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Apple is professional, the web is amateur

June 03, 2011

It’s common knowledge that Apple doesn’t get the web in general and social in particular. I’ve been thinking a lot about the social part recently and I think Apple’s failure to execute there can shed some light on their failure with the web in general.

The web is about amateur content. Apple, on the other hand, is all about content created by professionals. Let me explain: Apple has a culture of craftsmanship. Every piece of hardware and software they create is beautifully crafted and blemish free. Even their website feels more like a glossy brochure than a normal site. They also respect craftsmanship in others and generally excel at making software that helps professional musicians, photographers and movie makers do their jobs.

“But wait a second,” you say. “What about iLife? Isn’t that all about amateur content?” Not quite. iLife helps normal people create things that feel professional. Take photos for instance: iPhoto makes it super easy to enhance your photos to make it look like a professional took them. Instagram makes it easy to destroy your photos to give them character. Even iPhoto’s filters are subtle and geared towards making your photo look more professional.

In iMovie, you can take your professional looking photos and stitch them together with the Ken Burns effect. The name says it all right there. Youtube on the other hand, lets you upload your personal rants right from your webcam. They didn’t even add video editing until last year. GarageBand’s loops let you create studio quality music. iWeb helps you make websites that look just like Apple’s.

And then there’s Ping. Ping epitomizes Apple’s failure at the social web. When Steve introduced Ping last year, he explained how you could follow artists and follow your friends. Again, the separation between the amateur and the pro. The creator, and the consumer. On Jack Johnson’s Ping page, Steve showed some photos that Jack had posted. Jack didn’t take any of the photos! They’re all taken by professionals. What makes celebrities on Twitter so compelling is that they have the same kind of accounts as we do. Seeing them and interacting with them unfiltered makes them more accessible. We think, “Hey, Lady Gaga’s a bit like me,” (ok, maybe that’s a stretch). Compared to Twitter, Ping feels like an advertisement to get you to buy more professional content from the iTunes store.

If Apple’s going to succeed at the web, they have to unlearn a lot of what makes them Apple. No more pixel perfect web apps that feel like desktop apps, no more sites that look like glossy brochures, and embracing chaos and amateurism over order and professionalism. It is going to be very hard.

There’s a pretty good discussion about this on HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2616883