October 9, 2008 in iPod (E)
[prMac.com] Palo Alto, California - Minutes after Apple Corp.'s Steve Jobs introduced the iPod touch music player to a captive audience in San Francisco, Bobby Georgescu, a Stanford Computer Science major and founder of Vigorous Media LLC, worked feverishly to launch iPod touch Fans. The irony of the fact that the website would go on to become the largest iPod touch community on the internet (boasting, as of today, a quarter of a million members and nearly a million forum posts) and the go-to site for unofficial customizations of Apple's closely-held iPod touch software was lost on Georgescu as he sat a few blocks from the Apple CEO's Palo Alto working to launch the site.
When iPod touch Fans opened its virtual doors a week after the September 5, 2007 Apple event, the site immediately became a hotbed of discussions relating to the customization of the device's software, or firmware. As more and more tinkerers got their hands on Apple's new touch-screen device, the forum experienced immense growth, netting its first thousand members in less than three days. Users were drawn by the allure of nearly risk-free personalization and added functionality. They used a technique called "jailbreaking", a broad term that encompasses security exploits that have allowed users to escape from the virtual walled garden established by Apple for its iPod touch and iPhone software. Though legal due to protections afforded to reverse-engineering of gadgets, jailbreaking is frowned upon by Apple, adding an element of thrill to the modification process.
A center of unsanctioned innovation
While Apple focused most of its energies on stomping out bugs in its official firmware and improving the functionality of its much-touted iPhone, iPod touch enthusiasts on iPod touch Fans worked to squeeze as much functionality as possible out of their coveted devices.
When Apple tried to smother jailbreaking with its 1.1.1 software update, a group of users published instructions on using a vulnerability in the way the iPod touch software loaded image files to allow enthusiasts to jailbreak their updated devices. Later, one of the site's users discovered and published a method of adding an external microphone to the iPod touch, allowing it to be used for Voice-over-IP telephone calls and voice recording, and later still, another user released a Bit Torrent file sharing application that run completely on the iPod touch, taking advantage of its Wi-Fi connection.
Of course, iPod touch Fans users have also had their share of misadventures. One recent posting that quickly spread through the technology blogosphere was entitled "iPod touch vs Pickup truck", and contained a gallery of photos of an iPod touch that had had an unfortunate run-in with a pickup truck after slipping out of its owner's pocket.
Jailbreaking's "killer application"
In a recent interview with MacNewsWorld, Georgescu said that "Jailbreaking's killer application is customization ... everything from the icons, to adding a [Mac OS X-like] 'stacks'-like functionality, to skinning the iPod and Safari applications." Indeed, even as what others argued was jailbreaking's biggest benefit, the ability to run third-party applications on the iPod touch and iPhone, became officially sanctioned (and commercialized) by Apple's iTunes App Store, iPod touch Fans has continued to grow, buoyed by an ongoing and widening interest in customization of the iPod touch interface.
Today, iPod touch Fans boasts a lively forum section dedicated to customization of the interface, where users not only share and trade customized themes, but also instruct each other on how to create original materials of their own. Georgescu remarks that "the creativity of iPod touch Fans members never ceases to impress me... we routinely see work submitted on our forums that rivals that of professional graphics artists."
What's next for iPod touch Fans?
With a second-generation update of the iPod touch released almost exactly a year after the original version was announced, the growth of iPod touch Fans doesn't seem to be dampening.
When asked about what's next for the site, Georgescu mentioned a continuation of the zero-tolerance attitude towards pirated commercial applications, more work on organizing the nearly one million and growing postings, more engagement with application developers, and the addition of content intended to guide new users. The Vigorous Media LLC founder spoke confidently about the future. "In the first year, we've seen close to a million posts, a hundred thousand threads, and a quarter of a million members... I think that we can expect the site to continue growing as we improve our user experience and add more quality content," he said.
Indeed, with Apple's apparent yearly release cycle and the continued interest in device customization, it seems unlikely that iPod touch Fans' ranks will stop growing any time soon.
Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, Vigorous Media LLC is a privately funded company founded by "Bobby" Mircea Georgescu in 2008. Originally a holding company for iPod touch Fans and related web properties, it has remained focused on creating social communities around the best brands during its continued expansion. Beyond managing its growing network of web properties, Vigorous Media LLC offers consulting for online community development.