Apple has rolled out the long-rumored and much awaited social iTunes in the form of Ping.
Ping is a streaming, social network-based suite of capabilities that has been integrated across the world of iTunes, in a way that is reminiscent of early versions of Last.fm, and using the now standard open follower model popularized by Twitter.
To use the service, an iTunes 10 user has to click on the new Ping label in the left sidebar of iTunes, in the STORE area. Then there is some setup, basically geared toward what should be presented to followers and privacy controls on followers:
Once this is set up the user has a minimal profile with location, bio, name provided by the user and some musical genre categorization offered by by iTunes, along with streams of actions taken by the user, like buying music, liking albums, and purchasing tickets for concerts:
(I did include an avatar, but Apple is still ‘processing’ it. I wonder if humans are eyeballing it for nudity or something.)
I followed a few celebrities, like Dave Matthews, and I sent out a call on Twitter, and got a few followers and following set up, for experimental purposes. Now when I look at ‘recent activity’ there are actually posts and activities from inbound stream (=those I follow).
(mostly everybody is following, and not doing much else yet.)
The integration of concert information associated with artists is very cool, and suggests how Apple expects social commerce to be a main source of revenue:
The instrumentation for Ping is spread throughout the store, so anytime you are looking at music for sale you will be able to ‘like’ it, rate it, buy it (d’uh) or write a post (stream based) or review (album based).
In the future, all online commerce will be socialized.
I find the fact that reviews and posts aren’t the same thing sort of strange. But we’ll have to see what gives after some more rooting around.
Lastly, everything I am saying about music could be extended to the other sorts of media that iTunes markets: TV shows, movies, books, whatever. But it hasn’t been at this point.
I have only fooled with Ping for an hour or so, so my empirical analysis will have to be delayed for a few days, at least. However, the largest glaring gap to me right now is the fact that my own music — the stuff I have on my hard drive — isn’t part of the Ping experience. If I want to ‘like’ or post about something I am playing on my local iTunes instance I would have to open the store, find the song or album there, and then make my gesture. This is just a pain, but could conceivably be remedied when Apple allows me to upload my music to that enormous cloud server park they are building. Then all my music will be indexed, cross tabulated, and sharable.
Recall that a few weeks ago a new release of iDisk that included the tantalizing capability to stream audio from the cloud to my iPhone or MacBook (see Apple Takes A Baby Step Toward iTunes In The Cloud). There is no doubt in my mind that we are headed in that direction.
Imagine a future release of Ping where I could share playable playlists, or live stream a Stowe Boyd radio station, or I could listen to a new track recommended by a friend and comment on that streaming recommendation. Or imagine streaming movies in sync with my son Keenan, with Facetime heckling superimposed so it is like a living room experience, although he is in his bedroom at college.
Apple is on the threshold of something fundamentally transformative. It turns out that some commentators agree:
Om Malik, Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce
Ping may function like a cross between Facebook and Twitter for iTunes by allowing you to follow celebrities, create social cliques and get artist updates via an activity stream. I think it could have tremendous impact on social sharing and commerce.
From a content perspective, there are three different types of media we love to talk about: movies we see, music we listen to and books we are reading. These are accepted social norms. In fact, many relationships are made on the basis of collective love of a movie and many friendships have started with mixed tapes.
It makes perfect sense for a music service to be social. I’m not alone: The popularity YouTube, the fast-growing MOG and the sadly defunct iLike and Imeem show that people gravitate towards music as a common, collective experience. A recommendation from friends on Last.fm often resulted in me buying many-a-few music tracks. My friends who listened to Thievery Corporation turned me on to The Broadway Project and Chris Joss, which I ended up buying on the iTunes store or via Amazon’s MP3 store.
This click-and-go-somewhere-to-download model of affiliate links can never match a unified experience. Amazon, for example, encourages bloggers and others to link to things they like and then get a piece of the action. This separates social from commerce and treats them as two discrete activities. On the post-Facebook Internet, I don’t think anyone can afford to keep these two actions distinct.
I agree with Om, and obviously Amazon will have to rethink its ‘enormous catalog’ model for commerce, and scramble to make it all social. And Apple and its competitors will have to provide hooks so that I can take my Ping stream and embed it in my blog, direct it to Twitter, and so forth.
I have been saying for years that ‘in the future, all online commerce will be socialized’, and Apple is showing how this is going to be realized.
Apple apparently considered integration with Facebook, but couldn’t come to terms, according to Kara Swisher. Strategically, Facebook is likely to become a direct competitor with Apple, so Jobs is playing go with Zuckerberg, and has won this game.
Amazon might make the devil’s bargain with Facebook to counter Jobs, but that’s a matchup that might just not do much. We’ll have to see if Bezos is impatient.
But there are many doubters out there too:
Sam Diaz, Ping: Apple should leave social to Facebook, Twitter
Ping is an interesting idea and music is something that we have been sharing with friends for the longest time. It strikes me as interesting that Apple has come up with a way to allow people to “share” their music tastes but not the music itself - which I never would have expected Apple or the record labels to do. Is this one way to make “sharing” music OK?
Apple is good at what it does - hardware, software, design and, of course, marketing. But social networking? Even if it is tied to music, I just can’t see widespread adoption of Ping - even if it’s forced on us through iTunes.
Man, Diaz will regret this a year or so from now. Maybe he missed the experiment with streaming via iDisk? Did he miss the launch of the new Apple TV? Can’t he imagine a Flipboard channel based on what’s happening in your iTunes network, with embedded videos, photos, music samples?
Another oddball take on Ping:
Chris Matyszczyk, How Apple’s Ping dings Twitter, Facebook
Ping picks at the nice parts of Facebook and Twitter—friending and following—and offers these benefits to its users without the generalists’ pains.
Unlike Twitter, for example, these are all real people. Unlike Facebook, you can just wander around and see who or what you like without having to become someone’s friend and without having to like anything at all.
This is real people with a real enthusiasm meeting in a bar and talking about a subject they love, rather than about a subject they often hate—themselves. There’s very nice music playing in the background, too.
How many truly passionate, fundamental enthusiasms do large numbers of people share? Movies and sports, probably. Books and food, perhaps. (I wonder if there really are all that many.) Right now, these are often all being talked about on Facebook, each fighting with another for sufficient attention across very mixed groups.
It might not happen that hundreds of niche social networks will suddenly become enormously successful as people decide to fragment themselves across their various enthusiasms. But there are a few core subjects that arouse passion, conversation and the spending of money. Music is one. Apple is another.
Why do the passions have to be shared by large groups of people? Isn’t it sufficient that there are many small groups of people sharing passions? Oh, and don’t leave out TV, which is an enormous passion, as are sports. And yes, people will tolerate — or even seek out — fracturing their social being across multiple services: the post-modern identity is a network of identities, a multiphrenic sense of self.
Are these tech mavens completely missing where this is headed?