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Summary:

A tipster speaking to the LA Times says Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, two of tech’s most influential figures, got together for dinner at Steve’s place two weeks ago. No word on what they ate, but fledgling music social network Ping was definitely on the menu.

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A tipster speaking to the Los Angeles Times says Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, two of the most influential figures in the tech scene, got together for dinner at Steve’s place two weeks ago. No word on what they ate, but Apple’s fledgling music social network Ping was definitely on the menu.

The source spotted the two walking and talking together in Palo Alto, Calif., where Steve Jobs has a home. Jobs must have reached out to Zuckerberg, who is now worth more than him, to see what could be done about mending the bridges between Facebook and Ping, which apparently suffered major structural damage near Ping’s launch with the release of iTunes 10.

To recap, Apple was in talks with Facebook 18 months prior to the launch of Ping, trying to arrive at agreeable terms for a partnership between the two. Building in a user’s Facebook friends list would’ve meant Ping already had a user base out of the gate. As it is, building a Ping network means starting from scratch, something I just can’t be bothered to do at this point.

Negotiations broke down because Apple found Facebook’s terms to be too bitter a pill to swallow. No doubt Facebook wanted a share of iTunes’ considerable revenue in return for its participation, something Jobs probably couldn’t tolerate. Apple instead tried to just use Facebook Connect, which is available to all through the network’s API, but Facebook shut it down since the usage didn’t comply with its terms.

Fast forward to now. Ping, at launch, apparently attracted 1 million subscribers. Sounds impressive, but it’s actually only a tiny fraction of the 160 million users iTunes boasts. And if my experience is at all representative, sign-ups don’t necessarily translate into frequent usage.

Even though Apple relented and introduced the ability to like items from your library, and not just from the iTunes store (though content still has to be found there in order to be liked), it still doesn’t provide an easy way to find and add friends. You can search by name, or email people you’d like to join, but that’s it. Even without Facebook Connect, a simple tool that browses your email contacts and finds friends shouldn’t be beyond Apple’s abilities.

The details of the reported dinner between Jobs and Zuckerberg point to an event that was planned and initiated by the Apple CEO. This is probably the first major instance of Jobs’ “my way or the highway” method of doing business blowing up in his face. Without Facebook’s cooperation, Ping is wilting on the vine and shows no signs of turning around. That Jobs is even open to sitting down to talk again reveals the desperation of the situation.

Ping probably won’t get shuttered unless it starts to become damaging to the Apple brand. It probably doesn’t cost that much to operate, and even if it boosts iTunes sales only a little, it’s doing what it’s designed for. But it also won’t replace MySpace for musicians, or become the next big social network. Without Zuckerberg and Facebook, it might just become a ghost town.

Are you still (or were you ever) using Ping? If so, (1) why and (2) how do you deal with the weak friend discoverability tools?

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  1. If Jobs had dinner with Zuckerberg, this has already hurt Apple’s reputation. Apple does a horrible job explaining the sign-up process for Ping, and even GameCenter. They need to abandon the social space.

    1. Darrell Etherington Lee Monday, October 18, 2010

      I think you’re right, Lee. They can do without the social, and have done so for a long while. I think they just fear not having any presence in a place where Google does have some, to be honest, so Ping’s designed as a placeholder.

  2. I despise facebook, and really don’t see the need for iTunes to link to it in any way. I know who my friends are, I see them outside of my computer screen.

    Ping seems utterly useless, why don’t apple just build in Last.fm scrobbling into iTunes and let me submit the music I listen to straight to a site which was made for the purpose.

    1. Darrell Etherington DGK Monday, October 18, 2010

      Between Last.fm and Facebook (since others seem to like it, even though some do not), there’s no reason for Ping to exist at all.

      Scrobbling built-in would do way more for Apple’s bottom line than does Ping, for sure.

  3. I signed up for Ping. And haven’t opened it since. I saw very little use for it, given the fact that I listen to music, not obsess over the details of an artist’s life. Besides, with all the things I can spend my time on, Facebook wins over Ping.

    Actually, I think that Ping goes against what iTunes was designed for–browsing, syncing, and playing media. Web browsers and IM clients are for social networks.

  4. I signed up just to see what happened. It sounded like it had the potential to become a way for songs to go viral the way videos can on Youtube. I’ve logged in maybe once a week since. No not even that. (I go to facebook several times a day.) So far, all I see is a couple of major artists posting mostly pointless things one after the other.

  5. I use Ping, or use is maybe not the accurate word, I’ve became a member and have been checking it out a few times. The problem is definitely 1. the lack of interesting content and 2. the difficulties for people to start using it – most of my friends who use iTunes don’t even know what Ping is…

  6. The logical future of Ping is to agree to Facebook’s terms in the short-term, even if it means operating at a loss. Build up the base, and in 2011, launch it exclusively on the iOS platform with the next iOS update, as an integrated, native Social Network which Facebook plugs into. Facebook for iPhone will be pretty pissed when that happens, and I suspect that is probably what a lot of the deeper negotiating is about. Steve Jobs is no doubt trying to position himself as an ally to Facebook, telling them it’s all about bringing down Google via taking market share from Android.

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