Apple may enter the video social network scene — another failure ahead?
Apple is working on its own social networking app, in the style of Facebook and Snapchat.
Remember iTunes Ping? While pretty cool, it was clunky and deeply buried in iTunes. No one really used it — and it was (logically) dismissed. Same story with Apple Music Connect — it’s just a menu item I barely click on by accident.
The thing with online social networks is that they display network externalities: the more people use a social network, the more valuable the social network is for its users. And because of this increased value, the easier to recruit new users — which in turn will increase even more the value to use the social network, and so on. If ignited properly, network externalities can escalate and become “explosive” — which explain why a few social networks are hugely dominant in their subindustry, like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
But how to trigger this virtuous circle? I guess it’s pretty hard, considering the very low survival rate of social networks (yes, I’m speaking of you, MySpace, Path, Ping and others). Luck certainly plays a huge role. But two other important aspects are interactions and simplicity, that I see as a two necessary (but not sufficient) conditions.
Interactions is how people interact with each others in the social network. This is where Apple Music Connect falls short: interactions are almost non existants. Users can’t barely share anything, only artists can — but considering the lack of… interactions with regular users, many of them post almost nothing. The reason why an user comes again and again to check a social network (and post new things) is precisely because of that: interactions. You can’t trigger the virtuous circle if you don’t provide enough fuel, aka (user generated) content. We love to interact with each others, mainly because humans are a social species. And, well, social networks can’t work if they don’t reflect that.
Simplicity means the social network needs to be both simple to understand and simple to use. It’s important because it means people can use it intuitively, with no need to read a hundred pages manual. Even if it’s not per see a social network (but still subject of network externalities), WhatsApps is a good example: you only need a phone number to use it, and everyone immediately understand it’s a messaging app. So it’s super easy to recruit new users — a key point to sustain the virtuous circle. iMessages is another good example of this simplicity, but neither Ping nor Connect were/are simple to use nor to understand.
So yes, Apple’s records with online social network attempts are pretty dreadful. But I think if they make the good choices, they have a good chance to make it work — as there’s already a huge base of iPhone users ready to play with another cool feature.
The current plans for the app are to offer it as a download via the App Store, but the company could pivot and bundle its proposed social network directly into the existing camera app in iOS.
Bundling this alleged video social network only in the Camera app is probably not a good idea — as it adds steps to share anything and make the product harder to understand. Why would I launch my camera to consume video content? This is nothing but intuitive.
Maybe a dedicated app for consumption and the ability to quickly share a video from the Camera app (or Photos, or from anywhere with the help of an Extension) could make it work.
At the end, implementation will depend on what people at Apple wants to achieve with this social network: if it’s only a way for them to add another feature on the iPhone features list, well, implementation does not really matter. But if they’re serious about it and actually want the social network to succeed (aka to be used by people), they will have to make it social and simple.
At the end, maybe the problem Apple have with social networks is her inability to properly understand how they work and what kind of value they bring to users — and potentially, to Apple herself. Imagine a video counterpart of iMessages, it would be awesome — and a great way for Apple to lock down a bit more her users. On the other side, Apple Music Connect, where users can barely share anything, is a good example of a “social” network that only waste resources and brings incomprehension among Apple users, because it’s neither social nor simple. (And I can’t imagine how probably clunky it’s for artists to share stuff on Apple Music Connect.)