It’s been roughly a week since Ping’s release, and I’ve held my tongue until now. But I can hold it no longer: Ping isn’t the thing. Not only isn’t it the thing, it almost isn’t anything at all. Which brings to mind comparisons with another relatively useless web-based product: Google Wave.
Google Wave is and will remain one of the most shining examples of a product designed to satisfy a need which simply didn’t exist. It was an engineering feat, to be sure, and contained interesting and likely useful tech, but it wasn’t something the public needed, wanted, or even really ever figured out how to use.
Ping is a different type of product, don’t get me wrong. It’s hardly unprecedented, for one. In fact, if anything, it resembles its predecessors too closely. Many note that Last.fm and other similar services offer essentially the same features, but without the commerce-driven restrictions imposed by Apple in Ping, like the inability to “Like” music not found in the iTunes library, including The Beatles, arguably one of the most-liked artists of all time.
It also resembles Facebook, and recently encountered similar problems with spam, which it then took action to resolve. Though it resembles Facebook, the two networks very clearly don’t get along as of right now, which makes friend discovery (at least for me) very difficult. Which is a problem I also had initially with Google Wave. Not only was finding people who were using it difficult, but finding people who had similar interests, which would help the social aspect tremendously, was more difficult still.
Of my paltry few followers, I would say that there exists about a 5 percent musical taste crossover area, at best. Friends with whom I share similar tastes don’t use the service at all, and many haven’t even bothered to upgrade to iTunes 10 yet, in fact, so almost all of my Ping contacts are professional. Maybe I’m guilty of not evangelizing enough among my peer group, but I hardly think that’s my job, just like I didn’t when Google expected me to do it with Wave.
Though not complicated like Wave, Ping is just as clumsy from a user experience perspective. Not only can I not “Like” music not found in the iTunes library, I can’t “Like” anything from my library, and instead have to find it in the store. I’m not sure if this is just because it was too difficult to program into iTunes 10, or because Apple wants me to spend more time in the store, but either way it’s going to prevent anyone but the most dedicated completist from liking a decent chunk of their actual library.
I’ve already talked about the friend discovery tools, but even iTunes’ own recommendations are terrible. A bunch of fairly generic pop artists and some industry people are the only ones I’ve ever received, and those haven’t changed since I started using Ping. How long do I have to not add them before you refresh the selection and give me some other options?
In the end, Ping is not an effective social network. In a best case scenario, Ping would allow users to truly share and explore each other’s musical tastes, and provide easy ways for them to connect with one another, and not just with artists’ PR agency representatives. The natural byproduct of such a scenario would be to encourage a decent increase in iTunes commercial activity. Instead, what we get, basically, is a garish, buzzing neon sign with the word “Buy!” pointing at the iTunes store.
If Apple’s truly serious about Ping, then it’ll have to give it a major overhaul in the next release. If not, then it should take a note from Google and start preparing comments about how it fosters an environment where failure is not only accepted, but encouraged.
Related GigaOM Pro Research: With Ping, Apple Builds a Social Network Inside a Walled Garden