every new gizmo they sell. I have been in physical contact with an Apple product nearly all day, every day, for the past 23 years. But, people, you’ve got to stop drinking this kool aid.

    • http://www.winextra.com Steven Hodson

      @Rex

      I’m with you on this well Nick got something out of it crap argument. This doesn’t change the fact that Apple threw its weight around to the point where it made sense for Nick to get the hell out of the whole mess. After all why fight for something when the very people you are trying to produce quality information that you can trust won’t do anything to help in the fight.

      The Mac fanboys may laugh at Windows users but I can bet you dollars to donuts that this would never have happened the same way if it had been a similar Windows related site and Microsoft was doing the threatening. The most that happens there is a take down notice to which most bloggers or website will comply. Yes Microsoft has been well known for throwing its weight around – I am not foolish enough to deny that but if they had been faced with the same set of circumstances and tried the same thing you can bet the blogosphere would have been on fire.

    • http://johncrittenden.com John Crittenden

      This is an example of why I disrespect Steve Jobs. I use Macs, always have. Been in publishing since forever. I will probably continue to use Macs. But that’s probably all the Apple hardware I’ll be buying.

      Apple has hurt the Mac and hurt their customers because of their closed attitude over the years. They still are. It’s fine to want to control your system but this is just plain bullying. No, not even bullying. It’s stupid. I have always used as many open software applications as I could. Some others, like Photoshop and Illustrator, are indispensable and continue to sit on my hard drive. But Microsoft Office does not. As soon as Gimp matures and the Interface gets cleaned up I may well give it a serious go as well.

      While I will continue with the Mac at least for awhile, and I do love OS 4.x, which I’m still using till all you guys sort out the problems with version 5.x, I won’t be buying any iPhones or iPods. Ditto just about every other piece of hardware that Apple sells. There are lots of good options out there.

      Shame on Jobs. Just a plain bully after all.

    • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com Shawn King

      This has got to be one of the saddest posts I’ve read about this situation.

      Because it’s so full of crap.

      “I went from being an Apple fanboy cultist to being merely a customer.” I can tell you it can’t happen soon enough – being an “Apple fanboy cultist” means you have no powers of critical reasoning. Being a customer means you’ve got all your faculties intact.

      “Think Secret itself is an amazing story…” Yes – it’s amazing that so many people fell for it for so long and amazing that it took a smart 13 year old kid to do what a lot of us wish we had done – start up a web site, hang a shingle that says, “Got dirt on Apple? Call me!” and watch the money, accolades and emails roll in. I honestly wish I had thought of it first.

      “became the go-to source (and conduit) for accurate inside tidbits and predictions…”

      That can be argued til the cows come home but TS was wrong as often as it was right, over time.

      “Jon Gordon of American Public Media’s Future Tense interviewed me for his report on this story.”

      It’s a shame no one in the media feels the need to contact anyone other than the fanboys for this story. You speak of sides – there is another side than just the fanboys renting their garments over the loss of one of their “heroes”. But I guess getting another side wouldn’t fit the template of the “Big Bad Apple shutting down the little guy.”

      “If it is part of a settlement, then Apple is a party to the decision to shut the site down…”

      Yes, they are a “party” to it. But it *is* ambiguous as to whose decision it was to shut it down. Nick is graduating Harvard next year. If you look at the recent stories on the site, you can see that Nick has been in the long, slow process of winding down for quite some time. He hasn’t broken major news in months and has been supplanted by AppleInsider, among others, for most people looking for *real* dirt on Apple.

      Maybe Nick found himself a girlfriend. Maybe he’s looking to the next chapter. Maybe Apple did force him to shut down (again, not proven by you or anyone else) but Nick himself says on his site, “I’m pleased to have reached this amicable settlement…” Why not take him at his word?

      “One thing is certain: Nick Ciarelli is to online journalism what Lebron James to the NBA.”

      Are you kidding? Oh right – that’s the fanboy talking.

      Look – Think Secret didn’t publish the Pentagon Papers. He didn’t break the Abu Ghraib scandal. He was simply a fanboy, like you, who was smart enough to find his niche and take full advantage of it. He’s moving on now to a new chapter in his life. Maybe you should too.


      Shawn King
      Host/Executive Producer
      Your Mac Life
      http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com

    • http://osxfactor.com Ted

      Judging by the wording used in the PR, it sounds to me like there was a payoff. Shawn is right on the money. It sounds like Nick was wanting to put the entire thing behind him. Think Secret hadn’t published anything of note since the lawsuit was filed. I’m sure Nick had legal bills. Attending Harvard, I’m positive he has student loans. Maybe Apple offered him a large sum of money to “knife the baby”, and Nick was already thinking of throwing the baby over the bridge anyway.

      Apple is being painted as the loser here. Think Secret was not producing anything of note anyway, so its loss isn’t really a big deal. Nick didn’t divulge his sources, and probably walked away with some serious “fuck you” money (as Jobs would have been fond of saying back in ’85).

    • Rex Hammock

      To Shawn (as those he represents):

      Thanks for proving my point that certain people who love Apple products think the company’s design genius extends to its legal department. Despite your petty-, jealous- and insecure-sounding comments, one day, when the company comes after you, I’ll donate to your legal defense fund also.

      Perhaps if you were attending Harvard and defending yourself in a high-profile, large-stakes lawsuit brought by a multi-national corporation your news out-put would suffer also. And, again, any money that Apple ponied up in a settlement has nothing to do with the issues I have been blogging about for three years — that Apple brought the suit(s) in the first place.

      Also, my LaBron James analogy refers to age and journalist-as-entrepreneur issues, not to the accuracy of a website devoted to, for gods sakes, rumors and speculation. In the past, the pathway to the options (he says he wants to pursue journalism) Ciarelli has today, at age 22, would have required a couple of decades of journeyman duty. The options he has today — he earned.

    • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com Shawn King

      “To Shawn (as those he represents)”

      Huh? I don’t represent anyone but myself. I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself. Please don’t think otherwise.

      “Thanks for proving my point that certain people who love Apple products think the company’s design genius extends to its legal department.”

      Isn’t that the definition of an “Apple fanboy cultist”? Or is the above referring to me? If it’s the latter, you are incorrect. I don’t think *anyone* at Apple walks on water.

      “Despite your petty-, jealous- and insecure-sounding comments…”

      Excuse me? Please tell me which of my comments were petty, jealous or insecure. I assure you, none were intended to sound that way. You may be reading too much into what I wrote.

      “when the company comes after you, I’ll donate to your legal defense fund also.”

      LOL While I appreciate the sentiment, Apple would never come after me.

      “Perhaps if you were attending Harvard and defending yourself in a high-profile, large-stakes lawsuit brought by a multi-national corporation your news out-put would suffer also.”

      Perhaps but it can be easily argued that ThinkSecret’s *rumor* output has suffered simply because Nick is growing up – he’s undoubtedly “discovered” girls, he’s working hard at Harvard, he’s writing for the Crimson, eWeek, etc. ThinkSecret has been a shadow of it’s former self for *many* years.

      Nick said in a NYTimes quote today: “Apple basically took no action to move the lawsuit forward. It is because they knew they were going to lose.”

      He also says, “Mr. Ciarelli said that in the time that he was fighting Apple’s suit, he also received cease and desist letters, but that didn’t deter his reporting.”

      Doesn’t sound like he was working all that hard in “defense”. So you can’t lay the blame for a lack of output on the lawsuit.

      “And, again, any money that Apple ponied up in a settlement has nothing to do with the issues I have been blogging about for three years — that Apple brought the suit(s) in the first place.”

      That’s an entirely separate issue and not one covered by your original blog post. If you’d like to discuss the actual lawsuit and not just ThinkSecret, I’m more than happy to.

      “my LaBron James analogy refers to age and journalist-as-entrepreneur issues…”

      Then, and I say this with all due respect, your analogy should have been better written. As it stands, you make it sound like Nick is “The Second Coming” of online journalism.

      “…not to the accuracy of a website devoted to, for gods sakes, rumors and speculation.”

      I’m confused. Earlier in this post you called ThinkSecret a “news site”. Which do you believe it is? I’m not asking to be argumentative – I think there’s a fundamental difference in the two different kinds of sites you describe.


      Shawn King
      Host/Executive Producer
      Your Mac Life
      http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      Ah, it’s happening already, the revisionism and canonization of ThinkSecret.

      On it’s BEST day, TS was a broken clock…right twice a day, because eventually, it HAD to be. But, it’s also too convenient to “forget” how many times their rumormongering disguised as “truth” caused people real problems. When they kept insisting that the price of new iPods would be a hundred bucks lower than it was, and talking a bunch of crap about how good their sources were, when they were WRONG, it caused Apple’s stock price to drop. They bitched and moaned about the First Amendment like it was some kind of automagical security blanket, when any “real” newspaper or news outlet will tell you it most certainly is not. They get sued all the time, and every.single.time., they have to prove their case.

      Why?

      Not because the “EBUL GUBNAMENT” is out to get them, but because if they did not, then they would be above the law, and that’s just as wrong as Apple thinking they’re above the law, or the government thinking that. Nick, like every other journalist claiming first amendment protections, had to *defend his claims* in the ONLY place where you can do so under the Constitution: A court of law.

      The fact that he had to prove he qualified for the various protections that the press, in whatever form it takes, claims under the constitution was not some kind of breakdown in the system, it was the system working *correctly*. Just because the TS fanboys are too stupid or ignorant to know that, or too stubborn to care doesn’t change that. The way Apple went about pressing it’s case? That’s called “How it’s supposed to work”. It beats Apple hiring a buncha thugs to show up and break his kneecaps.

      I am continually astonished at the level of ignorance about how things work in the U.S. legal system, and any more, I’m of the opinion it’s deliberate, because that’s the only explanation that makes sense: People don’t want to change their opinions when presented with the facts, so they ignore the facts.

      But hey, it’s more fun to bash people than to realize that the lawsuit, while the result of perhaps stupid intentions, is a sign that the legal system still has at least some primacy in this country.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      Oh…and:

      “[Note: This post will grow as I learn more details of what this is all about.]”

      Too bad you couldn’t do that first, then post. Oh wait, that’s right, you’re carrying on in the proud TS tradition.

    • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

      Nick hasn’t worked much on TS for a couple of years (check the bylines). That has nothing to do with the Apple suit, and everything to do with the fact that he’s been a little busy with working hard for a degree at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

      Of course Apple shouldn’t have sued in the first place. It was ill-advised, stupid, and has done the company far more harm than good – even an outright victory would have been a PR defeat for Apple. But given that it DID bring the suit, consider the following:

      1. Nick was never going to go back to Think Secret full time, which would have been necessary if he’d have wanted to carry it on. It’s essentially been on hold since he went to Harvard, with occasional posts from others which, to be honest, have not been up the standards he set.

      2. While I believe that Nick would have won the case (what he published weren’t trade secrets by any reasonable definition), it could easily have dragged on for years and no individual wants to be involved in something like that.

      3. From Apple’s perspective, it was probably aware that on balance of probabilities it stood a fair chance of losing. Yet, it also knew it could drag the case on for years.

      Considering those points, this deal makes sense. Nick walks away – undoubtedly with a decent wedge of Apple cash in addition to his legal fees being paid. He has to abandon a site which he was never going back to anyway. His reputation is intact – in fact, probably enhanced. Apple ends a case which had the potential to set some precedents it wouldn’t have liked on what is and is not a trade secret. It doesn’t have the PR nightmare of ruining the future of a bright 22 year old, nor does it have to worry about said 22 year old digging out its deepest secrets.

      Arguably, the only person to lose anything in this case is Steve Jobs. Make no mistake, this case happened with Jobs’ approval, if not on his direct orders – and the case has cost his company lots of money, and ended with no victory. It will hurt Jobs that Apple didn’t just win outright. This case has, ultimately, certainly not hurt Nick.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      It may not have hurt Nick, but hopefully, it will make people think twice before they try to get someone to break NDA, or worse yet, repeat something told in confidence to them by someone in the know. If Nick had been reporting on stuff that matters, like Apple, oh, *breaking the law*, then hell yeah, he SHOULD be blowing that whistle. But a new geek toy? Perspective. Everything is not the same.

    • oomu

      Shawn king perfectly summarize what I’m thinking of all of this.

      TS end is fine . Nick get a good settlement and apple is no more annoyed by a website having to much influence on stock price (it was simply insane)

      I don’t understand where Nick or Apple would be evil here.

      Apple wanted to know the source, who broke the NDA in apple ? it’s normal, it’s sane. because apple pay people to work for secrets products. where is the harm ? the people accept or not the contract and apple pay them. in return both parties have to respect the contract.

      but Nick is right to defend his right to keep the source secret. if someone broke apple’s contract it’s not the problem of Nick. and journalism need source and right to protect them if you want to have access to important news (of course TS was NOT important, but the principle is here)

      the justice has a difficult work here. because, in my opinion, both parties are right. in the end, it’s good thing, apple cannot forced TS to give the source. but Nick Ciarelli needs to move forward ! they agree, TS is closed, no source, journalism is saved, apple has one less website to worry about.

      sometimes, the private interest, even if justified, has to be denied for the greater good of the public. it’s a dangerous thin line but it’s necessary to know it. it seems, USA’s justice knows that.

      you forgot to be a simple customer. but a customer is not someone hating corporate or people. you should remember in Apple they are people working. it’s important when suddenly, a “website” broke a “big” news and EVERYONE believes it ! even when it was crap. it can destroy communications, whole money put on ads and so on.

      You should sometimes understand how much information matters.


      it’s not GOOD to be an “apple cultist”, to be a “simple customer” is better. Apple doesn’t need crazy lovers becoming full of hate when your so much loved apple do something not so bright. they need customers. simply that.


      it’s true appleinsider replaced TS. now, appleinsider has even some deep-analysis article. theses are great. but I don’t care for the rumors. rumors does not help to know what to buy.

    • victor godin

      Wasn’t it shakespeare who once said… ” first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers”? Methinks this all got a little out of control the day apple consulted theirs. Not to point more ‘iFingers’ at anyone..