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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site


Last month Microsoft revealed the Zune, which includes a feature for sharing music with other Zune owners. Predictably, Steve Jobs has rubbished it, and initially it may do more harm than good (who wants to be the lone Zuner waiting around for someone to share with?), but the iPod is in a very different position and could take sharing a lot further.

Imagine being able to set your iPod to publicise what you’re listening to, allowing nearby strangers to discover and overhear some of it (as much as the recording industry would grudgingly allow). Nothing earth-shattering.

But then add in personal profiles, so you can share your details and see who’s around. Add some simple multimedia messaging (mostly using presets created in iTunes) so you can congratulate people on their good taste, ask them what they’re doing later, or ridicule their penchant for 70s prog rock. That’d be enough to trigger countless predictable press stories about ‘podding’, playground bullying via iPods, etc.

Then make the leap to the web (something that should have been done with iTunes long ago), integrating with a site that shows everyone’s profiles and tracks their interactions. Now when you get home you can message that stranger who listened to your iPod (or perhaps iPhone?) on the train, see if they know anyone you know, and spend hours customising your profile with tacky graphics and blaring music. Include Nike + iPod Sport Kit data, so fitness fanatics can show off their prowess. Let anyone browse and register, whether they have an iPod or not.

Within months of releasing capable devices, Apple could have a strong MySpace rival. Smaller, yes, but implicitly tied to their products and equipped with powerful tools for offline and online communication. I can’t think of another company with the same critical mass of hardware and branding clout (mobile phones are out of the picture; networks won’t cooperate or jeopardise SMS/data revenue), all Apple needs is Bluetooth and the will to go for it.

Or is my thinking flawed? Would it stretch the brand loyalty too far and put some people off? Can Microsoft sell enough Zunes to make its sharing viable? Is there somehow a realistic scenario involving mobile phones getting there first?


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