iTunes Ping Review: Apple's Antisocial Social Network
Apple's Ping Network for iTunes Falls Short
Part of the September 1 Apple Announcement was Ping, an extension to iTunes that promised social networking between music fans. The problem is that Ping is antisocial. There is no Facebook or Twitter connectivity, so Ping misses out on globally-established platforms. Existing services such as Last.fm, Blip.fm and, yes, Ping.fm have been around long enough to outstrip Ping for iTunes right away.
Also, search is fundamentally broken: you can find neither your friends nor major artists. Also, users lack the basic option to post status updates, as well as share what they're listening to at that very moment.
Also, the recommendations were just bizarre. Ping ignored all of my most recently played music (blues, jazz, weird alt stuff) and recommended some mainstream pop stuff more suitable for someone 20 years younger than me. I can only imagine it's pulling data from my iTunes purchase history (i.e. 0) rather than iTunes playback history. This is not good: I buy CDs.
It's fine if Apple wants to create another upsell avenue, but they have no business calling Ping a social network if it's neither social nor a true network. I'm sure that Apple will get around to fixing some of the basic stuff like search and outreach, but the scope of Ping is its biggest weakness, and that's not fixed as easily.
Basing all communication around who buys what from the iTunes store is silly, since there are still things called record stores and (let's be honest) torrent aggregators. By not telling my friends that I'm listening to Gil Scott-Heron (whose last record I bought a real live record shop), iTunes blows an opportunity to sell a digital version to the 2% of my friends that can even be found via Ping in the first place.
Spotify exists, Apple. Look at it and learn from it. I don't want to follow Lady Gaga. I want to be able to tell my friends what music I'm listening to. Fortunately, I need no Apple products to make this happen. There may be folks out there who like Ping, but it just couldn't do anything I wanted it to do.
The Worst Aspects of Ping
- Plays 30 second song samples instead of full songs. This ain't 1998.
- More iTunes bloat. I didn't think that was even possible.
- Client-based: I can only use it on machines that have upgraded iTunes. No Linux.
- I can't actually talk to anyone. WTF.
- Every social music site that I can think of is already a few years ahead.
Upsides of Ping
- Aqua theming
To be honest, there's no compelling reason to install iTunes 10. Ping just isn't very good. You want smooth UI, real sharing and real discovery? Try thesixtyone. It's genuinely fun to use and actively focused on unearthing artists you've never heard of but will probably like. After using thesixtyone for nearly a year, Ping felt like switching from a Porsche to a Pinto.
Apparently Facebook Connect was part of the original Ping spec, but Apple and Facebook couldn't agree on implementation.
Zennie62 at the San Francisco Chronicle writes Ping off as another aspect of Apple's "us vs. them" mentality, which held back interoperability between OSes for years:
Apple has its own closed-loop World. It's fine when it comes to hardware, but fails in the World of social networks. With so many open-loop systems, Apple can't establish a closed-loop system and expect success. So talks with Facebook didn't go well in trying to work a deal to bring in Apple iTunes Ping, Apple certainly could have made a deal with Twitter. What happened there?
The truth is, Apple, once again, thinks it can go it alone.
We shall see.
While Apple sorts out Ping, try Spotify, Last.fm, Ping.fm, and thesixtyone. Or maybe even Myspace.
TL;DR: Apple's Ping for iTunes is a store extension, not a social media network. At the moment, it's not a very good store extension.