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Archive for October 24th, 2006

The Microsoft Zune™ digital media player and online service will be available to consumers in the U.S. on Nov. 14, 2006.

Microsoft (MSFT) claims to be putting the social back into digital music. Translated: they hope it’s an iPod killer and iTunes replacement for Christmas ’06. The device retails for $249.99 U.S. and the marketing hype states it will create new ways for entertainment fans to connect and share media experiences device-to-device through use of wireless technology. The device requires a Zune Pass subscription at $14.99/month to open up that new market of “social” music connectivity as well as access “millions” of songs. It’s that wireless element that has caused debate.

Why is Microsoft interested? Apple (AAPL)has sold ~65 million iPod’s and according to Sam Bhavnani, iTunes has ~100 million users — mainstream users who use, are educated, and accustom to the Apple music/video download model and user interface. And, they recently announced their one-billionth download on iTunes. Yep, the iPod is in Microsoft’s sights.

Microsoft’s creative strategy to include a social community with the device is very cool. I’ve blogged on social communities and how online social networking has become an incredible phenomenon. A typical social networking site, say like Facebook or MySpace, you create an individual profile detailing your age, location, whether you are in a relationship, plus your general interests, favorite music, movies and books etc.,. You might upload photographs of yourself and write daily journal entries. You build up a set of online friends, each of whom will have their own set of friends, and so on.

It’s not clear what set of features/functions the Zune device will incorporate at launch in it’s social network, but in a recent interview with Apple CEO, Jobs was ask if the iPod competitor has him worried?

In a word, no. I’ve seen the demonstrations on the Internet about how you can find another person using a Zune and give them a song they can play three times. It takes forever. By the time you’ve gone through all that, the girl’s got up and left! You’re much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in her ear. Then you’re connected with about two feet of headphone cable.

Besides being a clever sound bite, the point is spot on in that technology can often lose sight of the simple and/or obvious. “Social” is just that. It’s about interaction and conversations between people and not an exercise in “mental calisthenics” to waste time working with technology. It’s about getting what you want done. Time will tell if the Zune social community will evolve to an integral part of everyone’s daily life. Microsoft surely hopes it will. People participate in social networks and often prefer networks set up for other people they can relate too.

Sharing your music library while connected by two feet of headphone cable is a simple social network.

For certain youth demographics, it’s the ear-bud stupid! This just makes sense.

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The internet was once just an enormous data library, but it’s migrated to a vast “conversation” in the past 3 years. Transmitting information from one person to another has never been easier. Everyone can participate. If my teenage son is any indicator, young people now communicate more through social networking websites than through email. Instead of keeping diaries, they keep blogs; instead of photo albums, they have Zooomr, or Flickr or Xanga. Rather than use a “land-locked” PC in a home office to IM they use proximity based IM services from Meetro or RadiusIM via a cell phone.

While older adults go online to find information, the younger crowd go online to LIVE. The boundaries between private and public and between offline and online are blurred, and there is a widening generation gap between kids growing up with social technology and adults who find it a bit foreign and unsettling. Maybe this is the definition of the “MySpace demographic”?

This has all happened very quick. The first social networking websites were launched about three years ago, aimed at providing online forums where friends could connect. Approx a year later online social networking was a fully fledged phenomenon. Today it has become the face of the internet. Social networking websites have evolved from something to visit in your spare time to an integral part of daily life that many cannot imagine living without.

Not convinced? Take a look at the numbers:

  • Friendster, one of the pioneers of online social networking, now has more than 30 million members. In August ’06 — 1 million unique visitors and 66 million page views.
  • Bebo (mainly for teenagers), launched only last July, has 25 million members and is the number one social networking site in the UK. In August ’06 — 2.5 million unique visitors and 1.8 Billion page views.
  • Piczo, 35,000 new member registrations per day, 75% of the 13-16 year old demographic. 10 million unique visitors per month adding up to 2.5 Billion pages views per month.
  • MySpace, purchased last July by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for $580 million, MySpace has just registered its 100 millionth member. In July ’06 ranked number one website among US internet users, receiving more hits in a one-week period than Google. In August ’06 — 56 million unique visitors and 33 Billion page views.
  • Facebook, for students – though it does have a business arm. In August ’06 — 15 million unique visitors and 6.5 Billion page views.
  • LiveJournal, where people keep online diaries for others to read. It has 10.8 million, most of them females ages 17 to 19.
  • Technorati, which monitors the blogosphere. Currently they track 51.3 million blogs worldwide, and claim that 75,000 new blogs are created every day – that’s almost one per second. The blogosphere is 100 times bigger than it was three years ago, a doubling in size roughly every six months.
  • Buzz-Oven, localized music social networking web site for Austin and Dallas, Tx teens. Approx 3000 Dallas area youth online. Coca-Cola Inc., backs the site in hope of reaching more teens on their home turf. Kids, Bands and Coca-Cola.
  • The statistics are staggering and suggest that online social networking cannot be dismissed as a passing trend. Socialization, rather than information, has emerged as a primary use of the internet.

    Still not convinced?

    If you work in the life sciences, you can chat to others in the field about everything from algal blooms to zebrafish. There’s a global community of photographers, and one for travelers and explorers. If you care about human rights and protecting the environment, you’ll find like-minded people or at Youthnoise. At Mog.com you’ll find a community of music lovers. If you are looking for a job or thinking of changing the one you have, try Linkedin or Jobster. There’s a huge online book club, described as the “MySpace for bookworms”, and another of a different kind at Bookcrossing. You could find long-lost relatives, or other mothers to talk to, or dates. You’re never too old for this: Eons is exclusively for over-50s. There is even a site if you would like to social network but aren’t sure which website to try, Socialseeker might help. It matches people with the kind of network they are looking for and gives advice to parents worried about their children’s use of these sites.

    The blogosphere (another kind of online social network) is one of the best examples of how interactive and social the internet has become. On most blogs you will find what’s called a blogroll – a list of links to other related blogs. Through these links blogs form clusters, or communities, based on shared topics and readership. Conversations develop within and between blogs as readers post comments on what others have written. A new technology called trackback has made the inter-blog network more visible by alerting bloggers every time another blogger creates a link to their site. A blog’s importance in the overall network is gauged not in terms of traffic to the site but in the number of inbound and outbound links. For instance, the political blog The Huffington Post is ranked number four by Technorati, with 63,918 links from 13,151 other blogs.

    The difference between “online” and “off-line” will fade as the internet portals go mobile. Social networking is not just a consumer trend about friends and recreation – it’s also affecting professional life.

    Something for everyone it seems.

    **Stats: Comscore numbers are U.S. numbers only

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