Ping, not to be confused with social network updating service Ping.fm (or the web site Ping.com, which has nothing to do with music or social media whatsoever), is Apple’s new niche social networking service dedicated to connecting people based on their tastes in music. Ping is not a standalone web site; it comes packaged only with the software, which is available for both PC and Mac.
Interestingly, Ping is disabled by default and is therefore an opt-in user experience. One might think that Apple would be pushing for users to try the free service, but Apple is promoting social interaction by making users’ details such as name and hometown visible to the public unless specifically set to private. Furthermore, the types of music you enjoy, based on your iTunes statistics, can be hidden – so that embarrassing fetish for show tunes need not be known to the world.
The Facebook and Twitter of Music
ReadWriteWeb explains that Ping operates similarly to Facebook in that it allows users to rate and comment on music (a la Facebook’s “like” feature), and also contains features familiar to Twitter users, such as following other users and music artists to track their activities.
Steve Jobs recently admitted the inspiration behind Ping, stating the social service is “Facebook and Twitter meets iTunes. But it’s not Facebook, it’s not Twitter. It’s a social network all about music”.
The entire purpose of Ping is not entirely clear. Whether it’s a ploy to drive people to purchase more music from iTunes – as they see the music discussed by the people they’re following, or recommended by Ping itself – or a genuine attempt at bringing people together will be carefully watched over time.
A Work in Progress
Ping’s hardly perfected, and one of the biggest flaws mentioned in numerous reviews is the lack of the “genius” mode of music recommendations. Ping will instead recommend music that is most popular on the site – so if you’re a fan of indie music, be prepared to be recommended Lady Gaga and other wildly popular artists, simply because they’re buzzing on Ping and iTunes.
Users might also find it difficult to locate their friends as there appears to be a delay between when someone signs up for Ping and when he/she appears in the Ping search results. Users can invite their friends to Ping, but this is a fairly clunky way of making connections.
The Fate of MySpace Music?
Does Ping spell the end of MySpace Music? MySpace users tend to flock to artist pages to get the latest news and listen to music posted on their profiles. When they want to purchase new music, they’re linked to iTunes. With Ping, this is all possible from within the iTunes Ping interface, eliminating the need for third party involvement for iTunes purchases. (Alternatively, MySpace still offers the ability to buy via Amazon MP3.) What this means for one of MySpace’s most popular features, and arguably a major reason anyone remains at what has long been considered a withering social network, we can only speculate.
Is Convenience or Contrivance King?
The convenience of accessing a social network from within a piece of software people commonly use is apparent. The contrivance of a social network based largely around selling music may turn more cynical users off the service altogether. Ping is still a work in progress, and its overall success very much remains to be seen.