Apple Support Communities – Discussions aren’t Social?

“Apple Support Communities brings together thousands of Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad users from around the world to discuss Apple products and topics,” the official introduction reads. “Apple Support communities provides a wealth of information about your favorite Apple hardware and software products to help you get the most out of your purchase. And, in the spirit of community, you can also help other Apple Support Communities’ users by answering their questions.”

[ via AppleInsider | New Apple Support Communities social network to replace Discussions (thank you for the heads up Scott) ]

This announcement triggered a mini-avalanche of undigested thoughts for me:

  • Are discussions not social?
  • Can you call any website that includes an avatar, a profile page, and a couple of widgets a community? A social network?
  • Is every new feature this year going to be called a social network?

I definitely don’t intend for these questions to be a sarcastic attack. I do not think we have come up with good answers to those questions yet.

  • Evan_Hamilton

    I don't think anything is social just because you say it is. You can start a social network and it can fail to be social. I think we'll have to wait to see how these pan out – but theoretically, I'd say discussions can certainly be social (just ask anyone who frequented two-way mailing lists or forums in the 90's).

  • Ki

    Interesting questions (that I have no answers for). I'm curious to see the effect this has on the perception of/demand for 'social', 'community' products that support a large volume of users – and whether they are communities at all.

    The Apple Support Forum example feels very transactional to me – obviously there will be a core of users who regularly frequent the site, but surely the majority will be one-time visitors with a specific problem. Most of whom are unlikely to even post, instead being 'legitimate peripheral users'. Is this type of behavior pattern transferable to other areas beyond support forums?

    The notion of community, to me at least, suggests ongoing engagement as well as a commonality amongst members. For Apple, the common thread is ownership of Apple products and unanswered questions. Once a problem is solved, some users will no doubt continue participating, but won't most walk away? The sheer volume of users will go some way to covering this churn, but I am still left questioning how calling it a “community” changes this.

    I also wonder how – beyond Apple – this will affect the social software landscape. I'm currently a Product Manager of a social software product that enables brands to build their own online communities. Our community best practices state that engagement and intimacy work best on a smaller scale – once you pass a certain volume of users, it does become harder to maintain this sense of community. Our users are often in these communities to speak to brands, and not necessarily to each other – but if clients are seeing products such as the Forums described as 'social' 'communities', I'd bet $5 they're going to start wanting to support 15k+ users in their social communities too. Intimacy only scales so far. Are they ready to talk to 15k+ users? Probably not, but I suspect that won't stop them asking..

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think anything is social just because you say it is. You can start a social network and it can fail to be social. I think we’ll have to wait to see how these pan out – but theoretically, I’d say discussions can certainly be social (just ask anyone who frequented two-way mailing lists or forums in the 90’s).

  • Ki

    Interesting questions (that I have no answers for). I’m curious to see the effect this has on the perception of/demand for ‘social’, ‘community’ products that support a large volume of users – and whether they are communities at all.

    The Apple Support Forum example feels very transactional to me – obviously there will be a core of users who regularly frequent the site, but surely the majority will be one-time visitors with a specific problem. Most of whom are unlikely to even post, instead being ‘legitimate peripheral users’. Is this type of behavior pattern transferable to other areas beyond support forums?

    The notion of community, to me at least, suggests ongoing engagement as well as a commonality amongst members. For Apple, the common thread is ownership of Apple products and unanswered questions. Once a problem is solved, some users will no doubt continue participating, but won’t most walk away? The sheer volume of users will go some way to covering this churn, but I am still left questioning how calling it a “community” changes this.

    I also wonder how – beyond Apple – this will affect the social software landscape. I’m currently a Product Manager of a social software product that enables brands to build their own online communities. Our community best practices state that engagement and intimacy work best on a smaller scale – once you pass a certain volume of users, it does become harder to maintain this sense of community. Our users are often in these communities to speak to brands, and not necessarily to each other – but if clients are seeing products such as the Forums described as ‘social’ ‘communities’, I’d bet $5 they’re going to start wanting to support 15k+ users in their social communities too. Intimacy only scales so far. Are they ready to talk to 15k+ users? Probably not, but I suspect that won’t stop them asking..

  • Chris

    No, Yes, and No.

    Discussions are not in and of themselves social. If I have an exchange of words with a stranger on the street, that’s a discussion, a social interaction perhaps. Probably I’ll never see them again, and I probably don’t know anything about them. BTW the right question would be: Are all forums (ie discussion groups) social *networks*? The answer is clearly “no”. If Apples discussions forum represents a network of anything, it might be questions and answers, although I would debate the inclusion of ‘answers’.

    The second answer is yes, because anyone can call anything they want whatever they want. I can even call this comment insightful, if I want.

    Finally No, because features aren’t usually called ‘social’. But every new website will include ‘social’ somehow. Except for the cutting edge sites which will be whatever is coming next. My sister already has a social networking site for the customers of her dog grooming shop. So anyone just arriving at the Social Networking party, should realize the have been beaten to the punch by someone who cuts dog hair for a living.

  • Chris – thank you for your comments. I’m going to go ahead and agree with you, and call it insightful. =)