As I am sure you know, Apple has just given the iTunes store a social layer by releasing Ping, a network that is solely meant for music-related interactions. According to Steve Jobs, Ping has been created to solve the problem of discovering exactly what to listen to on iTunes.
Note that Ping is not really an independent website; it is actually part of iTunes 10. It is not a site that you sign up for, and it is not a mobile application either.
Ping lets you see what your friends have downloaded, what music they like, and which gigs they are attending. And if you follow other musicians (some celebrities are already there), you get to learn about new releases straight from them. You are also informed about any shows they are going to play.
Privacy (a big issue ever since Facebook tried to impose some big changes on users sometime last year) shouldn’t be a cause of concern – you can keep everything as public or private as you want. It is possible to create a closed circle with your ten best friends and exchange music among yourselves if that is what you want.
However, the shortcomings of Ping have already been pointed out. And in a unanimous way at that.
For starters, you will lament the absolute lack of intelligence Ping has got when it comes to recommending music to you. It just looks at the artists of the hour and recommends them to you, with little rhyme or reason. Since Ping is not an independent site but it is actually part of iTunes, you would think it would use iTunes’ “Genius” feature. Well, it doesn’t. And that was a big letdown to many.
Also, Ping was supposed to let you import all your friends from Facebook. That wasn’t to be, as the much-touted Apple-Facebook deal fell through shortly before the launch date. Users of Ping have to manually invite the people they are friends with on Facebook manually. Some are calling Ping “a network within a walled garden” as a result.
And others have called it “a commerce platform for music disguised as a social network”. The charge is that Ping has been built as nothing more than a platform to let you buy new music. That claim draw attention to the facts tat Ping is not a standalone product, and the main social interactions that take place on Ping are based on new purchases.
Many thought that Ping would be an outright MySpace killer. It wasn’t. Ping doesn’t let you import your Facebook friends. It can’t come up with sensible music recommendations (IE, artists that you actually like). And it must also be mentioned that it doesn’t go beyond music – you can’t recommend anything else that you have bought on iTunes through it. This includes not only other media but also mobile apps.
These are the conclusions that mostly everyone has arrived at. And you can bet Apple has been listening and watching how everything has unfolded more than carefully. It might not be that long before the service begins being updated significantly. But it won’t become the “Facebook for music” for some time yet.