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Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce

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Apple (s AAPL) announced on Wednesday a cornucopia of new hardware and software: sleek iPods, a brand new Internet-enabled video streaming device and new versions of its iOS software and iTunes 10. However, the most impressive to me by far was Ping, the music-only social network that Apple is opening up its 160 million existing iTunes users.

No, I’m not blown away by the 160 million number. What I’m impressed by is the thinking behind Ping.

Ping may function like a cross between Facebook and Twitter for iTunes by allowing you to follow celebrities, create social cliques and get artist updates via an activity stream. I think it could have tremendous impact on social sharing and commerce.

From a content perspective, there are three different types of media we love to talk about:

  • movies we see
  • music we listen to
  • books we are reading

These are accepted social norms. In fact, many relationships are made on the basis of collective love of a movie and many friendships have started with mixed tapes. It makes perfect sense for a music service to be social. I’m not alone: The popularity YouTube (s goog), the fast-growing MOG and the sadly defunct iLike and Imeem show that people gravitate towards music as a common, collective experience. Thievery Corporation turned me on to The Broadway Project and Chris Joss, which I ended up buying on the iTunes store or via Amazon’s MP3 store.

This click-and-go-somewhere-to-download model of affiliate links can never match a unified experience. Amazon (s AMZN), for example, encourages bloggers and others to link to things they like and then get a piece of the action. This separates social from commerce and treats them as two discrete activities. On the post-Facebook Internet, I don’t think anyone can afford to keep these two actions distinct.

Ping, from what little I saw during Steve Jobs’ demo, allows a similar level of social interaction. It can tell me who my friends think are cool and the top 10 favorites of people in my social graph. Some of my friends are famous deejays. Others just have eclectic musical tastes. They can collectively sift through over 10 million songs and help with the discovery of music. This social-powered discovery is part of the biggest theme of our times: serendipity. About two years ago, when I wrote about serendipity, I said:

The problem is that there’s too much data coming online too quickly, and the traditional method of search that involves first finding and then consuming the information is not going to work for much longer. There just won’t be enough time for us to do that and still have a life. It’s a problem, and therefore solving it is an opportunity — a very big opportunity.

My belief has only been affirmed by growth in the amount of data available. With 12 million songs and 250,000 apps, the best way for Apple to enhance the iTunes store – aka its shopping experience — is through the use of social. Back in 2007, I argued that social networking was merely a feature that had to be embedded into applications to enhance their value. Apple has done a great job of that, but it’s also gone one step further, not only by adding a social networking layer to iTunes, but by meshing it with its commerce engine, the iTunes Store. And it’s made this experience available on both the desktop and its devices.

Apple received much of this social capability with the acquisition of Lala, an online music service, which as a standalone company used sharing of social objects to drive folks towards paid music downloads. Now Apple is only closing the loop by further sharing what users bought. I wouldn’t be least bit surprised if sales of music on the iTunes store rocket upwards, thanks to social discovery.

Amazon, which recently started experimenting with Facebook Connect, has similar ideas, but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. On Amazon, I’m reduced to reading reviews from absolute strangers for music. I have a handful of friends who have impeccable taste in non-fiction business books, are all members of Amazon, and they already use email to share new book suggestions with me.

What if they too could share their likes and dislikes via a social layer inside Or what if I could follow my favorite authors and get updates on their books? Much like Apple, Amazon owns book-based social service, Shelfari, and should find ways to embed the social layer inside of all Amazon products and connect its tens of millions of users.

Like Apple, Amazon too has a lot more data about its customers and their behaviors and could create a compelling discovery experience. I believe with tens of thousands of products in its store, the retail giant needs to figure out ways to surface content and other offerings smartly.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d)Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

79 Responses to “Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce”

  1. Great post Om.

    Agree that Apple are way ahead of Amzn in terms of execution, but tbh, iTunes (as a desktop app) is pretty poor experience.

    Either Apple embraces likes of Facebook/Twitter for “sharing”, acquires the likes of MySpace or it runs the risk of being a “lonely nightclub”

  2. It is so satisfying to drop by GigaOm and be confident I will bump into relevant and apt analysis like this.

    Thank you, again, Om.

    There are so many sites that pat themselves on the back for their “insight” on the Web and tech biz – that are completely worthless. I check them for gossip, rumors – because they might get one right. When it comes to understanding business, communications, getting it right – I rely on my daily visits here.

  3. Absolutely on everything, plus one other that is huge: Privacy. Trusting the closed and non-advertising based Apple ecosystem could be the reason why Ping may become more than just a limited-interest network, but over time one that is more general. For future thought: impact on Facebook, and relation to Wired’s dead web meme.

    • “non-advertising”?

      Pardonez-moi while I die laughing. ;-)

      Exclusivity is inherently a bit more private to begin with, I’ll give you that. But for it to be “social” you have to opt out of some of your privacy. That’s what these networks are all about. Facebook happens to default to horrible privacy settings. Twitter makes it relatively easy to stay private. This “Ping” ultimately -can’t- be any more or less social (at least in terms of options if not defaults) than any of the rest, really. At least not if it wants to go beyond limited interest.

  4. I’m not sure that people will want another social network that frankly replicates the social aspect (admittedly, not as integrated with the commerce ‘this is what I bought’ aspect) networks that have been formed around music and sharing love for music.

    Other networks haven’t taken off because it’s too one-dimensional. Think of Twitter: most people signed up for an account with a particular goal in mind: “I’m going to find people to talk about web design with” or “I’m going to meet my clients and grow my brand.” These people are now using it in a far more general way. Talking about their families, their other hobbies, and… music and movies. ;-)

  5. “The problem is that there’s too much data coming online too quickly, and the traditional method of search that involves first finding and then consuming the information is not going to work for much longer.”

    Ia free with this, but I’m not sure that Ping is the answer.

  6. Hi Om:

    Intriguing though on Amazon. Given the vast array of their products, it will be a larger undertaking, but they could somehow marry with the social aspect w/reviews which many users already do. They could perhaps create pages by categories and tie it to everything there. So on the TV channel, I can review the Cnet top 10, set price for a particular model, have the page reach me when a review gets posted etc. But your larger point about social media integrating within company product offerings resonates with me.

    thanks again for a great post.

  7. Excellent analysis, Om.

    Search connected us to the pieces of web which were hard to remember and not easy to find. But, it became the gatekeeper trying to monetize. It became the durbaan collecting money and policing people going to a community theater.

    Social changes that. The durbaan ain’t there, instead there is a facade which tells me who else is inside. There were several attempts to bring people together and shop collaboratively, a lot of which succeeded mildly. Now that people are already together, all we need to do is connect them with their behaviors of spending money, getting a job, holidaying with the help of their offline network which is now online.

  8. Ping takes off because it is seamless to the 160 million iTunes account holders. You don’t need another log-in and already go to the site to buy music. And can easily invite friends via email and Facebook. Seems like it is setup to succeed.

    Only downside that I see right now is that it is another social network. That’s going to irritate some. “Hey Bob go to PIng and talk about music with us. Not here on Facebook.”

    Even with this social service though you’re never going to have enough to listen to all worthwhile music.

    • “Only downside that I see right now is that it is another social network. That’s going to irritate some. “Hey Bob go to PIng and talk about music with us. Not here on Facebook.””

      Bingo. That’s why it’ll fail.

      • “Bingo. That’s why it’ll fail.”
        By that logic, we will never have a new, successful social network from now until the the end of the universe. Common sense FAIL.

      • It will irritate just some, by the way Facebook and Twitter also irritate some. But here we’re talking about the other “some”, those willing to give it a try, and they are in millions, they don’t even have to register, they’re just asked 1 click to get in. I won’t be surprise if in a month from now, “Ping” becomes the verb for using iTunes.

      • I disagree. By the same logic, Linkedin would have failed too! And it sure isn’t. A social network with different context does have potential to succeed as long as it serves a latent demand. In this case, music discovery through friends and immediate fulfillment is a killer combo. Wonder when they would do it for Books on iPad.

  9. Ping assumes that in addition to interacting with my friends on Facebook, Twitter, Y! Messenger, Gchat, AIM, Email and Tumblr about music, I want a niche interaction with those same friends for something that will/would take a toll on my wallet.

  10. The big loser from Apple’s launch of Ping is MySpace. All it really has left is the social linkage and recommendations of music/bands, and its weak attempt at selling songs from artists.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple were to buy it for cheap from Murdoch as a way of integrating band pages, and getting more people into the iTunes fold. (Once on iTunes, a device is not far behind).

  11. Great analysis, Om.
    You’ve been talking about the both importance of relevance in sifting through the atoms of data on the web for years now, as well as the power of social within apps. Music is among the most social experience in media, and I think this takes itunes to yet another level of growth and fluidity.

  12. While Microsoft has attempted something similar with Zune and Xbox Live, it does not have the same installed base as iTunes and is quite different from Ping in execution.

    I definitely see the bits of Facebook and Twitter in Ping but as an Xbox360 owner and Live user, I have never once used my Xbox as a media center much tried to find content through recommendations. I don’t even play DVDs on my Xbox.

    The commenter who raised the question about organizing boycotts raises a valid question too but I guess we actually have to use Ping to get a full understanding for what it can actually do.

  13. Hamranhansenhansen

    I’m just waiting for someone to explain to me how Google is going to revolutionize online music through social networking any moment now, and therefore iTunes Ping is irrelevant.

    > a social net inside a desktop app?

    iTunes Ping is a feature of iTunes Store, not iTunes. iTunes Store is not a desktop app, it’s a cloud app. You can access it from any Apple product or from a Windows PC running iTunes. The reason it’s not accessible from a Web app is the Web only just recently got audio video support, and the majority of browsers are not even compatible with that audio video support yet, while iTunes Store is 8 years old.

    But even just iTunes for Windows by itself has a larger installed base than Facebook has users. So it is not hard for users to access iTunes Store if they want to.

    • sprezzatura

      >>The reason it’s not accessible from a Web app is the Web only just recently got audio video support, and the majority of browsers are not even compatible with that audio video support yet<<

      Don't be a fool. The Web has had this for years. It's called Flash.

    • but completely agree with you and more to the point music and movies are not at the heart of social networks by any means. Most people talk about much more interesting and sublime things. I just tried using Ping and it only took three minutes before I was totally bored. Itunes is just a store and an expensive one at that.

  14. This seems to be a problem I have with Amazon (but don’t with Apple), I buy something I’m going to give as a gift and it throws their entire recommendation engine off. Apple is strict product categories and not physical products so other than gift cards I don’t buy specific gifts thru iTunes. So, not sure Amazon could pull it off.

  15. Great article, really hits the nail on the head. This is the way companies need to think about social networking.

    However, the nature of social networks also require openess, which is uncomfortable for many companies, Apple included. Without that, these ventures may not “stick”. We’ll have to see how they do with it. For example if Ping users, recognising the commercial value of their voice, decide to organize against a song, a group or maybe even a record company who the feel is abusing artists, how is Apple going to react? Apple tends to be pretty heavy handed and that may backfire on them.