Apple Making Huge Social Software Push?

Update Added several points about upcoming Leopard features.

Several recent Apple developments suggest that the company is ramping up for a huge push of social features in its software:

Wiki Server

A wiki server? Yes, a wiki server. From the preview site:

“Leopard Server includes a Wiki Server to make it easy for teams to create and distribute information through their own shared Intranet website. For the first time, all members of a workgroup can easily create or edit content right from their browser. With a few clicks, or by dragging and dropping, they can upload files and images, track changes, assign keywords, hyper-link pages, view and contribute to shared calendars and blogs, and search for content on the group Intranet.”

Update Added several points about upcoming Leopard features.

Several recent Apple developments suggest that the company is ramping up for a huge push of social features in its software:

Wiki Server

A wiki server? Yes, a wiki server. From the preview site:

“Leopard Server includes a Wiki Server to make it easy for teams to create and distribute information through their own shared Intranet website. For the first time, all members of a workgroup can easily create or edit content right from their browser. With a few clicks, or by dragging and dropping, they can upload files and images, track changes, assign keywords, hyper-link pages, view and contribute to shared calendars and blogs, and search for content on the group Intranet.”

This is huge news. This will allow teams to collaborate using wikis, blogs, calendars…all those new social tools we wonder how we could live without.

iCal Calendar Sharing

Apple will add CalDev support to iCal in Leopard, so that multiple people can not only view others’ calendars, but edit them as well. You’ll be able to schedule meetings for groups, access other’s public availability, and schedule things automatically.

In addition, this page hints that there will be an event dropbox in Leopard Server which allows people to share documents surrounding an event. I’m not sure why Steve Jobs didn’t talk about this stuff at the keynote, because this is a great social feature.

iChat Screen Sharing

In Leopard you’ll be able to share iChat screens with other people, which means that you both have control of the screen at the same time. I’m not sure how this actually works, it sounds like it could get hairy at times, but it could potentially allow for a new level of collaboration over the Web. I can imagine using it a lot with my parents, who aren’t familiar with all the little interface subtleties of iTunes and iPhoto.

In addition, in Leopard you can enter presentation mode in iChat, which allows you to present from an application while chatting. That sounds really cool, especially if you happen to need to talk to a room full of folks at least one of whom has a Mac.

iTunes Social Features Survey

According to MacShrine, Apple recently sent out a survey asking for information on the following details:

  • The ability to view a friend’s wish list, with permission
  • The ability to view what a friend is currently listening to, with permission
  • The ability to view a friend’s playlist, with permission
  • The ability to view a friend’s recent purchases, with permission
  • The ability to view a friend’s favorite artists, with permission

The details of the survey are nowhere to be found (so it may just be a rumor), but the need for these types of features is clear. People learn about new music from their friends, and iTunes needs to reflect that. Apple’s recommendation system lags way behind those of Last.fm and Pandora, whose services make it easy to discover new music and connect with others. By allowing people to see what their friends are playing (and not just those people on the local network), Apple will do some sorely-needed catching up.

Teams in Leopard Server

Apple is planning on adding a teams feature to next year’s release of Leopard Server. Teams let people set up ad hoc social networks that share calendars, wikis, blogs, and other tools. (You can see a group calendar in this screenshot). In an Apple developer’s own words:

“Teams is a revolutionary new way for people to work together. Teams lets people share contacts, resources, information and communicate more effectively—as a team.

With Teams, groups receive their own website–an online Wiki Server– listing the latest news, upcoming events and providing people access to online documents. This Wiki-powered website makes it easy for people within the group to create and edit web page content, hyperlink and crosslink between page and maintain history of all past changes. In addition, this group website provides web-based access to a shared group calendar, and a blog communication and podcasting.”

What Apple Already Has

In Tiger Server, Apple already has an iChat server collaboration suite that it dubs “collaboration services”. It supports the Jabber protocol, enabling folks on other platforms to play, too.

Folks using iTunes and iPhoto will know about music and photo sharing, a very simple yet powerful social feature.

Signs of a Larger Trend?

Though I don’t consider myself an Apple-groupie (I’ve only been to 1 store opening), I do see a clear trend here. Combine the above items coming with Leopard, the existing collaboration features in Tiger, the sharing features of iTunes and iPhoto, and it’s clear that Apple is making a strong push into the social realm. They aim to enable social connections on many levels.

Tools for Communicating

Notice that all of these features are about enabling communication as much as they are about creating content. It’s about getting the right information to the right person at the right time through interaction with their friends and associates. That’s how we do things out here in meatspace, so that’s how we’ll do things in cyberspace as well.

I think this is good news for Apple. As the proliferation of telephones, cellphones, chat software, blogs, and social networking sites have shown, there seems to be a market for this social software stuff…

Published: August 14th, 2006

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