Ping – the unholy union of iTunes and social networking

The Internet’s a funny place, isn’t it? When I was checking out what people thought about Ping I kept getting suggestions that I might actually be looking for “Ping Fairway Woods”. Nope, we’re not talking about golf clubs today, we’re talking about Apple‘s new social network.

If you’ve downloaded iTunes 10 you might have noticed that it’s changed a bit. I quite like the new look, but it’s the addition of a “Ping” item in the store menu that’s really got me interested. Sign up for that, and you’ve joined an iTunes-based social network where you can share musical recommendations with friends and even stalk… sorry, “follow” your favourite artists. Sounds good, doesn’t it? On the whole, it is, but there are a couple of snags.

  1. No web presence. OK, I get that this is an iTunes-based social network but my profile’s URL is a bit unwieldy – http://c.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZConnections.woa/wa/viewProfile?userId=149029320. And, of course, this opens in iTunes. A web-based preview would have been nice, much like the previews you get when opening a link to the app store.
  2. Unintuitive operation. Here I am, clicking randomly around my playlist trying to work out how to tell Ping that I like a particular song and I couldn’t figure it out. I ended up googling it and found that you have to go to the album’s page in the iTunes store to “like” it. Fair enough, and it’s possible that I missed that particular instruction, but I don’t think it was obvious at all.
  3. Feels a bit, well, corporate. I’ll be saying something similar tomorrow when I look at Apple’s Game Centre, but Ping feels very much like a sales funnel. Yes, I understand that Apple exists to make money, and encouraging their users to buy more music is a good way to do that, but it does feel a little forced.

Can Ping compete?

The music social network scene is by no means a barren wasteland. I have two particular favourites at the moment:¬†Blip.fm lets you pretend to be a DJ and broadcast your tune choices to the world, while¬†Last.fm does a fantastic job of monitoring what music you’re playing and building a musical profile. They’ve both been going for a while and, while they do offer you the opportunity to buy the tracks you’re hearing, they’re less obviously corporate in nature. In many ways they’re more intuitive to use, and can be accessed through a standard web browser.

Can Ping compete, then? Probably – Apple has a lot of weight to throw behind it. But will Ping dominate just as iTunes does with online music sales? Honestly, I don’t think so.

Have you tried Ping? What do you think of it? Tell us in the comments, and check back tomorrow for my first thoughts on Apple’s new Game Centre.

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