When Steve first announced ping, I was initially sceptical, asking questions like: Do we really need another social network? Why is this not accessible in a browser? and so on. Not to mention that I think the name is a bit poor by Apple’s standards. I think they could have come up with a better one that didn’t sound like something Microsoft would come up with.
Both of the above questions have been answered for me though. In a similar fashion to how MY IGN meets the needs of gamers in a way no other social network does, Ping does the same thing in that it gives people a good place to discuss music and follow their favourite artists.
Other places have tried to integrate social networking and music, for example Spotify. They updated their app to integrate with Facebook. The issue there is that while it works well, you have to disable a lot of the settings to stop it from spamming your news feed with junk. To me, Facebook is about silly status updates that are rarely important, posting photos of family and friends that aren’t designed to be Flickr masterpieces, chatting to friends and playing browser games occasionally.
The problem is that when you get into integrating complex subjects like music or gaming into pure social sites like FB, you end up with clutter and spam, and that isn’t what the vast majority of people want from that type of site.
Because Ping is so closed off and accessible only via iTunes itself makes it interesting and unique, and you’re never going to have to deal with fake accounts for artists because there will be links to ping profiles from Artists bio pages on the iTunes store, if they have an account. It’s a very controlled and closed system, which some will disagree with, but in this case it works well and integrated into the iTunes experience nicely.
Another thing I noticed is that you can’t actually do a status update by itself. You can comment on activity, for example liking a song or purchasing something but you can’t type without a reason, which it definitely a good thing as it keeps things on subject as much as possible.
It’s interesting that despite the iTunes Store selling all kinds of content now from Apps to TV shows, they have nothing to do with Ping whatsoever. I wonder whether that will change any time soon. My guess would be no, as they seem to want to emphasize the link between iTunes and music once again, and go back to their roots so to speak. This is reinforced by their move to bring the nano back to its predominantly music origins and remove the distractions from the last couple of versions.
Once they get the rampant spam under control and possibly include some kind of friend importing tool from other networks and email accounts, I think they’ll be on to a winner. This isn’t supposed to replace Facebook or Twitter as Steve said during his keynote, but instead it’s a kind mini networking companion to iTunes with a clear single purpose in mind. For that reason I think many negative critics are reading far too much into what Apple are trying to do here.