Stop the presses: Apple waved an olive branch

If you ever wanted a demonstration of Apple’s out-sized power over the Internet chattering classes, you need look no further than the front page of Techmeme, the premier site for catching up on the hottest tech news of the day.

On Wednesday morning, Apple (AAPL) announced on its developers Web site that it was dropping the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that prevented iPhone programmers from talking about their applications.

By midafternoon, the announcement was the subject of more than three dozen published articles, with headlines ranging from the lyrical (“Ding Dong, the iPhone NDA’s dead“), to the joyful (“iPhone NDA dropped, developers rejoice“) to the psychoanalytical (“Apple begins to learn from NDA paranoia“) — all gathered by Techmeme’s automated news-picking software and neatly arrayed at the very top of its news feed.

The magnitude of the response was matched only by the narrowness of the issue at stake.

Before they were allowed to write programs for the iPhone, developers had to agree not to talk about Apple’s software development kit or the work they did with it — not to the press, not in trade journals, not even among themselves. A few thousand programmers were affected, including some who had contracted to write books that could not, under Apple’s strict rules, be published.

Yes, the free flow of information was impeded. Yes, software development progressed more slowly than it might have if programming tips and techniques could have been shared. Yes, the episode contributed to the rancor that characterized Apple’s relationship with much of the third-party software community. (see, for example, here)

But did it require that every tech writer with a blog or access to a printing press weigh in on the development?

And was it the most important thing to be writing about on Wednesday, Oct. 1, in the middle of an economic meltdown and a presidential election, with banks failing and a $700 billion bail-out package hanging in the balance?

In the world of high-tech journalism, apparently it was.

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