What About Ping?
Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Ping’s the new social networking tool from Apple.  I’m on it (being a Mac geek and a person who uses iTunes anyway for playback, I suppose I kinda had to be) — just look up “Matt Keeley” and look for the creepy horse-head wearing an energy dome.  So far, though, I seem to be having the problem a lot of folks are: I’m not precisely sure what to do with it.


I do think it’s got great potential.  If they can integrate it with other similar tools like Facebook or Twitter, that would make it more usable AND drive more people to it — likewise, if they give it a web interface, rather than just a page in the iTunes application itself, that can help open it up to more users.  Finally — right now, it only seems to pick up on music you’ve bought from the iTunes store itself, rather than basing it on play count from the iTunes library itself. Right now, my profile is pretty sparse in terms of music because of that — I still buy most of my music on physical media (I’m old school and really like packaging, artwork and liner notes), and only buy things on iTunes when the music is exclusive to same.  (Speaking of music, it’d also be nice if I could refine their artist following exceptions a bit — it keeps offering me Katy Perry, Dave Matthews and U2, none of which I can even remotely stand.)

Of course, Ping is a sales ploy to get people to buy more music on iTunes — but, honestly, I’m fine with that.  Part of the fun of discovering music is when you can immediately go out and get the album when something hits you in the sweet spot of the brain — and, well, hey, something like Ping would also lend itself to the impulse buy — “Oh, I like that song, and it’s only a buck! Why don’t I get it before I forget?”  And I have no problem with that — like Oingo Boingo said, “There’s nothing wrong with capitalism”.  The key is if Ping can become MORE than a sales ploy.  The idea of a Facebook for music geeks is a great one — and I’m hoping it comes to fruition.

Basically, I’m predisposed to like Ping, more or less.  And I give Apple credit for trying, but we’ll have to see how it ends up working.  How I see it, though, Apple’s secrecy has kinda got ’em in trouble on this:  They haven’t even got a lot of ARTISTS on board yet — it seems that they had to sign up with the rest of us.  Since part of the allure of Ping is supposed to be that you can follow your favorite artists and get news and tourdates and whathaveyou, to not have them already set up was a kind of silly move.  If it’d been me, I’d have been working with lots and lots of artists to get them signed up first; maybe even set it up so if you had an album in the iTunes store, you had an official artist page that the artist could claim later. But I mean, it’s kind of strange when I look up someone like Weird Al, and find out that he only has a personal page, but not an artist page. Or that I can’t find DEVO at all.

Of late, Google’s been positioned as Apple’s biggest corporate rival — taking the mantle from MicroSoft.  But in rolling out products like this, this is where Google’s done better. They’ve always been more open, and they have their constant “Beta”s; from articles I’ve read, their corporate culture is more of “Hey, if you got an idea, go do it and we’ll test it out in a low-key manner.” So, like, Gmail ended up taking off really well since folks really liked it, where Google Wave ended up being a failure. But they found out those things at a relatively low risk. After killing Wave, as far as I know, no one’s out of a job, and Google certainly didn’t go in the red or anything. It’s just a “Huh, that thing didn’t work. What else we got?” Apple, on the other hand, set themselves up for potential failure with keeping Ping under wraps until the day it came out. Without a quieter release, you get everyone rushing to a product that both:

a) requires users to build it up, and

b) had no users to build it up, so it feels empty and half-finished.

If folks stick with it, that’ll be good, and like I said, Ping has the potential to be really cool. But if people look at the empty space, look around and go “this is IT?” and never come back, it won’t flourish.  Early adopters have the mindset where they don’t mind a metaphorical empty warehouse — they know that they can help fill it up.  I don’t know if the majority of users are the same way, though.  If a bunch of people were given a VCR in the beginning when there weren’t any movies on tape available, would we have kept using them and developing the home-theater format — or would people just go “Well, this is cool, I guess, but what do I do with it?” and just throw it in the back of the closet?

It’s a neat idea, even if its roll out has been a little underwhelming…but, of course, it HAS only been a week.

Based on a conversation with Dave Newton (http://3rdacts.com) and Joe Knapp (http://a-ware.com).


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