In this era where everyone trying to find a foothold in the social networking space, Apple is trying to take a different approach compared to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and others. Will it work? It is too early to guess but my personal opinion is that it is not going to work out well for them.
Apple’s Approach To Social Networking
Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Google, Apple is taking a completely different route to social. Their strategy is two pronged
- It is taking a vertical approach to social networking. Instead of creating a all in one network like Facebook, it is building a network around people’s interests like music, games, etc.
- Instead of a web centric social network like almost every other social network, they are trying to tie social into their products
Apple’s recent announcement about Ping and iOS Game Center clearly points to this strategy on social. Ping is the social network around music on iTunes and it is available on iTunes for Windows and Mac and their iOS devices. iOS Game Center is Apple’s attempt to develop a social network around gaming. It is an attempt to bring together the multi player gaming networks created by Microsoft and others with the idea of social games that are hugely successful on Facebook and other platforms. Using iOS Game Center, users can connect, socialize, play and brag around the games available in the Game Center.
Why I think it will not work
Even though some pundits are ecstatic about Apple’s attempt to inject social into their platforms, I am not convinced about its success. There are many reasons why I feel this way but chief among them are
- A walled garden approach to social networks will not work. Facebook may be successful in spite of their Roach Motel approach. But, part of the reason was its willingness to let data in even though they make it extremely difficult to take it out. Apple’s social networks are walled and not even a fly can go in or out without Apple’s permission. A social network based on the whims and fancies of a company like Apple has very little chance for success
- Apple’s insistence on using their own products (iTunes and iOS devices) to even gain access to these social networks means that its success is dependent on a stunted version of network effect and the chances to succeed are very limited. People are used to the idea of social networks based on the premise of having the data on a centralized location and accessed through browsers and open APIs. Users have come to expect an “unfettered” access to these networks which means that access through a web browser is mandatory. iTunes as a software is bulky and its performance on even the powerful macs are lots to be desired. If users are forced to use such bulky and slow software to access their social networks, it is definitely bound to fail. Ask Linden Labs how many users they lost because of the less than desired performance of their Second Life software
- As I mentioned in the previous point, an universal access is necessary for the success of any social network. Users’ idea of social networks include access through web and mobile browsers, native apps across many different mobile platforms, text messages, etc.. Apple is nowhere closer to offering such options to the users
- Their Ping social network is more of a network around celebrities than social networks in the real sense. The initial reaction from many people indicate that they are not happy about the approach Apple took
- One of the consequence of tighter integration between Apple’s social networks and Apple’s products is the non availability of these networks on many platforms. If I cannot have my friends using Linux and Android on my network, I won’t bother to check it out.
These are some of my thoughts based on the first iteration of Apple’s social networking experiment. It is definitely bound to evolve but Apple is deeply wedded to exerting complete control and tightly tying these networks to their products. This is never going to change and Apple’s Social Strategy will fail just because of this approach of theirs. Let us wait and see.
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