Today Apple did one of the most powerful things they have done since the launch of the iPod. Notice that I didn’t say “revolutionary”. There’s nothing new about it. Note that I didn’t say “innovative”. There’s nothing unique about it. Today Apple launched, quite simply, a “Social Network for Music”. What’s so powerful is that they’re not really trying to create a social network at all. Apple realizes the Social Graph is just a complement to something bigger. Instead, Apple focused on one of the biggest strengths they have – their music, and made it social. I think this is powerful, and here’s why:
I think Dave Winer got it right earlier today – this is only the beginning for Apple. You see, the secret to a successful anything on the web (not just “social”) is to focus on what you do best, and revolve around that. Google’s strength was search. Microsoft’s strength was the consumer OS that could be installed on almost any affordable PC, and has since become Exchange and Outlook and Enterprise apps. Oracle’s strength is the database. Facebook’s is the Social Graph. No one does these things better than these guys, and it has been their focus that has made them big. The moment they lose that focus is the moment they start to fizzle.
That’s why I question when I hear people saying “we’re creating another Social Network.” Or, “so and so is competing against Facebook” (even though I did say earlier today this is a threat to Facebook – I’ll explain that in a second). The minute I hear that I immediately tune out. The age of “Social Networks” is gone. Social has become ubiquitous, or at least it should be with all the tools available to us now. It’s time to focus on your core, and Apple has done that brilliantly with this new Ping launch. They will sell boat-loads of music from this because now rather than trying to find new music through search, people are going to be finding new music through the things their friends are interested in, an even more powerful factor in the purchasing process. That’s just the start.
As Dave Winer implied, this social experience will eventually expand across every service Apple operates. Apple is only building the Social Graph right now. You’ll build your list of friends to learn of their music, even import your Facebook friends in the process to help port that Social Graph over to Apple, and you’ll start to build conversations and spend time in iTunes in multiple environments. It won’t be long before you see Apple bringing your friends into the entire iTunes experience, showing Apps as well as music, along with, right next to Albums you want to purchase, other friends that have liked or purchased those Albums. Soon Apple will let you take those friends into Mobile Me to share photos with each other. They’ll let you take those friends into your contact lists on your iPhone. They’ll build it into the camera app on the iPhone and iPod devices. You’ll be able to see what your friends are watching on your AppleTV and you’ll be able to pull that entire experience into the operating system – both OS X and iOS. All of these elements will go into the Ping experience, and I bet that eventually branches out into the browser. Keep in mind these aren’t just anonymous friends – these are real-life connections. My Mom uses iTunes. I bet many of your Grandparents use iTunes. This is perhaps bigger than Facebook (According to Wired, iTunes in just 2005 had over 200 million users – anyone have a more recent number?).
Now, for the pinnacle event – the equivalent of Facebook’s F8: the Platform. You can count on it. Eventually Apple will integrate these connections into the SDK and you’ll now be able to bring over your Ping friends to the applications you use and the games you play. I think it’s no accident the ability to play against friends in the SDK was mentioned in today’s announcement. Now Ping’s Social Graph becomes a standard, something all apps will be fighting for, and they’ve all of the sudden hit the caliber of Facebook Platform. They’ll be able to port those connections to the web, and now Apple has just as powerful a search and recommendation algorithm as both Facebook, and perhaps more than Google currently.
Today’s move was inevitable, but genius on the part of Apple. I’m glad they didn’t try to build an entire Social Network out of the box. Start small, and gradually bring your users along for the ride as you expand that experience. I think perhaps that’s where Google went wrong – where’s my news feed in Picasa? Where can I see what things my friends are searching for and have opted me to see? How do I port my Facebook Social Graph over to those experiences? Google’s focusing too broadly – I think they realize that. I hope they don’t rush to a large social network, but rather start slowly and gradually bring it all together.
I’ve talked about building on your core – your core is key. Apple, quite literally, showed its core today as it stayed focused on one of the things they do best right now – Music. Everything else is just a complement, and that is totally evident in Ping. I think Apple just confirmed what we all knew up to this point – “Social” is now just a commodity.