Apple (s aapl) launched a brand new site offering tech support for its products on Saturday, called Apple Support Communities. The new site represents an evolution of its support discussion forums, where users offer helpful advice to one another regarding technical issues or other problems with Mac products they may be experiencing. It’s a small enough change, but it might be one that proves Apple can do social.
Apple Support Communities offers more than just a fairly standard discussion board. It centers on product-specific communities, which are themselves divided into sub-communities depending on the type of support you’re looking for. The site surfaces the most recent content, is based around more of a question-asking model like Quora, a popular social Q&A site, and provides status incentives to help encourage community members to assist their fellow users.
The redesign seems aimed at making support more accessible for new users, and at incorporating more social features to make it easier to give feedback and follow discussions. For example, users can now “Like” any post made in community threads, and you can follow individual communities using a bookmark feature, or by signing up to receive email notifications of new replies. Users can also customize which community feeds appear on their home page quickly and easily using links posted throughout the site.
There’s also a new incentive system that borrows from the recent popularity of gamification. Users can choose which are the most helpful answers, which awards five points to a user, and Apple will sometimes single out a “correct” answer, which grants an additional 10 points. Earning points increases your level, which tops out at level 10 (80,000 points). Apple hasn’t yet revealed what specific privileges are unlocked at each level.
Apple previewed the new site in August last year, but hadn’t made mention of any progress until the new version went live this weekend. My early impressions are that this might be Apple’s most successful foray into social networking yet, or at least the best-designed one. Anyone else agree?