Thoughts on Apple’s Foray Into Social Networking
Social networks are king in 2010 and Apple is the latest company to jump on the bandwagon with Ping. Announced yesterday during Apple’s annual iPod event the Ping social network was described by Steve Jobs as “a new music orientated social network”. But with Apple’s strict policies on privacy, censorship and the already crowded social networking can Ping succeed?
Ping’s premise is simple and split into two parts. Follow friends and family to see what music they listen too, buy and like. The other part is following artists you already know and love and finding out more about them such as local tour dates, or viewing exclusive photos or videos.
In this respect Ping is largely a success, and although it is early days Apple is being praised for its focus on privacy before you’ve even begun using Ping. As soon as you open iTunes 10 you’re presented with a page asking if you wish to enable Ping, doing so allows you to select how people find you on Ping. The principles are similar to those of Twitter, people can follow you and you can follow them, but to add an essence of privacy Apple allows for you to approve people who follow you or if you’re particularly private you can simply make yourself invisible and lurk around Ping unseen.
Once you’re in, Ping is somewhat familiar with a Facebook look about it. As you follow friends, acquaintances and family a timeline fills up with their activity. This ranges from simply lists of people are who being followed to songs people are liking, buying or commenting on. As with Facebook all this activity can be commented on or “liked”.
Unlike Facebook which allows an element of freedom Ping feels very restricted, upon adding a profile picture it’ll go to Apple for approval which in my case took around 4 hours. In addition any swearing will be censored with stars, cute.
Finding your friends on Ping is also a pain, although Facebook integration was reportedly in place it has now been pulled with Steve Jobs saying that Facebook wanted “onerous terms that we could not agree to.” Finding friends is time consuming having to manually type in names or email addresses. Posting a link to your Ping profile on Twitter or Facebook makes it easy for others to find you but they can’t follow you through their browser, they’ll be forced to fire up iTunes.
This is where Ping begins to feel entirely disconnected, even from iTunes itself. With zero integration with Twitter or Facebook finding friends as mentioned above is difficult, but so is sharing across multiple networks. The iTunes Store already has Facebook and Twitter sharing built in (albeit poorly) so why this didn’t make it to Ping is baffling. Ping isn’t just disconnected from the world it is unable to see the content that surrounds it, running inside iTunes you’d expect Ping to be able to interact with it. But can I like a song or comment on it directly from my library? No.
Ping is also oblivious to the past, over the 7 years of using the iTunes store I’ve purchased a lot of music. But after running Ping for over 12 hours my “Ping Charts” remain sparse as people are slowing purchasing throughout the day. Showing the
millions billions of purchases people have made over the years would make Ping instantly useful.
During Jobs’ presentation he used a series of questions to introduce Ping, the majority of answers are covered by Ping apart from one:
“What are my friends listening too?”
I don’t see how Ping answers this, it shows what friends are buying and enjoying but not what they’re listening too. Last.fm an already fantastic music-orientated social network does what’s known as ‘Scrobbling’ which simply shows what you’re listening to right now. Why Ping doesn’t have this is beyond me.
It’s early days I’ll admit and so far I have discovered some new music through it so it’s offering signs of success already but with a limited number of artists in place, poor integration with external networks, no knowledge of past activity and a slow and painful interface I’m not sure Ping will be the smash Apple’s looking for.