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Old 03-23-2007, 10:45 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default Misconceptions About Zune WiFi Sharing: Random versus Purposeful

There was a comment in our forums a few weeks ago that got me thinking:

"Unless people do carry their Zune everywhere, and leave WiFi on, song sharing is just not going to gain any steam."

Like any technology, the WiFi song sharing on the Zune can be used in many different ways - but I suspect the Zune team designed it mostly for a specific scenario. The assumption that the person who made that comment above is that the WiFi sharing is meant for sharing songs with strangers - random Zunes that you might encounter in your travels. Is that really what was intended? Let's look at the way the WiFi sharing was implemented. First, your Zune has to be powered on for the WiFi to work. WiFi also has to be turned on. Next, you have to be within 30 or perhaps 50 feet of another Zune. And if you're listening to music on your Zune, I don't believe there's any sort of audible prompt or interrupt in your music telling you that someone is trying to share music with you (I haven't tested that yet mind you). Barring people-clumping scenarios such as being on a bus or train, and all those Zune owners looking at their Zunes, how often is that really going to happen?

The far more common scenario, and the one I believe the Zune was really designed for, is the purposeful sharing of music via WiFi with friends in a social setting. I've done this several times, and it involves two friends, each with a Zune, each with some music they want the other person to check out because they think it's cool. In that scenario, headphones aren't even involved - each person turns on their Zune, finds the music they want to share, and sends it over. It's fast, easy, and I've discovered some really amazing new music that way - music that I never would have discovered if my friend hadn't shared with me.

Can you tell your friends about new music and bands in other ways? Sure - email, IM, SMS, whatever. But when you send over an actual song, there's something visceral about it - something tangible. When you know that you have the song on your device, you're more likely to listen to it, rather than having to track down the 30 second samples of a band's music online somewhere. Granted, I still think the song sharing DRM is too harsh: three plays is fine, but three days? Not every Zune owner uses their Zune every day - at least once I've had music shared with me that has timed out before I've even listened to it once. I can't fathom why there's a three day limit - why not seven days? Or 30 days? The real limit should be the number of listens, not the time it's been sitting on the Zune. I hope the Zune team can re-negotiate that limit at some point.

But back to the original premise: if the Zune team really wants to enable the "random Zune song sharing" scenarios, they'd have to make a few changes. First, WiFi should be active even when the Zune is in sleep mode (which would cause a battery problem). Next, they'd have to create some sort of interrupt to tell the user that someone wants to share music with them - a gentle ping in a song, or an actual pausing of the song perhaps (that's fraught with user experience problems though of course). They'd also have to increase the power on the WiFi, boosting range to 100 feet or more. And they might even allow a person to set up their Zune for automatic sharing: sending a particular song, album or playlist with any Zune in range, automatically. Automatic receiving of songs could also be added (as a user option of course) - it might be neat to look at your Zune when you get to work and find that it had received five new songs. And maybe there would be an opt-in way for you to get in touch with the person who sent you that song.

There are lots of interesting ways to enable song sharing with random Zunes, but none of them are in place today: and as such, I believe it's an error to look at WiFi sharing on the Zune and think it's designed for sharing music with random people. The Zune is all about "the social" and that means sharing tunes with your pals - which is just fine with me.
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