Ping a Ling Ping

Over the past five years or so, people have asked me “should my company launch a social network?” My answer, 19 times out of 20, is ‘no’.

Instead of trying to drag your customers and prospective customers from wherever they currently live online–Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, community bulletin boards, blogs–go interact with them there.

In 2008, I think my company declined three different projects to promote newly-launched ‘green social networks’.

But what about Apple? They’ve actually built their new social network right where their customers are: inside iTunes.

Why have they launched Ping? Friend-powered recommendations are de rigeur these days, from the Levi’s store that enables you to shop for clothes that your friends have liked on Facebook, to the new Vancouver project Recotype. And, obviously, it seems like a good way to get people to buy more music.

I’ve learned not to boldly predict the success or failure of big tech projects. Thus far, I don’t see much value in Ping for me. I don’t think I have a music discovery problem. Nor do I necessarily see my friends as a good source of music that I might like. But we’ll see.

On a related note, Ping feels shockingly unfinished for an Apple project. There was no Facebook integration available when they launched yesterday–surely an important feature for spreading it quickly. Also, there are precious few artists which you can ‘follow’ on the service. I searched for popular acts like Feist, Vampire Weekend or The Killers and came up empty.

Band News, Not Music Discovery

Here’s what I wish Ping could do for me: index my music collection, and generate timely updates via email and RSS featuring news about those artists. When are my favourite bands coming to town? When are they releasing new songs? Where can I find their new video? iLike used to do an acceptable job of this, but they definitely skewed to the bigger, older performers. Maybe another service has comprehensively solved this problem?

This functionality becomes more and more important as we shift to a ‘singles’ music economy, where consumers own songs by many more artists than they used to. It’s possible to keep up with, say, 15 or 20 bands you like, but that doesn’t scale to 50 or 100. Each of those 50 or 100 bands ought to want to have an ongoing relationship with you, and Ping is one place where that could happen. However, I don’t want to use iTunes to get that information, so Apple would have to deliver it in other forms.


    1. That’s interesting, because the docs and the interface actually reference Facebook in a couple of places. Perhaps the developers didn’t get the memo from Strategic Partnerships.

    2. Oh, and I would not be surprised if Ping succeeds, nor if it fails and peters out in a couple of years. Apple is good at many things, but creating online social spaces has never been one of them (think eWorld, iWeb blogs, even the oft-censored Apple support forums).

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