Ping: Apples Social Network for Music

7th Sep, 2010

last week Apple’s Steve Jobs announced the new iTunes 10 download would come with a new feature – a social network called Ping. The service has been available since the end of last week and allows users to follow both friends and artists to discover new music.

A Social Network With a Business Model

Jobs referred to it as ‘social music discovery‘ allowing you to share what your listening to with friends and followers while also discovering new music from people you follow. Artists can also post updates, photos, videos, playlists and concert information to their fan subscribers (much like Myspace or Facebook). While friends can see what their own network and what friends of friends are listing to, and what concerts they are attending.

It sounds most like Twitter in terms of sharing, instead of sharing links to news and articles you share links to music and tracks, but with the functionality of Facebook of Indeed its probably the latter and Myspace that are most alike to Ping in terms of services they provide. With Apple providing the platform to both share the information and to sell the music, Job’s has managed to create the first mainstream social network with a functioning business model from day 1.You discover, share and most importantly (for Apple) you buy all within Ping and iTunes.

Ping launch Problems

The launch of Ping hasn’t been without its problems. Just before it’s launch to the public Apple removed the services Facebook integration. This means you cannot connect to the service using Facebook log in or share Ping content. This isn’t limited to Facebook, there’s no sharing on Myspace, Twitter or any social network for that matter. What’s so interesting about Facebook is that Steve Jobs turned down the market leader due to ‘onerous terms’ being imposed by them.

The second issue which plagued the network was spam, the site was overrun with spam in the initial days. But a drive to clean up comments, posts and even fake profiles has resulted in a better user experience.

Will it be Popular?

There’s 160 million worldwide iTunes users, so the service will launch to an already made following. Apple announced that a third of the 3 million people who had downloaded iTunes 10 within the first 48 hours had also installed Ping. As with any social network launching there’s the fatigue element from the consumer that must be navigated. Fatigue from too many social networks vying for our attention. On the plus side the service makes sense, it provides an actual useful service. Countless times I have been stuck for new music and a service like Ping could help me out there. There’s also 160 million people signed up to iTunes, so there’s a ready made audience for it. However, there are a certain number of things going against it. As with all music products it has to compete with illegal downloads. People who download music illegally are hardly going to start purchasing their music through iTunes because of Ping.

It’s also limited in terms of what it can do, it’s just focused on iTunes and music. It lacks some of the key elements that drive Facebook, that’s wider social interaction, general entertainment and photo sharing. If anything it would make a nice accompaniment to Facebook and integration with it would of made the service more accessible. Because it’s so closely integrated with iTunes any music you like that isn’t available on the service cannot be ‘liked’, who’s not on iTunes? The Beatles for one, unsigned bands for another, and any music buff (who should be the core audience for any music service) will no doubt have countless tracks and albums that are obscure enough not to be on iTunes. I think if such a narrow focus was removed, and Ping opened up a little bit further then the service could gain more traction.

Only time will tell how successful ping will be. The core objective for now seems to be to drive sales on iTunes, and it should do that. But is it enough? Like any social network if your friends aren’t on it, using it, or there’s no social aspect to it, how long will you stick around for?