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Ping Is Neither Social, Nor Is It a Network. Discuss.

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Apple iTunes’ Ping (s AAPL) launched Wednesday night to a flurry of chatter lauding it as a MySpace killer, only to land Thursday morning amid criticism and a nasty break-up with Facebook. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, let’s take a look at what Ping is, as well as what it could have been.

Om claimed that Ping is the future of social commerce, but its sole focus on purchases and its presence behind a walled garden may hinder that bright future. Here are the four main issues Apple has to work on quickly for Ping to be successful:

Ping’s main method of social interaction is based only on new purchases.

In order to populate a social network of any kind, you need to give users the ability to share whatever it is they bring with them. I have over 6000 songs on my laptop alone, and that’s not including what I have stored on my external drive. Probably a third of those were purchased via iTunes. In order to share any of that music with those who are following me, I have to click out of Ping and into the iTunes Store, find an album I already own, and click “Like” on the drop-down menu. It’s a counter-intuitive UI involving too much effort on the part of the user. My music stream — and my actions on certain favorite or hated songs — can already be shared on other services. Why would I bother going through all that when I can click “Love” on (which is already running in my dock) and share that song through another social network, which may already be providing direct links to Amazon (s amzn) MP3 or another service for purchase?

In addition, Ping is so divorced from the iTunes experience that when I let it auto-populate my “Music I Like” selections at sign-up, soon I had 10 selections of my kids’ music, which they bought with gift cards they’d received as presents. No, Ping, those one-star selections of Hannah Montana and the Chipmunk movie soundtracks are not “music I like.” In fact, when rating that music in iTunes, I think that one-star rating I assigned the kids’ music said I really didn’t like it at all. Buying does not equal liking.

Ping doesn’t allow you to create new tangential conversations, or share additional statuses, locations, or activities with your social graph.

In order to begin any conversation on Ping, I have to do something involving the iTunes store: hunt down a song or album and Like or Post it, or buy something. I can’t begin a conversation with “Hey, did any of you catch that live Arcade Fire show on YouTube? What did you think?” Again, there’s an opportunity here for smart-linking to products based on organic conversations, and Apple is missing the boat. I may think to leave a comment if a purchase or a “like” happens by in my stream, but if I’ve already liked or bought an album and want to bring it up later, I’d have to go digging for the old conversation. I can’t start another one.

The concept may be Apple, but the UI certainly isn’t.

The one point that any Apple fanboy (or fangirl) has always been able to make without argument is how intuitive Apple’s UIs have always been. It’s the original company with a plug-in-and-go M.O. for its products, yet even on Wednesday night, when I joined Ping and talked about it with the early adopter crowd on Twitter, we were all stumbling about. If people who have more than 400 log-in IDs for social networks are confused about how to go about interacting with each other on a social site, how will an average user be able to figure it out? The familiar status box you see at the top of the screen on every social network is missing. If you want to comment on another user’s activity, you have to seek out a small link to pop up a comment box (an existing whitespace would be much more obvious). Worst of all, the drop-down menu that appears on albums or songs in your stream appears to be part of the “Buy Album” button by design, which could make wary users afraid they might purchase the album rather than comment on it.

The social graph is missing.

This is Creating a Social Network 101. No one wants to sign up for a new service, only to manually seek out the same group of people they are friends with on Facebook and follow on Foursquare. They want a quick and simple method of importing contacts from a service like Facebook Connect. The post-launch implosion of an Apple-Facebook deal to piggyback on Facebook’s social graph was a devastating blow for populating a new service. Apple needs to do something quickly to replace it, or those signing up will quickly tire of logging in only to find there’s no new activity in the past three hours. Social networks need a constant stream of activity to keep users engaged.

As for trying to convince my friends to use the service, they don’t want to be bothered, for the most part. They’re already using services on Facebook or MySpace to share music in a much simpler fashion than Ping is providing. In the nearly 48 hours since launch, I’ve assembled a circle of real-world friends and tech connections that, with combined followers and those I follow, is less than 30. Considering I have over 300 friends on Facebook, that’s a pretty small percentage of my social graph.

I listen to my iTunes library during my work day, alternating with Pandora. While I’ll frequently click over to (if iTunes is running) or Pandora to like or block a song, it’s too hard to do that with Ping because I have to take a break from whatever I’m doing to hunt it down. My other social music sharing is as simple as flipping to another window and clicking a single button. When I do check in to Ping, I have to manually refresh and it’s often hours between updates. Right now, Ping is a lonesome place that seems to be populated only by diehard early adopters and Apple fans.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

With Ping, Apple Builds a Social Network Inside a Walled Garden

20 Responses to “Ping Is Neither Social, Nor Is It a Network. Discuss.”

  1. What’s amazing is that much of what you want Ping to do, Lala (the social music site Apple purchased and shut down) already did very well. This was especially true of the Facebook integration, since you were able to purchase music for yourself and others from Lala within Facebook’s web store.

    Maybe these features will return if/when Apple gives iTunes a better web presence. In the meantime, I agree with you: Ping isn’t worth my clicks.

  2. I just don’t purchase music enough to become part of the community – which rather miffs me. I really like GetGlue which seems a logical style of system to sit within Apple iTunes and I had, when first I heard, thought it would be somewhat similar.

    For a ‘social’ product, I’m excluded when at work.

    Having seen that Andy Inhakto has already pushed $20 dollars via Ping, some very Mac oriented people with lots of disposable or music allocated funds will find it useful.

    The most interesting element of this product is what it demonstrates about Apple.

  3. Youtube and already cover music networking as far as I’m concerned. Myspace still does a bit too.

    Not interested as I prefer music in the car, not constantly in my ears. Has a similar ring to it to buzz as far as I’m concerned a bit of, “I can create one too….” but there are hundreds of thousands already using these other platforms.

    I’ll view from a distance, and watch with curiousity but I’ll never join it.

  4. Yep, I’d love to add existing connections from other networks. But if they aren’t going to offer an import/search method, they could at least give you an easy, obvious way to share a link to your profile so you can invite existing followers the “old fashioned way” instead of the even older-fashioned, “Look me up! I’m listed under Mary Jones.”

    It’s awfully quiet… In fact I haven’t bothered checking my profile since Thursday.

  5. I agree with your criticisms; Ping is not compelling in its current form. At first, I thought it was even worse because I figured I had to search in the iTunes store for the albums I liked just so I could “like” them. That I can click the little arrow next to an album name (in iTunes) to go right to that album in the store makes it a bit easier.

    I disagree with you on one small point. I don’t think Apple has to hurry to fix this. It is not a central concern for them. They have built-in subscribers in their iTunes user community. Their rollout may be “meh” but they’ve essentially staked it out and as it becomes more compelling, I think they’ll have no trouble getting people there. They can wait out Facebook, I think, unless Facebook somehow convinces people to give up their media player.

    I really wish Ping was better; I would love to be able to talk about stuff I’m listening to *right now* in iTunes and allow Facebook friends to join in the discussion.

  6. Great post Cindy. Ping seemed so promising during the keynote. I hope Apple makes changes quickly, before people like me write it off. It’s filled with a lot of potential, but falls short in its current form. I signed up right away. My two biggest issues are it’s hard to find and follow ANY artists I listen to, and the biggest problem is I can’t share what music I’m actually listening to. That’s lame. Even IM services let your status show the current song you’re listening to.

    • Cyndy Aleo

      Thanks, and agreed. I was so excited during the Keynote it wasn’t funny, and still log in a couple of times a day to check it.

      As for finding artists, I think that they are adding artists faster than users. There were only a few I could find when it went live, but as of today, I’m happily following Weird Al Yankovic and Trent Reznor. Of course, I have to discover these artist by following a crumb trail, but at least they are appearing.

    • Cyndy Aleo

      Thanks, Louis. This appearance on this side of the curtain is a rarity; I just happened to be the nutter who was all over Ping from the second of launch and had the most to say about what bothered me. (I know this shocks you.)

      I do love working here; it’s fabulous working with so many writers I’ve followed and respected for years!

  7. I am not terribly impressed with Ping, either. Of course, maybe at a certain age we no longer care what others think of our music, nor care about theirs.

    Now here’s something you’ll really like!

    I was reviewing Ping for my site and someone posted that there’s not much on the way of privacy protections for children (given that so many children have their own iTunes accounts. It’s so at my house.) Is this true? Should we expect Apple to do more to prvent minors from allowing anyone to “follow” them? Or is this solely the parents’ responsibility? Maybe GigaOm can look into this.

    • Cyndy Aleo

      Brian, it depends on what you mean by “children” since the iTunes TOS clearly states:

      “This Service is available for individuals aged 13 years or older. If you are 13 or older but under the age of 18, you should review this Agreement with your parent or guardian to make sure that you and your parent or guardian understand it.”

      If they are younger than 13, you’ve already violated the TOS. My kids don’t have their own accounts, which is why Ping decided I “liked” Hannah Montana.

      It’s up to the parents to supervise what kids are doing online. Ping has three settings for following: let anyone follow, require approval for following, and let no one follow.

      Kids are going to be kids, and mine know if they mess with the privacy settings (I check on them on an irregular basis so they never know when it’s coming and don’t have time to react), they lose computer time.

      Ping makes it so hard to share information outside of discussion around a posted/liked/purchased song or album that it’s not even in my top 50 concerns when it comes to the kids’ online privacy.

      • Thank you, Cyndy. Very helpful.
        But I still have some concerns.

        The iTunes legalese happens in another time and place from setting up Ping (which takes just one step). You don’t start Ping and then receive an agreement or privacy information. Thus, your children aren’t reading or changing privacy settings (nor are you, the parent, at this time).

        Thus, there is a disconnect. Rather than get into the debate about ‘parents must take responsibility’ the fact is that millions of children do have iTunes accounts (I’m guessing, millions who are 13 or younger). Not much wrong with that, right? Parents are letting their children buy music via iTunes. Harmless. Only now, a good deal of personal data could be set free. And any child who has fired up their iTunes can now use Ping.

        I checked this out myself. Ping is shown prominently on the new iTunes. Click the button. You are presented (whether adult or child) with a binary choice, essentially. Let others follow you. Don’t let others follow you. If you do let others follow you, they have your name, your music likes and your city and state, at minimum.

        I think Apple can do a far better job. No parent probably has an issue with their child purchasing a CD from Best Buy. Only, what if Best Buy asked the child if they want to ‘share’ their musical tastes with “followers”. And it turns out that includes your name and general location. Not cool. I’m disappointed at Apple in this. Before lauding them for “millions” of Ping sign-ups in 48 hours (because it’s so easy), we should demand tigher privacy controls I think.

    • No age requirements exist on Twitter at all since they changed their Terms of Service in 2009. Odd, considering a lot of the adult content (photos & language) that exists there. I’ve been followed by 9 year olds.

  8. Add a paragraph about the ongoing conflict [in some minds] between personalization v. privacy. Because just about everything you wish for – wakes up the whinging brigade. Apple, especially, walks a bit of a tightrope on the topic.

    Poisonally, I could care less. As soon as the algorithms are in place to defeat most of the spam, I’ll be logging into Ping. It will be the first social networking system I may get serious about.

    Music has been part of most of my life.

    I’m sitting here listening to Bombay Dub Orchestra/Egypt by Air – Om.

    • Cyndy Aleo

      The thing is so private now you’d think it was Fort Knox. ;)

      Honestly, I think that any time a new social anything is launched, you get the privacy wailing and then people get over it because they want to be wherever the rest of their social graph is. I’m always amused by the people who use Foursquare obsessively yowling about privacy concerns. I know where you are and what you’re doing every second of the day via Twitter; why is it now such a concern that I know you bought the Bee Gee’s Greatest Hits last night?