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Apple is professional, the web is amateur (dave.is)
148 points by davidbalbert on June 3, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

I think you're correct that Apple is going to have to do things differently get some of their web properties to catch on, but I disagree heavily on your premise.

For a counterexample, Facebook is professional-looking and very structured compared to MySpace, which in turn is very amateurish-feeling.

There isn't any question which is preferred.

Forums are amateurish. Stackoverflow is professional. I know where I'm going for Q&A.

I think there's a lot more to Apple's problems than professionalism vs amateurism, to the point where it is a minor point, if one at all.

I'm very wary against sayings like "the web is about amateur content." The web is about a lot of things, and while a lot of the web is about amateur content, a lot of the web is also about providing good structure, order, and execution to that content. In general, it even seems to be that the company that can put the most order unto the all of the content reaps the greatest success.

My point wasn't that less professional looking websites succeed over more professional looking sites. It's Apple's focus on professional content (the select few) vs amateur content (all of us).

I didn't mean to use amateur in a derogative sense. Amateurs are just people who don't get paid for their work.

Re: Facebook/MySpace, I think this was a different dynamic. The thing facebook did right was tone down the design significantly so that everyone's content became the only important thing on the page. It's still amateur content though.

If Apple had done Stack Overflow, I bet they would have had a team of certified experts to answer the questions and I don't think it would have worked very well. In Stack Overflow, there's no separation between who can ask and answer questions (besides a few karma points). That kind of chaos Apple doesn't excel at.

> If Apple had done Stack Overflow, I bet they would have had a team of certified experts to answer the questions and I don't think it would have worked very well.

Something like Knol?

Maybe "professional/amateur" isn't the right dichotomy here. I think it's more accurate to describe it as "peer/tiered". In Facebook/MySpace/SO users are all at the same level and communicate roughly as equals. In most Apple products, there are a small number of special broadcasters (creators) and a large number of receivers (consumers).

> Apple's focus on professional content vs. amateur content

On the contrary, Apple was founded on bringing professional or expert tools to regular people.

Apple ][ brought amateur computing into the home, Mac allowed amateur publishing.

Apple has made a killing on enabling amateurs. The iPad broadens that reach even more.

That's essentially the argument they've been making. I.e., Apple is focusing on things which make amateurs able to produce professional results, not amateurs producing amateur results (like Youtube).

It's this part that's going to get people disagreeing with you:

"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."

I just don't see his point. Why go ugly/messy when elegant/perfect is working so well?

OK, so Ping isn't doing well. Seemed a "me too!" gesture in a market saturated with social networking apps, a messy application for a slick product.

No point in changing a paradigm that works, only to garner greater market coverage with subsequent much less penetration. If Apple's gonna "go ugly", they have to compete with "ugly" at 10% the price they're used to.

Why be worse, when you're famous for best?

I'd also attribute Ping's failure to 1) Failing to get an agreement for Facebook Connect in time for the launch and 2) Largely ignoring the portion of your music library not purchased from Apple.

In this day and age, when I join a new network I want it to be easy to find my existing "friends" on said network. SC2 nailed this - I was playing with friends within minutes of my first login. Ping, on the other hand... I saw a couple updates from friends and a lot of more-or-less fluff from Yo-Yo Ma. OH! and the spam. Sweet monkey jesus there was a lot of spam the first week. Not exactly a compelling social experience.

    Why go ugly/messy when elegant/perfect 
    is working so well?
That wasn't his point - his point is more like the "Cathedral and the Bazaar", but recreated and worded improperly.

The point is that many web services do not have a clear vision and their trajectory is set by the people using it, favoring content created by amateurs (as in people that don't get paid for their work and that take pictures by themselves, not helped by professionals with hugely expensive lenses attached to full-frame cameras and strobes).

I also disagree that elegant/perfect works versus having a community, which trumps all other aspects. And I agree that elegant/perfect is cool and I like cool, but I prefer Amazon over any other online store because Amazon has real honest-to-god reviews.

    Why be worse, when you're famous for best?
Yeah, but even mighty Apple that barely escaped bankruptcy and now has surpassed Microsoft in value; even Apple is not immune to the innovator's dilemma.

The example provided is good - and no, Google Buzz and Google +1 are a "me too!". When the second search result for "Apple Ping" is "How to remove ping from itunes" that's just plain sad.

Yeah, I guess there are a few small leaps in the first two points there. The connection I was trying to make was that Apple's taking it's experience with things they understand (desktop apps, marketing to professionals, making beautiful things, etc) and applying it to a new domain that they don't have a good grasp on.

> My point wasn't that less professional looking websites > succeed over more professional looking sites.

Besides that your point is not true I fail to see how it applies to Apple. Should they remake apple.com to something horribly amateurish, and then they somehow succeed? Are they failing?

And I bet that if some website which looks amateur succeeds over more professionally done the looks is not the key to success.

No they're not failing over all at all. They're just failing at web stuff (which they keep trying at). I wouldn't change a thing with their hardware business, and as a result I wouldn't change apple.com. I would change me.com though, because it's not a success by any definition of the term.

Also, my point was not about whether a site is amateur or professionally done. It's whether the focus is on amateur or professional content. Apple is very good at the latter and not so much at the former which is why they have so much trouble with the web.

I still don't get what are you talking about. What is that "web stuff" that Apple is failing? What has me.com to do with content, professional or amateur? It is not some blogging platform.

Honestly, I think you're both right. My feeling is that Apple has not successfully been able to from that successful web platforms have are professional, but "open-ended with a purpose". Your examples of Facebook and Stack Overflow are perfect representations of this: both are professionally implemented, but the content itself is basically open, but purposed.

Ping doesn't let you generate anything new, or provide information that is broadly useful.

Craiglist is the most amateur-looking website I've seen in a very long time.

> 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

Here is yet another argument based on the premise that, in order for Apple to succeed, it must do the same thing as everyone else. We have heard the same argument about desktop computers (license Mac OS; be like Microsoft), mobile (make cheap phones; be like Nokia), and now with the web.

In a sea of amateurs, being professional is not exactly a bad thing.

I don't think these situations are parallels.

Clones were a bad idea because they diluted Apple's brand and cut way into their margins (Apple is a hardware company and makes money from that).

As for cheap phones, Apple now sells the 3GS for $49. I don't think this is an example of the naysayers being right, it's just Apple having their cake and eating it too.

The point is not that Apple should do the same thing as everyone else to succeed at the web. It's just that they've been trying one thing over and over again with no success. They have to change something.

> Clones were a bad idea because they diluted Apple's brand and cut way into their margins (Apple is a hardware company and makes money from that).

Well Apple's embracing amateur content may turn out to be a bad idea for all I know -- it would certainly dilute a few things. I stand by my claim that there is a parallel.

> As for cheap phones, Apple now sells the 3GS for $49

Disregarding the actual device cost, I suppose Apple has achieved the goal of having several price tiers, however it did not do so in the way that was recommended by a number of pundits, about whose view (that Apple must design cheap phones otherwise it is dead in the water) I was complaining.

> The point is not that Apple should do the same thing as everyone else to succeed at the web. It's just that they've been trying one thing over and over again with no success. They have to change something.

That may be your personal point (and I would agree with it), but it does not seem to be the point of the author of the article who was more specific about what, in the author's opinion, needs to be changed.

I am the author :). It's possible I didn't make my point as clearly as I could have in my post though.

Also re: phone prices, I agree with you. I think the pundits were wrong and pre-judged Apple's path to success on little evidence. I think there's plenty of evidence that their current path on the web is the wrong one.

Ha, I'm in my usual cycle: code, code, code, refresh HN, read some article with an interesting headline as quickly as I possibly can (being at work and all), completely disregard who is who, post my opinion, code, code, code, refresh HN.

>>As for cheap phones, Apple now sells the 3GS for $49. I don't think this is an example of the naysayers being right, it's just Apple having their cake and eating it too.

$49 vs. $200 is peanuts compared to the 2yr data plan that you're signing up to, that's where the real cost is.

The salient point in this article aside (I agree with the author that Apple doesn't get the P2P nature of the web), I think Ping failed for a different reason:

I don't trust Apple knowing what music I have (ripped). They are too close to the recording industry which has spent years suing everyday folks like me to prop up their dying business model.

Sure, I know Apple won't "turn me in" (would be bad for business) for my shady music collection (most of which is NOT available in the US, btw) but I don't want to take the chance.

The fact that Apple seems to segregate the "professionals/industry" from the "amatuers/consumers" only adds to the dilemma that Ping has yet to resolve.

Apple is driven by a philosophy of design, like industrial design and graphic design, but not necessarily craftsmanship, although craftsmanship often goes into design.

As long as Steve Jobs is alive, Apple won't give up on design. Design is what sets Apple apart, not craftsmanship. It's why you see the Macintosh in the MoMA but not a Compaq.

Make that a philosophy of purely visual design. OMG, aluminum, round corners, and animations. MacOS did not have a defining part in the digital revolution of the 90s, their market capitalization is their biggest success and that is mainly due to the US market--think old people and people with significant disposable income.

I know, I know, but I love to hate. And don't start me on Facebook.

You've never taken apart a PowerMac G5. It was simply elegant for it's time... the innards are more beautiful than the exterior.

Apple is famous for lots of serious attention to detail that involve not just visual/glitz but usability.

Design is definitely the correct word.

    "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.
This is the definition of amateur. Notably, you can spot things done in their software, Keynote being a glaring example. It has made a template of what a presentation is supposed to look like on a mac.

See when Jobs gives a keynote using Keynote wearing a black turtleneck, we recognize this signature. When your boss holds a meeting with a presentation in keynote with that same or similarly light faded colour background and bold white text, you recognize this as imitation.

Apple have fantastic engineers and fantastic designers and their products reflect a culture that prides craftsmanship, detail and perfection. But to say the web is amateur is to deny the wealth of originality and expression that spreads from it. Youtube has a direct cam to site, record and upload thing going because it enables people to be expressive. They keyword here is "enable" and it's in their advantage to promote the creating of original content by focusing on the enabling factors.

I think the article addresses the problem in a flawed perspective. Facebook being a good counter example. The problem with Apple is probably better tied with their culture. Apple is not social, and until they socialize they will not know what it takes to enable socializing.

A lot of people here are pointing out that MySpace was the amateur failure of the social web, further getting away from idea that social success == amateur, but let's not forget that MySpace was once, many years ago, "the shit" and only got its pedestal kicked out from under it when other sites offered better enabling factors (read: features) to socialize between friends. Sure, MySpace was fuck ugly, because not everyone's creativity is equal! but to say everyone switched to facebook solely because facebook looked more professional? I don't take that. (eh, i guess it was built better to - damn myspace always had fucking down time - whatever)

The devolution of MySpace has many factors, one of which was forcing people with older and less expensive (which, for the targeted audience, could have meant hand-me-down from parents) computers to upgrade their browsers, which just slowed everything down and ruined the aura of excitement it once had. Another factor was the intrusion of commerce-like Bulletins from "friends," asking you to leave the site to vote for them in some contest or other. There was a lot less social there than people give it credit for.

true enough, but i also think that we say that myspace had a lot of social at the time was because it did _at the time_. There was no facebook back then so myspace was really the best at offering social features even though, by comparison against today's players, it didn't have much.

Spot on about Ping. It should have been a service where anyone can be an artist, and everyone is a listener. Artists could share their content for free. And there should have been a web based application.

Its common knowledge that Apple doesn't understand the web?

"Blemish free" .... guy obviously has never used iTunes.

Well, it looks pretty. Poke it the wrong way and it explodes horribly. Sort of like the Hindenburg.

Beneath the cruft (i.e., Apple products should have less polish, Apple hates amateurs), I think there's a kernel of truth, especially related to their approach to social networking. Can we expect Kayne West to use Ping like Twitter? Probably not, but it's an interesting thought.

Do remember that many of Apple's products (e.g., iMovie, iWeb) are designed for everyday people to create content that is fairly professional-looking. I'd argue that, to a certain degree, Apple has done more to raise the bar of content quality than Instagram or YouTube (which have lowered the bar to entry). Those aren't exclusive approaches, merely different value propositions.

The one downside to this difference - low quantity. It's not so noticeable with Apple, but someone else with constantly high quality, Daft Punk, have done so little, five albums by my count.

> Daft Punk, have done so little, five albums by my count.

3 studio albums, 1 soundtrack, 2 live albums and 3 remixes. But they also have 17 singles, as many music videos, 2 full-length movies (Interstella 5555 as part of Discovery, and Daft Punk's Electroma which is a bona-fide movie directed by the duo) and they have toured a lot. I don't think Daft Punk is a good example of "doing so little" quantity-wise.

I was buying this article until I read the line about Apple dropping everything that constitutes why Apple is "Apple." Pixel-perfect design and a professional ethic are exactly why Apple is recognized as one of the most prolific companies (and brands) in the world. If I want to see loose, ragged, amateur content, I know where to go. There's nothing wrong with sterility if it's done properly and given purpose. In this case, to promote a more professional existence (not a bad thing).

Apple has tried amateur. The were very early out the gate with the podcast directory through iTunes. I think they were hoping that Podcasts + AppleTV would be an end-run around the cable companies and content providers.

Turns out, not enough people wanted amateur podcasts. I'd wager that the easily availability of paid Hollywood content drives far more people to the iTunes ecosystem than the free and easily availability of podcasts.

So I think their experience indicates their customers value professionalism.

Oh, that's an interesting point re: podcasts. I tried them and fled, even when they were done by people I liked. Just because you're doing something for free doesn't mean you can ignore basic things:

1) Have your material already prepared and organized 2) Clear your damn throat so you're not going to cough 3) If you do cough or burp, edit the damn thing out 4) Um, um, um is like nails on a blackboard, see #1

And there are people who disagree, but I found the "bandwidth" of podcasts to be lower than that of just reading. In the twenty minutes of talk time, there would be about 1/5th the amount of content I could have read in the same time span. Some people might have had visions they were doing the next talk radio, but none of them turned out to ever be as dramatic as the worst talk radio host.

And yet if you zoom out just a little, people seem to be buying more and more equipment from Apple to produce and consume the "amateur" content of the web.

On the web, PHP is professional. iWeb makes it easy to imitate professional trends (you said it yourself: just like Apple's website). Likewise, GarageBand is mostly used as a quick and dirty way to imitate professionally produced music, although there is a lot more truth to the "Apple = professional" boast in that industry.

I don't agree that youtube is about amateur content. Sometimes my friends upload interesting videos to youtube or someone links to a mildly amusing clip like MyDrunkKitchen. However, most of the youtube links I see go to professionally produced content such as music videos, news clips, or comedy shows.

Apple is too professional to get the amateurish web.. pfff what kind of non scene is that? As if web companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. were a bunch of disorganized slackers and that is somehow more successful on the net. Weird associations like that remind me of arguing with high people.

This dichotomy is incorrect. We shouldn't be focusing on professionals vs. amateurs.

I think it's more useful to realise that Apple is controlling .. the web is (largely) open. Or to put it another way; Apple want to set norms .. the web wants crowds to set norms.

I'm glad I actually read the article. Given the title I was all set to either ignore or flag. As it stands, I agree whole-heartedly with the message. Yes, there are things to quibble about, but overall it provides food for thought.

technology is amateur. technology probably shouldn't be analyzed by analog methodologies either.

how apple(substitute any company) 'catches on' can be derived from http://ow.ly/59Maa. our perception isn't as important as the ubiquity of that which is available to perceive.

apple properties will catch on as long as they don't go out of business or lose the power to shout about their products(though this probably sits under the former).

iMovie and iPhoto are professional? Woooooooooooooooooooooooow

> It's common knowledge that Apple doesn't get the web in general and social in particular.

It is?

> 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.

So you acknowledge that iLife is a counter to your point, and your only refutation is that there is a Ken Burns effect? I don't get it.

The premise of this very short article seems to be that, because Apple includes some professionally-made templates and used stock photos in a keynote, they don't get amateur content. iLife is the biggest counter to this argument. Apple does try to make sure that amateur content doesn't look or sound too shitty, but how does that mean they don't understand amateur content at all? It just means they're removing the boring work for the average user who doesn't want to spend an hour making a theme look good. Apple totally gets amateur content. They want every kid with an iPad to be recording music in Garageband.

The amateur content argument is weak and doesn't support the social argument. As for Ping, I never understood the hatred for it as it was always clearly just a way to see the music people were buying and not some major social network competitor. I've used it to browse a few people and found new albums I liked. It did its job in my case.

Facebook was the clean, professional-looking, easier-to-use alternative to the chaotic and amateurish MySpace. The idea that Apple must embrace amateur chaos just doesn't make sense to me and seems like it would be the wrong thing to do. Apple is the kind of company that is often a few years behind but eventually releases something so polished and easy to use that it's successful anyway.

I don't think there was ever a hatred for Ping -- a hatred would infer that people cared about it. Nobody cared at all... logged in once, and then never went back to that part of iTunes again.

Fair point, but a lot of people freak out over Ping for some reason.

I think people freak out over Ping because it has a lameness to it that people would have expected to originate from Microsoft or even Google -- but not from Apple.

Its entire approach is actually anti-social. It's not web-based, it's locked into iTunes and is meant for customers. Customers are busy buying, they want "Give it to me and let me go enjoy it now." They connect with other people on the Internet, outside of a commercial setting.

Apple's own support forums are more social even though the purpose is to solve customer problems. You don't need iTunes to use them.

This is the problem. iTunes may have been an acceptable interface five years ago but compared to the better "HTML5" web sites of today it feels slow, clunky, awkward and, most crucially, arbitrarily fenced in. Apple's challenge going forward will be to make interfaces that maintain their quality standards but with fuzzier boundaries with the rest of the web.

The other social failing I see pointed to is Game Center. Which is yet another separate social network that Apple runs, that doesn't particularly improve on the third party solutions, and is nowhere near as good as something like XBox Live. (Interestingly, Game Center doesn't look particularly professional. Apple tends to aim a bit low when they do aim for consumers, IMHO.)

Ah, found a link: http://www.macworld.com/article/159833/2011/05/game_center_f...

That link was sorely missing a mention of Steam as an example of all those features done right (and he has no excuse given how long it's been on Mac...)

I only have one thing to say: me.com

More trolling on HN I see! The Web is professional, it's the developer who blogged about this story that is an amateur.

Just because he doesn't know what he's doing, now the web is amateurish? These nerd-rage blog posts are just noobs venting that 'they don't get it'.

very little depth, the only thing that is to learn here, is that the write is an apple fanboy.

And so are many of the most active people of this site. Thats why the article gets so many upvotes for such shallow nonsense excuses about Apple failing at the social web etc. (Not necessarily a bad thing, a company is good at some and not great at others). This post is for and by fanboys who take Apple's weaknesses personally and have to spin it as if Apple is too good for the web. (bye bye karma).

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