Apple Event: iTunes Ping

Image representing iTunes as depicted in Crunc...
The old iTunes logo. The new one ditches the CD. Image via CrunchBase

Ping is a new social network by Apple, only accessible within the iTunes application on Mac, PC or iDevice which is specifically about music, and nothing else.

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.


Spotify Social: Useful or Intrusive?

Before I get to the new spotify social update, I should probably give a brief overview of what the service is if you haven’t yet heard of it. I’ve been a Spotify user for a while now and have loved it. It is fantastic at allowing you to experience a wide range of music that you typically wouldn’t buy but still want to check out, or try before purchasing. The business model of Spotify is a simple one. They have music from all the major labels. Basically all the music you could ever want (almost) is available and you can stream the entire song or album you want for free. The free service is ad supported. Whether or not you hear ads depends on if you have Spotify Free or Premium. With free you can access all the music but at lower bitrates and with ads. Premium lets you have offline playlists, mobile use on an iPhone, Android or Symbian device and also get music in the higher bitrates. Premium is in my opinion the ultimate for people who love to discover new music. For the price it’s hard to match and the experience is fantastic.

I should also mention that Spotify is available to download on Mac and Windows as well as the aforementioned mobile phones for premium subscribers. Also, if you’re wondering how you can get in on the action, you have two options. You can either purchase a premium account for one month at least in order to open an account. After the month, if you choose to cancel premium, your account will be reverted to a free one, and you will lose your ad-free and mobile privileges. This is what I did and still love it. The ads aren’t as intrusive as you would think and you can go through quite a few songs completely un-interrupted which is extremely nice for a free service.

The other way to get into Spotify is by having an existing premium user invite you. Premium users get two invites to send to their nearest and dearest. Two isn’t much so be careful to give it to someone you know is going to really make the most out of it. The chances are, you won’t have a friend with invites available, so you may have to settle for premium for at least a month, but it is absolutely worth it.

Spotify Social is the name of the recent update to their software which adds a whole host of social features such as profiles akin to and integrates the service with Facebook in a quite cool way. Now, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll be using Spotify to listen to music you wouldn’t normally listen to, so you may want to be selective about what you want people to see of your listening habits. By default, everything you do will be streamed to facebook which is incredibly intrusive. I’m all for Facebook integration but I hate when these apps take the control away from me and post stuff without my consent.

Thankfully you can turn this off quickly by clicking the cog icon in the people tab on the right, and then click disable automatic facebook posting. This will stop it from publishing every time you create or subscribe to a playlist, star a song and so on. I’m all for sharing a great song or playlist with friends, but only when I want to and have complete control over it. Those options are all there and work well. I just wish they had made the automatic publishing default to off, but that’s a small complaint to have in the grand scheme of things.

That is really the only part of the experience that does feel intrusive. Just make sure you toggle the playlists from public to private where applicable and think about what you really want people to be able to see. Overall, I have to say they they have done a mostly good job not being too intrusive and it does seem to me that this is the right direction for Spotify to go on. The real question is whether Apple are going to have a very similar iTunes based streaming music service based on LaLa which they bought a few months ago and have recently announced will soon close. Apple could very easily crush Spotify and that would be very sad to see. I hope the Stockholm based team can continue to really push the music industry forward with their innovative business model but I worry that Apple just has so much weight in the industry that it will be hard for them to continue to compete with them.

For right now though, Spotify is great and you should go and get yourself either a nice friend with an invite or a premium account and support those guys.