Next month, Microsoft will release the Zune Music player and marketplace which were announced earlier this year. Of course, the hype has been about Zune being an iPod killer, if you listen to some people and even today there were stories about Zune as a potential threat to the iPod.
One of the much-touted features of the Zune system is the social tools built into the player. Zune players have Wi-Fi, but you can't use it to sync the player with your computer or even buy tunes at the Zune marketplace. What you can do with it is share music with other Zune users.
How does it work? Not well, according to Erica Sadun at O'Reilly's MacDev Center. If Zune is supposed to lead to people virally sharing music using their Zune players, then the limitations of the CRAP (aka DRM) system stop it dead in its tracks.
You can share a song with someone but it can only be played three times over three days. After that, it's gone. You can't share a song someone shared with you with a third person unless you buy it before you share it. Does that sound like viral marketing to you? Erica says:
So does this kind of sharing allow the building of street cred? Can it act as a viral force to promote music? Here's the problem. Because of the 3-day/3-play/no-share limitation, that music is absolutely going no further than the first shared Zune--unless the sharing encourages the recipient to buy the track. Only then can the music reach its next link of viral customer. Think about that. It's as if YouTube said you had to fork over a dollar (or the equivalent in Microsoft's fake "points" system) before sharing a video with friends. It will stop the viral effect dead in its tracks.
I've got teenagers and I've seen how viral, word-of-mouth advertising for music works with them. I don't think this will do it.
I shouldn't just pick on Microsoft here. Apple has totally ruined the iTunes sharing experience with their limit of five connections to your iTunes collection in any given day. What's more, the limitation even applies to things that aren't protected. As you might expect, I have all of IT Conversations in my iTunes collection, as Executive Producer and a number of people used to listen to IT Conversations from me here at work. That's stopped now because when I let everyone connect at work and use my five-person limit, my daughter can't connect at night. So, I've password protected my collection and no longer share.
Apple didn't sell the iPod as a social device, but to break into the market, Microsoft is putting the social features of the Zune player front and center. Unfortunately for them, the social aspects of any music service is severely curtailed by the limitations that CRAP places on it. The promise may help ship a few units early on, but its failure to take hold will likely doom the Zune to be just another MP3 player without the style of the iPod.