Amongst the hoppla about Apple’s revamped-once-more iPod updates this week, something slightly different emerged: Steve Jobs announced the release of Apple’s new music-based social network Ping. Given Apple’s reputation for designing hardware and software with the philosophy “It Just Works”, you’d imagine Ping would be worth exploring. At this stage, at least, though, you’d be wrong: as a social network, Ping is dead on arrival. Perhaps that’s because Jobs originally wanted to connect Ping with Facebook so users could populate their friend connections easily. Apparently that hasn’t happened because Apple and Facebook have their own terms and conditions for playing in their walled gardens, and the two aren’t compatible (the New York Times is now calling the two companies ‘frenemies’).
In Dave Winer’s wrap-up of Ping, he highlights the major problems: no one’s using it yet, it’s really hard to actually find other users, it only runs in iTunes (not traditional browsers), and it’s based on your purchase history – not your listening history – with no option to add non-purchased music to your own interests. In short, Ping’s all about your iTunes store purchases; clearly Apple’s motivation is to build more interaction and recommendations between users, but unless you’re a big iTunes store purchasers, I can’t see how this service will ever ‘know’ enough about you to be useful (and, no, I wouldn’t take the trouble to list my interests even if I could now, since the only way for people to find me is to string search for names or emails). Beyond that, spammers are already moving in.
Apple have implemented pretty simple privacy controls, but given your Ping identity has to be the name associated with your iTunes Store account, it’s unclear whether anyone can use nicknames (I can’t find a way) which leads to its own privacy issues. Sure, this is the first iteration of Ping, and it’s likely to be improved, but there’s a long way to go and releasing this minimal a social network really doesn’t do Apple any favours. While Mashable suggested Ping would be the last nail in MySpace’s coffin, the amount Apple got wrong with Ping actually reminds us that MySpace really wasn’t (and for many people, isn’t) that bad! Ping: it just doesn’t work.