iPhone Address Book Fiasco Should Be Apple’s Cue to Build Its Own Social Network

Your Address Book Isn’t Yours
I got a rock.

iPhone Address Book Fiasco Should Be Apple’s Cue to Build Its Own Social Network:

Apple can take all that address book data and make a real social platform out of it, adding features like two-way friend confirmation, blocking users, public profiles, photo sharing, activity streams, whatever. Then, one click could let you import all that stuff, especially all those existing friend relationships, into apps. Eventually, this could even become a standalone social network service, like Facebook. Maybe call it “Friend Center”.

Why bother?

It’s hard to overstate the importance of social apps for Apple’s iOS platform. Many of its most popular apps are owned by social networks, including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. And many of its top games are social, too, ranging from “Words With Friends” to multi-player card games.


I think this is a great idea. I don’t see it happening.

There’s a problem here. You can’t build social networking systems if you don’t understand social networking. If you try, you get — Ping. You get Google Wave. You get Google Buzz.

Google finally figured that out, and put work into changing the corporate DNA and getting people in who saw these things as social systems and not engineering systems, and I think Google+ is a good system that’s getting better (it’s interesting to live in two worlds and hear both sides of the Google+ story — the geeky elite seem to put it down a lot, and the photographers caught on to it early and love it (I lean towards the Photographer opinion, for what it’s worth).

Google, though, is further down the social path than Apple. They at least grok the need to converse with users and be part of the social space, and they have done a fair amount of blogging (corporate and personal) and while Google Groups needs a massive makeover, well, Apple Groups are, um… And where is Apple’s presence in their own support forums?

Steve was simple not interested or supportive of the core of the social phenomenon, which was talking to customers. You can’t control a conversation, and Apple was about control. You can join into a conversation, you can influence it, you can do a lot of things, but you can’t control it. And so, Apple was never IN the conversation.

I expect this will change under Tim Cook, but the DNA to be successful in this is missing from Apple even more than it was missing from Google when they thought Buzz was the answer. There are people at Apple who would love to do these things, but I think it’s going to require big attitude shifts within the company, and an influx of people who can both understand the Apple way of things and mindset AND social systems before you have a hope of something like this happening. Which to me means it’s easily a few years off. And people who can translate social systems into something that won’t give Apple hives (and work to transform Apple into a mindset that will work in a social universe, too). I think this shift is necessary; this “snow blind” issue of Apple and social systems is a place where I think Apple’s success is at risk; it’s a way for a competitor to shift the market away from Apple in a way that Apple can’t compete with, similar to the way Apple used the iMac and design esthetics to do that to Microsoft in a way Microsoft couldn’t understand how to react to. Not an easy task, but it’s where I see a big vulnerability to a market disruption that Apple can’t fight.

This isn’t new. It was one of the things I was pushing to people who would listen, way back before I left Apple.

Jobs I wish I could have taken at Apple (Apple Post-mortem, part 2 of some number….) @ Chuqui 3.0:


2) Community architect for iTunes. This is one I actually had some discussions about. Maybe you’re familiar with Pandora or last.fm? One of the questions I’ve had since the start of iTunes (and the Clear-Channel-ification of broadcast radio) was how people found out about new and interesting music. It’s sure not on broadcast radio any more, especially here in Silicon Valley. Pandora and last.fm are heading in that area — but what if you could turn the iTunes community into a real recommendation service? And how would you do it? there are some very simplistic tools in iTunes today that are “very Amazon” and not “very community” — and they’re nice, as far as they go. I felt that there was a lot of opportunity to build something really sharp and best of show. There was definitely interest among some folks inside iTunes, too. It may well happen — it just won’t be something I did. ohwell. Here’s hoping, though. There’s such opportunity here.

3) Community architect for .Mac. Although honestly, .Mac needs a lot more than community building. Allow me to defer detailed discussion of .Mac for later (remind me if I forget….), but while I think it’s good for many things, there are lots of things Apple really ought to do with .Mac (they should have bought Flickr, dammit, to name just one), and Mac Groups are barely adequate for organizing a church picnic. But there are some decent bones here to build from, if they’d just commit to doing so. Unfortunately, I just never got the feeling they would.


And now, six years later, we have — Ping — and iCloud, and Apple’s emergence into the social fabric of the net is still, well, completely missing. Well, Phil Schiller now tweets once or twice a month…

Apple should be going in this direction. I see no indication they are. Apple needs to bring people in who can help them, people who both understand these technologies and understand Apple and its culture. Good luck finding them. And it’s going to take Tim Cook and Eddy and Phil and the top execs committing to not just integrating twitter into IOS in some superficial way, but bringing this stuff into Apple and the Apple mindset and corporate DNA.

The one thing I do know is that Tim Cook understands how Steve made Apple successful, but he’s not Steve, and he has his own ideas and vision. He’s started shifting Apple down different paths already; he’s much more likely to have his own blog than steve ever would have, for instance, and he’s a lot less controlling, but not less demanding. So I think the possibilities are there in ways not possible as long as Steve was in charge.

But still, I’m not holding my breath.



This entry was posted in Community Management, Computers and Technology.