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All posts tagged "metcalf's law"


Monday, October 16, 2006

Zune Networking: The Rough Road Ahead

Posted by Jason Dunn in "Zune Talk" @ 02:13 PM

There are a lot of "laws" in computing the pundits are fond of quoting, but as I was thinking about the wireless networking feature on the Zune, one such law came to mind: Metcalf's Law, first formulated in reference to Ethernet, it's easily applied to any other node-based network. The law states that the value of a network is directly proportional to the square of the number of users. This is where the Zune will have it's biggest challenge.


[pre-Zuned source image from Wikipedia]

Let's say I have one Zune. In fact, when the Zune launches, I can pretty much guarantee that none of my friends, family, or anyone I know will have a Zune. So how valuable is the wireless song-sharing feature on the Zune if I have the only Zune? One squared is always one. No value. If a friend of mine gets a Zune, there are now two nodes in the Zune network, and when both Zunes are within range of each other, the value of the network goes up tremendously: two squared is four. Yet how often am I going to be around that friend with both of us toting our Zunes? If I'm at a conference and 50 people there have Zunes, the the value of the network explodes exponentially.

The Zune, as a music/photo/video player, will have value on it's own, but it will have the same value as an iPod or any other digital media device. The real power of the Zune is in it's sharing functionality, but without enough nodes on the network, the value will be severely limited. That will be one of the big challenges Microsoft will face: how do you build the value of the network as quickly as possible? This is the same challenge the first phone company had: who wants to buy a phone when there's no one to call, because no one has phones yet?

One of the things Microsoft could have done to immediately enhance the out of box networking value of the Zune would be to eliminate the physical barriers of sharing. As in, make the Zune Internet -capable, allowing users to share content with each other no matter where they are in the world, as long as they have an Internet connection. There are, of course, many complex issues with making something like that happen, but it's one way to give the Zune value right out of the box. As it stands now, the Zune peer to peer network is starting from zero units, and it will take a lot of units being sold to have enough of them in the market for this feature to be worthwhile.


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