Yesterday Microsoft launched their Zune... digital media player? Personal music player? It's a measure of how thoroughly Apple has captured this market that I want to find myself wanting call the Zune "Microsoft's iPod."
The player itself appears to be a solid offering, no iPod-killer but a good competitive entry into the market that should probably be seen as a prototype for more interesting devices to come. The marketing has been pretty solid, I think.
As I was reading reviews and comments about it yesterday, I came across a site called ZuneScene. It appears to be a fan site run by people who love the Zune and hate Apple. It's amateurish, filled with spelling errors and bad writing, but clearly enthusiastic. And it's got a disclaimer explaining that it's not affiliated with Microsoft.
Turns out this is just one of many such sites.
I'm just cynical enough to wonder what real relationship, if any, there is between these sites and Microsoft. Perhaps the whole Wal-Mart blog mess is still fresh in my mind. I haven't been able to find anything answering that question.
If I had an off-the-record conversation with the Zune marketing folks in Redmond, though, this is the question I'd want to ask: "How did you get all those sites to appear?" The product only appeared yesterday - there can't be a community of dedicated users yet, can there?
I'm not suggesting that Microsoft created them. But I think their people are smart enough to have realized that one of the strengths of the iPod in the market is that people love the things so much that entire companies have sprung up to make accessories - and sites like iLounge are there to guide customers through it.
It would be smart for Microsoft to have decided to try to help feed a Zune user ecosystem by identifying people who were likely advocates and showering them with love (and Zunes and information) in advance. Did they do that? If so, they were smart.
Apple is far ahead in this area (as with sales) but having watched them in the past, I suspect some of the iPod fanatics are doing their thing despite Apple, not because of them.
It will be interesting to watch the progress of Zune.
(A side note: iLounge used to be called iPod Lounge. I suspect the name changed because of Apple's new quest to sue everybody who uses the word "pod." It's one of the reasons Apple shouldn't be complacent about Zune; their products are great and innovative but the company itself is often heavy-handed and unresponsive to its customers. Many of us who have used Apple products over the years have a love/hate attitude toward the company, and simultaneously want to see them to well and want to see somebody eat their lunch. They could learn something about relating to customers and partners from Microsoft.)