Microsoft’s Zune Social Network A Good Move

NewZuneFrom the pages of the New York Times today yesterday, Microsoft is seeking to promote its Zune media player by offering an updated interface, a reworked music-sharing scheme, and DRM-free music within its store. Oh, and did I also mention that they’re creating a social network specifically for Zune users that allows them to share snippets of music, display recent music they’ve played and place those playlists on websites outside of the network.

I’m usually pretty skeptical of people creating new social networks because, realistically, users of the social networks can only divide their time between so many. But two things make me excited about this:

First, this quote by J Allard, the Microsoft vice president who oversees design and development on the Zune and Xbox 360:

"The conditioned thought is around a portable device being the center point of the experience, when in fact it’s not. It really is about how do we start taking Zune beyond the device."

That’s a pretty cool idea and it’s exactly what Microsoft is doing both with their Media Centers and with the Xbox 360. Evidence of this can be seen in Bill Gates’ announcement at CES this year that, in addition to the already existing film and television content available through Xbox Live, soon the Xbox will be able to receive Microsoft IPTV signals and homes will be able to rent them the same way they rent a normal cable or IPTV box now.

Secondly, back last year I got to play around with a social networking site that Microsoft had spun off called Wallop and it was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen. Not much has happened with it since then, but the user interface is leaps and bounds ahead of both Myspace and Facebook. Users can fluidly pull things around the screen, there’s widget functionality, and, here’s where it gets good, there’s media uploading and sharing abilities. If Microsoft were to use the Wallop interface for its Zune Social service, it could potentially be a very cool thing.

Are either one of these going to be the killer app that makes everyone lay down their iPods and pick up a Zune? Probably not. But it may make a very real contribution to the decisions of people who are purchasing new media players.