On Wednesday, Apple introduced Ping, their self-described Social Music Discovery environment. It’s a micro Twitter/Facebook social media environment, embedded inside of iTunes. In one sense, it’s a huge statement – Apple is moving into social media, trying to play in the universe where Facebook and Twitter reign supreme and Google Buzz and Googleme and …. are trying to keep up. It’s rumored that this is the output of taking on the Lala development team, and shutting down lala.com. If that’s in fact the case – bad move, Apple. Ping does have a few things going for it, but in general it’s really lame.
Unsurprisingly, it’s embedded inside iTunes. For those of you who don’t use iTunes as your media player, you can stop reading now, Ping isn’t for you. Even for those who do use iTunes, this feels like a poor decision – it’s cut off from all the power of all the other environments we know like the web, email, twitter, Facebook, or even things like RSS.
The basic idea is Twitter + music – you can follow artists, follow individuals (iTunes differentiates between the two, where Twitter does not), and you can invite your friends to participate. You can “like” artists and write reviews or posts, and see your activity (or others) on a wall. You can declare what music you like – either manually or via automation. That’s it. I don’t really see how this is a discovery tool – just one more place to read reviews. Ping will recommend artists you should follow, but these recommendations seem rote, editorial and depersonalized – for me it recommended I follow Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, and Kenny Chesney – really Ping? Kidding right?
Annoyingly, the only way to invite people is through email – no way to leverage your investment in Twitter or Facebook. Do I really need to recreate yet another social network? By hand? Seriously Apple? I understand not wanting to empower potential competitors, but this feels like Ostrich behavior – Apple sticking their head in the sands and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist.
Ping’s idea of music you are engaging with is music you “rate, purchase, review or like”. In my experience, it actually ignored music I rated, and only reflected music I’d purchased (I purchase little music in iTunes because I don’t want to be locked into their music format). Since the last 10 songs I bought were for my son, Ping is pretty sure I like Lady Gaga and Eminem. One of the big problems I see with Ping is that it is based on what I do in the iTunes Store, and completely disassociated from my Library or what I listen to. Why do I have to tell Ping that I love Calexico? They can see from what I play all the time that I love it – it completely ignores my listening behavior. Ping also seems disassociated from Genius, the current “Discovery” environment inside iTunes. iTunes has so many assets it could use to enable music discovery or let me create a social presence around my musical identity – none of which seem to be used! Which bands do I like? I shouldn’t have to tell them. Why doesn’t it suggest concerts nearby for bands I listen to? It could. Instead I have to go manually to each artist’s page to see that info. Just a few examples….
If this is what we get for losing Lala, bad trade. It’s like the Ping developers paid no attention whatsoever to what existing music discovery services have been doing for the last few years. Not even close to what Last.FM does for me for discovery and a social environment – can’t imagine giving up last.fm for Ping. Or why not do a deal with Pandora and do real music discovery? I don’t feel anything innovative here – just a somewhat lame ripoff of Twitter with cover art.