Using a Social Network to Gang Up on Apple
Tech Journalist Mike Elgan recently published an article on the Google+ social network titled Is Google+ becoming a hostile place for Apple customers? Should it be?
This has generated a lot of negative comment in the discussion thread about Apple due partly to resentment over Apple’s patent litigation against certain Android devices.
I think there’s more to it than that. Last week I posted an article on my own blog titled Apple, Samsung, Design Patents — and Textile Design Piracy which concluded,
Please note that I’m not defending design patents or copyrights. I decided long ago that the only people who win in such disputes are the attorneys and the big companies. Also, the idea that such restricted monopolies actually stimulate innovation and creativity is laughable, as we’ve seen in the realm of software patents. But currently we’re stuck with design patents and Apple is taking advantage of that reality.
I like Apple. I have an iPhone 4s and I use iTunes to manage movies and podcasts. I write and collaborate using a Windows 7 computer accessing Google Docs. I also have a Kindle and a Roku box.
I also agree a significant anti-Apple bias has started to bubble up on Google+.
I think we are seeing with the many negative comments about Apple customers and users on Google+ the dark side of social media and tribalism. People like to “gang up,” especially if the company in question is seen as big, fat, and successful. Social networks make it easily to quickly and easily — and cheaply — gather together multiple voices to share and reshare ideas.
This can work for good or ill. In emergency situations, for example, social networks can be used to rapidly gather and share information in ways that protect life and limb. When dealing with politics or religion — and I see some of this in the anti-Apple bashing currently coursing through Google+ as if Apple were the only company that uses litigation as a business tool or is the only company that makes its products in China — the combined voices can seem to drown out rational discussion.
Many commenters on Elgan’s post said that Apple has brought such negativity on itself through its patent litigation and through a superior “attitude” about its products.
I think such argument are simplistic. You could make just as strong a case that Google is a threat to privacy and freedom, even more so than Apple, given the “sinister” creeping of Google+ information-sharing features throughout the Google product infrastructure and the Google street view cars driving around all the time. Or you could point to Google’s purchasing of patents in anticipation of using them down the road. Or you could wonder why some Samsung products look so much like popular Apple products, down to the packaging.
But right now we’re not hearing about those things, we’re seeing and hearing an anti-Apple drumbeat that just happens to be very vocal on a Google-run social network.
I think there’s more going on here than meets the eye. I don’t see an anti-Google torches-and-pitchfork crowd on Google+ because of the “dark” things Google has been accused of. I wonder if one source of hostility to Apple is that Apple focuses much of its development and marketing efforts on successfully making sophisticated technology desirable and usable by ordinary people. Perhaps some who perceive themselves as technologically sophisticated do not look kindly on this focus on Apple’s usability by average folks, especially when it seems to come at a cost of Apple’s lockdown and control over that technology.
Many sophisticated users enjoy the tweaking and customization that Android devices allow that Apple discourages. This further differentiates them from those Apple users not interested in such activities. Following this logic, according to some Google+ commenters, Apple users are “sheep” and “stupid” by buying and using such products.
I know, this type of namecalling sounds a bit sophomoric. This Android-vs-Apple tug of war that occurs regularly on Google+ smells like religion and politics, things I was once taught not to discuss when invited to dinner by friends. It also reminds me of the intemperate discussions that made me give up “alt” newsgroups many years ago. I just couldn’t stand the bad manners and trolling.
I would really hate to see that happen to Google+ since I really do enjoy using it given the — generally — high level of discussion that occurs there.
There are certain topics that are perceived as anti-Android that bring the defenders out of the woodwork if they are mentioned on Google+. I am learning to avoid such topics. For example, I had the temerity a few times to remark on Google+ on the “fragmentation” of the Android market and how that might negatively implement standardization and support for important software features across different vendors with different software update cycles. I was all but shouted down for suggesting this and for not referring to this situation with a more politically acceptable term such as “increasing customer choice.”
Sigh. As someone who has helped manage a software product support organization I can assure you there are real costs involved in supporting multiple version of software applications on multiple versions of hardware and operating systems. What one calls Apple’s “lockdown” and “walled garden” approach to support, others will refer to as, “Thank the gods they are making things easier to support so developers can devote more time to innovating!”
Be that as it may, Apple does have a PR issue it needs to deal with given that a vocal number of self-appointed technology gurus are saying that Apple is “uncool” or “losing its edge.” This will inevitably leak out into the real world and cannot be restricted within Google+. (I can see the hapless TV reporter asking the question, “What? You mean we’re supposed to hate Apple now? I thought we liked Apple?”)
On a positive note, perhaps this will lead to the popular media no longer giving a free ride to Apple when it announces a new product. I think that would be a Very Good Thing, not because I don’t like Apple products — I do, and I intend to buy an Apple TV and make my next computer a MacBook Air — but because it just looks bad when popular media seem to fawn unthinkingly over the same company over and over again without really questioning what’s going on. Such uncritical reporting is just as bad as a certain “news” network calling itself “fair and balanced.”
But I still would find it entertaining to see a TV reporter distinguish between Apple and Samsung tablet computers and smartphones!
Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald. You might also find this post of interest: Apple, Samsung, Design Patents — and Textile Design Piracy.
Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in collaborative project management and new technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, and the World Bank Group. Contact Dennis via email at email@example.com or by phone at 703-402-7382.