Another day, another social network. Last week, Apple announced its first foray into the social world with Ping.
My first reaction was to pour scorn on the new venture; surely a closed, tightly controlled network that relied on installed software and had limited integration wouldn’t stand a chance.
But is this selling Apple short? Does Ping usher in a new world where Apple will focus more on selling content rather than merely as a way to sell more hardware? In which case, it is surely important and worthy of note.
Being the level-headed guy I am, I thought I’d take a step back and really assess the pros and cons of Ping to give a more balanced insight. So here goes…
Big user base
Apple already has 160 million iTunes users. That’s a pretty impressive number, especially when you compare it to Twitter’s 145 million registered users. So the attractiveness of giving these users something else is clear. The question to ask is, how do these users actually use iTunes and does this move add anything? Do large numbers of registered users easily translate into an intent to socially engage?
Ecommerce built in/the future of social commerce
The big buzz phrase in the ecommerce fold at the moment is social commerce. Ping clearly has a big play here. With a powerful ecommerce engine already at the heart of iTunes, this additional functionality takes it a step further.
Music crown still up for grabs
Music has always been a major battle ground on the web and will continue to be so. Having said that, it is debateable whether anyone has actually taken the bull by the horns and really owned the space. While Myspace would have been the tip of many an analyst a few years ago, its star has diminished recently. Upstarts like Spotify and Last.fm are certainly ones to watch and you still wouldn’t want to count Facebook or even Google out, but surely Apple has as good a claim as any.
iTunes on steroids
For those that are ardent users of iTunes, Ping – as with Genius back in 2007 – will be welcomed. The question is whether there are enough of these users for Apple to make the service a money maker.
There is no denying that social recommendation is increasingly important in our purchasing decisions; it’s a vital component of social commerce (see above). At the end of the day, we trust our peers. Apple has taken much of the functionality here from its acquisition of Lala and embedding this into iTunes makes total sense for many of the reasons already stated.
Apple has tackled the recent privacy problems experienced by other social networks like Facebook head on. It’s privacy settings are clear and easy to configure. In addition, Ping is not turned on by default (at least for now), it has to be configured by the user.
Mobile is where it’s at! It’s quite easy to see Apple’s massive advantage here. With the growth in the mobile computing trend, the manufacturer of iPods, iPhones and iPads already has millions of mobile devices ready and waiting for Ping. On the go access to a music-based social network will be very appealing for many.
There’s no API currently for Ping. You need a copy of iTunes, either on a computer or a mobile device. This lack of a web version (of iTunes, let alone Ping) will be a major detractor for many.
Too little choice
While it is a lot better than in the past, the Apple library of content still isn’t comprehensive, making it hard to track down that more obscure artist or recording.
…at least for now. Apple has touted a possible integration with Facebook Connect but, as yet, this doesn’t seem to be active. Whether or not it does become active in the future is still to be seen but, if not, it makes the network pretty much all on its own. This makes it of limited use to users that want to increasingly have all their social connections and interests in one place.
I don’t want to use iTunes
Well, tough then (at least if you want to use Ping). Will Apple open Ping up to other music sites and/or services? I wouldn’t count on it!
Recommendation engine needs work
The most complaints so far seem to be that users aren’t being recommended artists or music that is in keeping with their interests. Lots of Lady Gaga and Cheryl Cole seems to be the order of the day! Surely mixing the service in with Genius to create more of a Last.fm service would be the obvious way forward.
Still work in progress
In conclusion, Ping seems like a good way for iTunes users to get more from the iTunes experience by giving them closer access to their favourite artists, writers and film stars (as well as their peers). But, it’s not really a social network in the true sense, rather a music discovery service on steroids. My fear for Ping is whether it can become anything more than a glorified buyer recommendation/information service.
Do users spend enough time on iTunes to make it worthwhile from a social standpoint? Maybe it doesn’t need to be anything more than this. But, I suspect that Apple has its sights on a far bigger prize and, to truly realise this, it needs to integrate, open up and diversify to really benefit.
So what does Apple need to do? Increase it’s integration and app partners, bring more of a Last.fm/Genius crowd-sourced discovery element to Ping and become more competitive in terms of pricing of content.
photo credit: swanksalot