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Does Apple Even Want to Build a Social Network?

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Last week, at its usual September iPod product refresh, Apple rolled out Ping, and critics simultaneously questioned whether or not Apple could build a social network to challenge the likes of Facebook and Twitter. As I discuss in my weekly column at GigaOM Pro, the real question isn’t if Apple can, but rather, if the folks in Cupertino even want to pursue such a move.

As it stands now, Ping is explicitly about selling music on the iTunes store. Om thinks it foreshadows the future of social commerce, but where else could Apple take Ping, and how far?

Some analysts describe social networking as air, but perhaps the more relevant metaphor is electricity. In this view, companies and sites tap into social networking to create applications or experiences. Right now, Apple is treating social media as electricity to fuel its own shopping and communications applications.

Apple makes its money by selling products and “renting” its distribution channel. It likely won’t hire an advertising sales force, and Apple’s is a weak collection of fee-based services. I suspect Apple’s more comfortable creating social networking features that enhance its products and marketplaces, rather than building out a free-standing social network.

Standalone social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, then, probably won’t face Apple as a head-to-head competitor for their audiences, advertisers or what they deliver as their core user experience. Apple doesn’t appear to be interested in building a general-purpose social network, a short message broadcasting service, or a professional connections network. MySpace is way ahead of Apple in gathering artists’ pages and a social music audience, but Apple’s ability to drive sales makes it a fierce competitor for label attention.

Those companies, and others like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, who aspire to provide social media APIs, services and even infrastructure, should cultivate, rather than compete with Apple, especially if they want to reach Apple’s customers. That means they should license or, if Apple’s in its usual DIY mode, integrate their own social networking technologies with Apple’s. By the time you read this, Ping users may be able to find their friends via Facebook Connect.

Read the full post here.

14 Responses to “Does Apple Even Want to Build a Social Network?”

  1. I’m disappointed so far – being a music blogger, I think it might prove some worth to my readers if they could see what I’m purchasing. It’s in the early stages, but if the vast majority of users only follow the dozen or so people that Apple is promo-ing, I think we’ll have a lot of people bail.

  2. I do feel Apple wants to enter in the social networking/social media sphere, however, as Tim pointed out, they want to do it their own way. This may end up backfiring on them in the end, which would lose a lot of opportunities for them.

    Still, I think Ping is off to a decent start, despite its faults. I actually wrote a blog post about the appeal of Ping, and how it brought me back to iTunes.

  3. I was wondering myself why Apple released such a mutilated social network to begin with, and I got some response of the likes “give it time”, but I guess you’re right, Apple has no interest in making it a real social network, and from their point of view I can’t really disagree, a specialized network is much more useful for them.

  4. I mentioned this on TechCrunch and Mashable, but I still can’t understand why Game Center and Ping aren’t tied together. Sure they have different aims, but they can be used to promote each other and provide a cohesive experience, which is what Apple is known to do.

    Why should I have to friend the same person on Ping and Game Center separately? Why should I have to update my profile information on both separately? What about status updates and my nickname? Why can’t both share this? On a less important scale, why can’t my activity from Game Center, such as achievements, show up on my Ping stream?

    Away from the note on Game Center, why doesn’t Ping utilize other parts of the iTunes Store? Why is the focus just music? Why not music, movies, TV shows, apps?

    Ping just feels so “not done”. And not even in a “1.0” kind of way. It feels like it is an afterthought. Kind of like Orkut or Wave.

  5. Done reading this, and Ping users still aren’t able to find their friends via Facebook Connect. Companies, and others like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, wouldn’t want to cultivate with Apple, because Apple is too much trouble to work with. Tim and time again, Steve Jobs’ attitude is that, if it’s not his way, it’s the wrong way.

  6. Apple is just doing things their own way, as usual. If, and only if, they are successful, then they will have created some new type of social network. People will have to call it differently though.