What Wine Goes Best With the Future of Ping?

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A tipster speaking to the Los Angeles Times says Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, two of the most influential figures in the tech scene, got together for dinner at Steve’s place two weeks ago. No word on what they ate, but Apple’s fledgling music social network Ping was definitely on the menu.

The source spotted the two walking and talking together in Palo Alto, Calif., where Steve Jobs has a home. Jobs must have reached out to Zuckerberg, who is now worth more than him, to see what could be done about mending the bridges between Facebook and Ping, which apparently suffered major structural damage near Ping’s launch with the release of iTunes 10.

To recap, Apple was in talks with Facebook 18 months prior to the launch of Ping, trying to arrive at agreeable terms for a partnership between the two. Building in a user’s Facebook friends list would’ve meant Ping already had a user base out of the gate. As it is, building a Ping network means starting from scratch, something I just can’t be bothered to do at this point.

Negotiations broke down because Apple found Facebook’s terms to be too bitter a pill to swallow. No doubt Facebook wanted a share of iTunes’ considerable revenue in return for its participation, something Jobs probably couldn’t tolerate. Apple instead tried to just use Facebook Connect, which is available to all through the network’s API, but Facebook shut it down since the usage didn’t comply with its terms.

Fast forward to now. Ping, at launch, apparently attracted 1 million subscribers. Sounds impressive, but it’s actually only a tiny fraction of the 160 million users iTunes boasts. And if my experience is at all representative, sign-ups don’t necessarily translate into frequent usage.

Even though Apple relented and introduced the ability to like items from your library, and not just from the iTunes store (though content still has to be found there in order to be liked), it still doesn’t provide an easy way to find and add friends. You can search by name, or email people you’d like to join, but that’s it. Even without Facebook Connect, a simple tool that browses your email contacts and finds friends shouldn’t be beyond Apple’s abilities.

The details of the reported dinner between Jobs and Zuckerberg point to an event that was planned and initiated by the Apple CEO. This is probably the first major instance of Jobs’ “my way or the highway” method of doing business blowing up in his face. Without Facebook’s cooperation, Ping is wilting on the vine and shows no signs of turning around. That Jobs is even open to sitting down to talk again reveals the desperation of the situation.

Ping probably won’t get shuttered unless it starts to become damaging to the Apple brand. It probably doesn’t cost that much to operate, and even if it boosts iTunes sales only a little, it’s doing what it’s designed for. But it also won’t replace MySpace for musicians, or become the next big social network. Without Zuckerberg and Facebook, it might just become a ghost town.

Are you still (or were you ever) using Ping? If so, (1) why and (2) how do you deal with the weak friend discoverability tools?

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