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Ping: A Social Network Inside a Walled Garden

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Many commentators were dismayed and/or puzzled by Ping’s lack of integration with Facebook and Twitter, especially as Apple was known to be in discussions with Facebook about just such a move. In brief comments following Wednesday’s presentation, Steve Jobs said, without elaborating, that Facebook demanded “onerous terms” for the integration, which Apple “could not agree to.”

As I discuss in a post at GigaOM Pro, Ping’s lack of integration with other social networks, or even with the web itself, is now its most compelling feature, at least from a strategic perspective. As Om noted in his post on Thursday, Ping is essentially an e-commerce platform for music disguised as a social network. If broadly adopted by iTunes users, Ping could significantly enhance iTunes’ power as an e-commerce engine by adding the element of new music discovery that used to be played by radio.

As Inside Digital Media’s Phil Leigh wrote in a research note Thursday, “New release popularity was suffering because digital music forced a decline in radio, the chief recorded music promotional vehicle of the past sixty years. As radio’s successor, Ping permits 160 million iTunes users to spontaneously join affinity groups enabling them to discover new music and artists from one another.”

How many will actually join such groups is very much an open question, however. Not only is Ping starting with the limited universe of iTunes users (compared to the entire web), but it’s functionality is also restricted. Sharing of music tracks, for instance, is limited to 30-second clips. This is presumably to encourage paid downloads, but it’s potentially off-putting to users. Ping’s lack of integration with other social networks, moreover, could limit time-spent and user engagement. How much time do people spend in the iTunes store compared to on Facebook?

Still, if Apple can build a viable social network-cum-commerce platform on its own terms, apart from the rest of the web, it will give marketers, as well as content owners, one more reason to abandon the browser and other web-based platforms for the safety and commercial friendliness of Apple’s walled digital garden.

Read the full post here

19 Responses to “Ping: A Social Network Inside a Walled Garden”

  1. @Tim
    First of all, you can’t compare an OS with a device. Second of all, there’s a plethora of Android based phones and one iOS phone.
    What’s amazing is that Apple is competing with their legs tied together and one hand behind their back. One phone and one carrier, compared with Google who has a s***-ton of phones and all four (three?) major carriers.

    • In this instance he can, because the iPhone uses a single operating system iOS and Android is an operating system. And you went on to do just that in your second sentence.
      Apple is becoming AOL in its efforts to control access to the internet. Personally, I prefer to do my own censoring of web content.
      And there are plenty of other sites where one can access music and share what one likes with others without using iTunes. The best part is being able to share the entire song.

  2. Jason Fishburn

    “Ping’s lack of integration with other social networks… is now its most compelling feature…” I wholeheartedly agree if I interpret “compelling” as “more attractive to use”. When I get on facebook, I see many of the same things I just saw on twitter, and when I catch up on my twitter feed, I get all kinds of information about all kinds of subjects. Some of it I’ve seen in the news already, and I have to sift through stuff I don’t care as much about, just because sometimes people are interesting, and sometimes they’re not.
    Starting yesterday, I can get on Ping and see totally unique content in a simple format. And it’s all about music. What can I say? I love it.

  3. Hamranhansenhansen

    > walled garden

    I’m getting so tired of this BS meme. Not only does this not apply to iTunes, it doesn’t apply to Apple.

    iTunes Store has an API. There are no walls. If you go to the website of a music artist or record company and see 30 second clips, in many cases those clips are coming from iTunes Store. Everything in iTunes Store is exposed to the Internet through an API.

    Notice that the Ping-Facebook thing fell through because *Facebook* blocked Apple from using their API. Not the other way around. Facebook already uses iTunes’ API. Facebook PUT UP WALLS to break the Ping-Facebook integration.

    The reason iTunes Store does not run in your Web browser is because your Web browser very likely sucks. Especially at audio, and it certainly is a few years away from being able to sync an iPod.

    IE9, which is not even in beta right now, is the first IE with open audio support. When it ships, it will represent the first time a non-Apple name-brand PC ships with an open HTML5 browser. That is a wall coming down around the Windows PC. Right now, only Safari and Chrome have open audio support, that is about 10-15% of the Web. Notice that’s Apple’s browser and another that is based on Apple’s browser engine.

    iTunes Store is 8 years old. The Web might — just might — be ready to run the audio parts of iTunes Store on iTunes Store’s 10th anniversary. Whether or not it will be able to sync an iPod is a much bigger question. Device support is in its infancy on the Web right now. Maybe by 2015.

    “Walled garden” is a term of art. It was created to put a name to closed mobile phone carriers. Verizon is the perfect example. Nothing runs on the Verizon Wireless network except phones that have had their open global standard mobile antennas ripped out and proprietary Verizon mobile antennas put in and then the device activated by Verizon at their pleasure. Verizon has a 100% closed ecosystem. It is sealed. It is a walled garden. That is absolutely nothing like Apple, whose only proprietary technology is their 2 native application platforms. But recognize: ALL native app platforms are proprietary. Windows not only has a proprietary app platform, it has a proprietary Web app platform, which is changing in IE9, but that is playing catch up to Apple who have been shipping a totally open W3C browser with every computer they sell for 7.5 years, including all of their mobiles. If you think a device with an HTML5 application platform on it (Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad) is a “walled garden”, then you have some reading to do about HTML5. It’s the single most open API ever created. It was written by Apple, Google, Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, Adobe, and the W3C. Apps install and run locally onto your iPhone or other HTML5 device from any server in the world, with absolutely no mediation between the user’s client device and the developer’s server.

    I mean, c’mon … Apple ships the only name-brand PC with an open source Unix core operating system. The only one with a complete open source Web development system (Apache, PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, MySQL, etc.) The World Wide Web was created with Apple’s developer tools on the 1990 version of a Mac Pro. Apple ships the only mobile platform with native C applications. Cross-platform C. The language that is used to create Unix, Windows, PlayStation, Wii, arcade games, and so on. That is why so many iOS apps are direct ports from PC’s and game consoles. Most of the code is just pasted into Apple’s developer tools. Apple runs 2 of the most important open source in use today (possibly ever): WebKit and Bonjour. They are used by everybody.

    Just because somebody says something on the Internet like “Apple is a walled garden” does not make it so. It’s pure 100% marketing BS from Apple’s competitors and deniers. Google has no excuse because they ship Apple’s open source browser core. They know better. Microsoft and PC makers have no excuse because they don’t ship open anything. You have no excuse for picking up this stupid meme.

    The Internet will tell you that the copy from Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign was written by Jack Kerouac. That is wrong also. Do some reading instead of passing the BS on. It’s extremely tiresome.

    • Hallelujah!!! Someone has a brain and uses it. I too, am so sick of seeing that freakin’ Apple quote attributed to Kerouac. Read a book people!!! Like this smart person right here!

    • I’m getting really tired of the ‘fanboy meme’ that has clearly infected the thinking of many otherwise smart people.

      I like how they think that Apple adding free open-source software to their retail software offerings, which they *sell* to bulk up the perceived value of their product is an indication that they are equally open.

      Maybe in your country, not here!

    • ned flanders

      Oh joy,… now we have fanbois pimping their favorite toys because they are using open sources.

      Apples is a user of open source but gives little back to the community. heck, they are incapable of working on anything where they dont have control.

      Its takes pretty big balls to talk about them being open source friendly and then talking about Webkit.

      THAT is exactly the kind of crap Im talking about.
      Most tech afficionados are very well aware of the whole KHTML>Webkit affair which is EXACTLY how Apple views open source: its good as long as they control it.

      The word open means nothing nowadays. Open is the new 2.0 of the day, its meaning diluted to the point of meaninglessness.

      I usually laugh at how fanbois like you will defend ‘their’ brand but I dont appreciate the BS when we all know that KHTML is WebKit and most of us know Bonjour by its name, zeroconf. (bonjour is their implementation of Zeroconf).
      So forgive me for not kowtowing in gratitude.

      But your kind also believes that Apple invented mp3 players, so its hard to convince true believers.

      The KHTML and OpenDarwin sagas are perfect examples of how Apple treats open source.
      Even the once big bad IBM knows how to play well with others nowadays and understands how collaboration can benefit them. Apple, not so much…

      But if your toys make you happy, enjoy them.
      Just dont try to convince us of things that arent true.
      I draw the line at that BS.

  4. Apple’s fake social network give people one more reason to steer clear of Apple’s command and control staidness, for the choice and fun of the browser and other web-based platforms, just like more people are
    choosing Android over iPhone.

  5. Ping is cool but unfortunately it needs a LOT of work. Right now it’s far too bare bones to be useful. Really it’s just a small expansion of features iTunes has had for quite some time.

    Here’s a list of improvements that will push it into a full social network platform.

    1) Facebook connect (I know, but it’s a necessary evil and it will draw a lot of people in).
    2) Something similar to scrobbling. Why I can’t see what my friends are listening to is stupid. I can only watch what they buy? No thanks.
    3) Why is it music only? Definitely needs some movie love.
    4) Better integration into the store itself. Unless usership is just so low that this integration has yet to make itself apparent.

    I just feel ping needs a bit of work. It needs to be fully integrated into the iTunes experience and not simply a little profile page within iTunes.

    • “Ping is cool but unfortunately it needs a LOT of work. Right now it’s far too bare bones to be useful.” Agreed but that’s the way Apple design things: “bar bones”. They give you a little and build up from there based on what works. You just have to think about what Ping will be in 1 or 2 years. It’ll probably integrate all your suggestions. Look at the iPhone today, it got everything people complained it was missing in 2007 (multitasking, native apps, etc). Remember how restrictive was the iPod at launch: only for Mac users. Ping will evolve. Give it just 12 months…