iTunes Ping: Social Music Revolution or Complete Flop?

Last week Apple released a music-based social network called Ping. Steve Jobs described Ping as “sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes” and lauded it as an amazing new way to discover new music.

So is Ping the next great social network? What does this mean for MySpace Music and other music-related social sites like Last.fm? Today we’ll discuss these questions and more as we walk you through Ping’s basic functionality.

Meet Ping

Ping is located inside of iTunes 10 right under the iTunes Store in the menu on the left side of the screen. Clicking on this for the first time will allow you to setup your Ping account.

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My Ping Profile

Both artists and individuals have Ping profiles. Here you and others see information about your recent activity, the music you like, the people you follow, etc. Artist profiles are nearly identical to that of individuals aside from a link to their iTunes artist page and a list of their upcoming concerts.

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Ping Artist Profile

Right off the bat you’ll find a little annoyance with your profile picture. With Facebook, Twitter and most other social networks, uploading a profile image merits an instant change. With Ping you actually have to wait for your picture to be approved. This process took about a day for me and will no doubt vary from user to user.

Other than that, most of the setup is automated and you can be up and running in minutes. The only other manual steps are selecting your taste in music (up to three genres and ten specific songs) and finding friends.

Privacy

Apple has implemented a simple but effective system for protecting your privacy. When you setup your Ping account, you have three distinct Privacy options: Allow anyone to follow you (like Twitter), require approval (like Facebook), or simply don’t allow following (like a hermit).

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Privacy Options

After you create your account you can still go in and change this setting anytime you choose. On your profile page, click on “Edit Profile” and scroll down to see the options shown above.

Music I Like

On the top right of your Ping profile is an automatically generated “Music I Like” section featuring ten album art thumbnails of music from your library. This can either be manually set or automatically generated.

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Music I Like

I let Ping auto-generate mine with disastrous results. My wife has plenty of music on my computer and as you can see it’s affecting my good name. I can’t have my friends thinking that I sit around listening to Jewel and Eisley all day!

Fortunately, Ping allowed me to save myself from ridicule (somewhat) by hand-picking some of the music I actually like to display in this category.

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Customizing Music I Like

Though the album art is what is shown on your profile, you actually search for and select specific songs to display (the song info is shown on hover).

Recent Activity

The largest section of your profile is the Recent Activity feed. This is similar to your Wall on Facebook in that it shows all of the people you’ve recently followed, the items you’ve posted and the things you’ve “liked.” It’s different than your Facebook wall in that, though people can comment on existing posts, no one can make a new post.

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My Recent Activity

Each user and artist you follow also has a Recent Activity feed where you can see what they’ve been up to. To step back and look at everything, your Ping homepage should have a Recent Activity feed that is a conglomeration of all the information from everyone in your network (like the Facebook news feed.)

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Combined Recent Activity Feed

Using the controls at the bottom right of each item in the list you can post, like or comment on anything in the activity feed. You can also preview and purchase songs and video right in the feed. As always, iTunes song previews are limited to thirty seconds.

Ping for iPhone

If you’ve upgraded to the most recent version of iOS, Ping should pop up in the iTunes application on your iPhone or iPod Touch (iPad version still to come). Keep in mind that the app shown below isn’t your music app but the actual iTunes store app. Ping is displayed as a new button along the bottom.

screenshot

Ping iPhone

The iPhone version of Ping contains all of the features you find in the desktop version and is arguably a much better experience. Ping for iPhone feels easier to navigate and requires less hunting to find what you’re looking for.

Much of this is due to the fact that the various sections are accessible via buttons along the top rather than awkwardly on the right as with the desktop version.

Why Ping Rocks

From a business standpoint, Ping is an excellent idea. What looks like and feels like a social network in reality is a cleverly disguised new interface to the iTunes store.

Ping encourages customers to take a more active role in music purchasing and encourages them to make frequent trips back to see what new content has popped up. Users can “like” and “post” songs or albums that they’re interested in directly from the iTunes store and any content that they purchase is automatically included in their activity feed, thereby turning every Ping user into an iTunes advertiser.

As I mentioned in a previous article, Ping has the potential to become a truly profitable social network, something that’s not been too easy for other networks to accomplish.

As a user Ping is cool because it does in fact have the potential to help you discover new music by keeping you up to date on what your friends are recommeding and what your favorite artists are up to.

Why Ping Sucks

Though the ideas and intentions behind Ping are brilliant, after giving it a significant run through, I can’t help but be disappointed in the execution. Bottom line, Apple has a lot to learn about social networks.

First of all, Ping isn’t very easy to just pick up and use. Despite the fact that I’m both an extreme Apple junkie and a social media addict, Ping still took quite a bit of “figuring out.” Much of this is due to Ping being confined to iTunes. It feels like it should be in a browser, but it isn’t. This means that virtually none of the basic browser features that have become standard over the last decade are available to you in Ping (bookmarking, changing your URL, etc.)

If you want to share your profile with someone, you have to right click on your name and hit “Copy Link.” Yeah, that’s intuitive. Then someone pastes that into a browser which then opens up iTunes, which then takes you into Ping; it’s a mess.

Further, basic features that you expect are either in odd places or missing entirely. I mean, who ever heard of a social network that doesn’t let you send a message to a friend!? Sure you can make a comment on a post, but you can’t actually just talk to anyone outright.

Further, finding friends is a pretty lame and work-intensive process. Come on Apple, no Gmail, Facebook or Twitter integration? Just about every new social site that pops up allows you to automatically check on your friends from these three sources… but not Ping (Facebook import existed for almost a half a day before getting yanked). This leaves you searching for your friends individually by name; good luck finding the right Joshua Johnson in a year when there are 8,000 of us on Ping. You can invite friends via email, but that’s a decidedly non-automated way to go about it.

Ping? Really?

Also, while I’m whining, Ping is a dumb name. First of all, it doesn’t make me think of music at all (I don’t care if iTunes makes a “ping” noise sometimes, it’s still lame). More importantly however, it’s already taken in social media. This is evidenced by the fact that Ping.fm has been enjoying a serious traffic boost since iTunes Ping launched (obviously, people are already confused). This is combined with Ping! a popular iPhone messaging service and common result when you google “iPhone Ping.”

I know it’s a minor gripe that won’t matter three years from now, but I really think the smart folks at Apple should’ve done their homework and picked a different name.

Why None of This Matters

Ultimately, despite my complaints, people will continue to sign up for and use Ping (including me). It’s a cool idea that, despite a rocky start, Apple will no doubt continually improve as they learn what works and what doesn’t.

I honestly hope Ping takes off. The better it does the more people will sign up and the more useful it will become. I look forward to convincing my friends to sign up so I can follow their activity and check out their musical interests. It’s also an awesome way to keep up with my favorite bands. Sure, most of them aren’t even on Ping yet but that’ll change in no time.

What About MySpace?

Now that we’ve explored the ins and outs of Ping, let’s discuss what it might mean for other social music services, namely MySpace.

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MySpace Music

As Facebook stole the social media crown away from MySpace, the latter’s focus seem to slide more and more towards music. Without a doubt, musicians and record companies have embraced MySpace as the primary place to reach out and connect to their fans online. So will this trend suddenly cease in light of a mass artist migration to iTunes Ping?

In all likelihood, no. The reason for this is complicated and multi-faceted. First of all, MySpace profiles are a marketing tool often setup and run completely by record companies (though plenty of artists personally jump in as well). Marketing professionals are quick to jump onto new fads but slow to let go of things that have worked for them in the past. Further, MySpace offers a much greater range of options and flexibility for artist profiles than Ping. This includes custom media players, advanced posting and profile customization, etc.

Now that being said, how will actual users respond? This is more difficult to gauge. I don’t know anyone who currently admits to being a MySpace user and the recent drastic decline in active members shows no sign of turning around. Ping will not single handedly kill MySpace but it could definitely be yet another nail in its proverbial coffin. There are plenty of other music discovery services on the market and MySpace doesn’t seem to have a strong competitive advantage against any of them.

Last.fm: Social Music Done Right

A far more important question to me is the fate of what I see as the current best music-related social network on the web: Last.fm.

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last.fm

As a long time user of Last.fm I can’t help but see so many things that they get right that Ping fell short in. For starters, Last.fm doesn’t merely track what you purchase, but what you listen to, which is in my opinion far more indicative of your tastes than anything else.

Every song you hear from iTunes, your iPhone or the Last.fm player is “scrobbled” to Last.fm where it is automatically posted, categorized and placed into the detailed listening statistics shown on your profile. It amazed me that Ping currently doesn’t show me anything about what my friends have actually been listening to in iTunes (only what they recommend).

Last.fm then does a fantastic job of hooking you up with other users who share your musical interests, which in turn leads you to check out their profiles and find new music that you’ll almost certainly like. Ping currently recommends a few people for me to follow, but the suggestions seem arbitrary at best (this will admittedly improve as more people join).

Last.fm is probably the single biggest reason that I found Ping to be so lackluster. Part of me hopes that Ping will adopt a similar feature set but I would also be quite upset to see Ping turn into a blatant Last.fm ripoff.

Ultimately, I at least hope that Last.fm will stay strong for some time. I think the user base is quite devoted and probably won’t go anywhere but I can see the existence of Ping as a major barrier to new users feeling the need to sign up for Last.fm.

Conclusion

To sum up, Ping rocks and Ping sucks. It’s not amazing enough to change the way we find new music (yet) and not so much a flop that we’ll refuse to use it. For now it occupies that middle ground of something that’s mildly cool but has potential to turn into something excellent.

I doubt that Ping will kill any other social networks in the short run, but it does represent a serious long-term threat to the positioning of many music-based networks currently in place. Ping’s lackluster feature set is currently quite easy to find a competitive advantage over, but other networks need to find something lasting that Apple can’t or won’t replicate in the near future and hope it’s enough to keep users signing up.

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think of Ping and the impact it will make in the evolving industry of social music. Look me up if you’re already on Ping so I can check out your profile and see what you’re recommending.


Summary

Ping is a new music-focused social network from Apple that allows you follow your friends and favorite artists and discover new music.

6
  • http://www.19thstep.com Charlie

    It really deserves to flop. After using it for 30 minutes or so I must say that Ping is pretty terrible.

  • http://blog.app-juice.com App Juice

    it could be saved. If you could login with twitter and make playlist with songs that aren’t on the iTunes store. You should also be able to socialize your profile and have game center imbedded.

  • http://ro.sar.io/ Joseph Rosario

    It’s been less than a month. As it is now, there still needs to be major improvements until it becomes more regularly usable. That pretty much means integration with the rest of the iTunes store, including Movies, TV Shows, Apps, etc. I don’t think it’ll overtake the whole social music space anytime soon, if at all. But instead provide a nice environment for those deep entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.

  • http://po-com.com PO-COM

    i used ping for about 60 seconds. a friend found me, and then i followed him. there were no artists i was interested in. end.

    in reference to some of the mentioned points – i think itunes needs to decide whether it is a nicely framed website, or a “real” application. i am sure it uses html and such for ease of upkeep, but as such, it just feels like a music file browser, with safari snapped on when needed. but, hey – if that’s the way to go, make the “browsing” experience more robust.

    i love last fm, for exactly the main reason you mention. i play all my music from my ipod or itunes on my mac. how apple didn’t hook into what people play as well as what they buy is beyond me. they are better set up than anyone else to do so. i mean, itunes already has my number of plays per song as it is already. that’s gotta be data worthy of tapping into right off the bat.

  • http://kreativehq.com Bruce Ackerman

    WAY too early to call it a flop. Takes at LEAST a year for a startup to get some momentum.

  • Shawn Gordon

    On one hand, I understand Apples move toward something social – everyone is. It reminds me of an anecdote my instructor would tell in my design theory class. He’d say “If a client tells you that they heard on the radio ‘companies are nothing if you don’t have a blog’, remind them that you heard from business 101 they’re nothing without profit. Because something can be done does not mean it should.”

    Just like the mini-pontification above, Apple is just band-wagoning, and perhaps they feel they must in order to promote the brand. They’ve been absent on the social activity within facebook, twitter, and well… everything. Ping is the Apple version of ‘just like everyone else, but with our closed rules.’ We get it Apple, you feel left out and to retain the soft elitism atmosphere you brought forth Ping.

    I think Apple though, knows it’s flawed. Look at many of the other startup things they’ve done that people figured would fail – iPad, iPod touch, Mac mini, etc. Apple, I believ3e does this on purpose. It creates a buzz and allows people to complain in the open air which then is used to pull ideas from for free. When a new ‘i’ device comes out, immediately people start doing two things: talking about what it should have but doesn’t, and talking about streamlining existing items. Upon the release of the next generation the tag line is two things: You asked, you got; what you have been doing, now proprietary. It’s a game of catch up…

    Social media is self-indulgent and often becomes a platform for marketing and sales, but Apple has no real choice in the matter or they’d be left behind.

  • Joao

    Did you not notice that you cant copy a link from a post? come on! SoundGarden posted a link for their new video, and i cant click/copy the damn thing! WTF?

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  • skzkskz

    Big Fail, Mr Jobs. Big Fail.

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  • Mark

    The beauty of music is the diversity of tastes.. I don’t care what others like unlike other media music doesn’t work like that. So no ping for me cheers….

  • Alejandro

    Total flop, it doesn’t that jive to get us addicted and keep coming back like most social networks.

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  • Jose

    I like it but let’s be clear, Jobs is too much focused in results and instant money, it should connect with Facebook if someday you want to go somewhere, and you should have your own address, message center and galleries if you want to call it social. Is not a flop but the how much you are going to buy is too much as in your face challenge that will prevent this experiment being called “social” anytime soon.

  • S Pingn

    Ever tried finding people, artists or not, through browser searches? I found none in hours of interrogating my browser! This article is the nearest it came besides the actual blurb about it!! I dread to think of how dismal a career an independent artist would have if they were to choose iTunes/Ping as their sole weapon of getting known/sales!

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