Blog Post

Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce

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. You make some good points, but ultimately, I’m left wondering why both the elephant in the room and obvious opportunities for animal metaphor and reference to “DNA” were ignored.

    Where is the, “Pandas, Lobsters, and Crocodiles: Why Apple will never understand ‘social'” headline?

    Is it that “social” doesn’t really need freedom?

    On a related note, I love the allusion to the 2007 post, especially in light of Mr. Ingram recent memo.

  2. My only issue with the service has been how you can’t promote songs/artists you like if they aren’t in the Apple catalog (the Beatles being a big one). Once you get into more obscure bands, it’s not as helpful.

    I like for this reason – it tracks whatever it is you are listening to (obscure or not) and makes suggestions. It is not biased on it’s catalog. It does have concert venues and you can share pics from the concerts you attend.

    While Apple may have a hold on the digital content distribution market and name recognition, there are several services that have existed for a long time that do this a lot better. I do think it is brilliant for Apple to tie it into their sale engine though.

  3. Charles Chen

    I looked at the featured musician’s comments on Ping and there is absolutely nothing of interest in them, so I stopped “Following” them, just attempts at advertising. Waste of time. Unless Ping improves, it will fail.

  4. Come on Om, this will have about as much social impact as the current level of iTunes users who endure that crap interface of their own free will. Anyone else who doesnt already endure the jobs iron fist vision for content will find comparable alternatives around the next corner. Chances it will be Amazon or someone else.

  5. Not Impressed that you can’t really share the activity stream there on FB, just links to songs. Wonder if I can insert my iTunes affiliate link in my feed and make a few bucks.

    Anyone know how much of LaLa is in Ping?

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking.

      Ping sounds like, but with less capabilities, restricted to people using iTunes, and following the usual Apple rule it’s a closed environment that doesn’t even play with big players like Facebook.

      A social network that doesn’t play well with others and stays in it’s own little clique is kind of an oxymoron.