Apple Trailblazing Niche Social Networking Via Mobile Apps?

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app.jpgADOTAS – Hey Steve Jobs, how is Apple’s Ping social network working out? Remember, that thing you introduced with iTunes 10 in which users could socialize based on musical taste. Oh — I didn’t realize NPR named it one of the worst ideas of 2010.

Well, what do those pointy-headed jerks with smooth voices know anyway? I mean, have you listened to the blandness known as “All Songs Considered” lately? Fox News’ Roger Ailes called the NPR staff Nazis — you should join in the battle cry!

Or you could pave the road for the next generation of social network. MacRumors spied in the recently released iOS 4.3 setting for a feature called “Find My Friends.”

“The strings are associated with the Settings app and is related to ‘MobileMe’ [Apple’s pay mobile-storage service],” writes Arnold Kim. “The obvious interpretation is that Apple may be looking to offer a location-based friend-finding service like Loopt and Google Latitude.”

However, The Next Web editor Zee thinks the “Find My Friends” feature will be used to power Apple niche social networks — based on interests, like music for Ping and video games for GameCenter — accessed through mobile apps: “You can be certain that Apple is venturing into the geo-location sphere, most likely as a feature of its social networks rather than a location-based social network in itself.”

With 600 million users, Facebook is the default social network — almost everyone you know (who isn’t a Luddite) has a profile, unlike Twitter where an estimated 8% of U.S. Internet users are on board. But Facebook is huge — chances are your parents are on it (my grandmother is on it!) or your kids are on it. People you went to high school with and haven’t talked to since are your friends. The only string that usually links most Facebook friends is that they’ve all met in real life at some point.

Facebook is not going anywhere and its user base will probably continue to grow in 2011, 2012 and so forth. But we have clubs for a reason — a group of people with the same interests gather to focus solely on a specific hobby, pastime or obsession. Advances in social networking tools will bring rise to niche social networks — look at Meez, Gaia and DeviantART.

It’s the evolution of message boards — instead of a crappy-looking forum, these networks will have features resembling Facebook like news feeds, instant messaging and more. For marketers, niche networks represent both easy targeting and a way to locate brand influencers. (Though the joy of advertising with Apple has been duly noted.)

According to mobile tech firm Ericcson, 1 billion people will have mobile broadband subscriptions by the end of 2011 — a seventh of the planet’s population. In theory, the best access point for a niche social network would be connection through a mobile device — via an app.

Is this what Apple has in mind? And, more important, can the company that fantastically flopped with Ping pull it off?

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