Will Ping be the next social media relic?

Apple's Ping social networkIn September Apple launched its first-ever social network to all the fanfare and breathless prose that typically accompanies its new product launches.

Named Ping, the network is built into the latest version of iTunes and lets you to follow both friends and artists with the idea that you’ll talk about music (and then shop for it).

On paper the talking part sounds great. Like a lot of people, I love music and have also been know to dip the occasional toe into social media waters, so a new music-based social network should be very appealing.

The iTunes Store even enticingly promises it will allow you to “discover new music by connecting with your favourite artists and friends”.

Except, having tried it for as long as I could stand, it entirely fails to live up to this promise. Here’s why.

1. It’s not online

Wait, let me clarify. Yes it requires an internet connection to work, just like the iTunes Store, but it’s not actually on the web and can accessed through a browser (barrier #1).

This sets it apart from Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Last.fm or Pandora,

In fact it starts to maks Ping’s nearest competitor Spotify – which also operates as a separate application. But Spotify works because its access to music (and full songs, not just 30 or 90 second previews) gives it a compelling reason for people to use it.

2. You need an Apple ID

… for which you need to supply bank or credit card details (barrier #2).

You could of course argue that Apple has a ready audience of iTunes users, 160 million of whom already have an Apple ID and sign in with it to purchase music, films, apps etc.

But the iTunes Store is hardly the most user-friendly interface. Given that Ping is built along similar lines, do people really want to spend more time there than is absolutely necessary?

3. It’s a walled garden

Not the most original assertion of course, but then it is also true that it’s a very insular social network that feels kind of claustrophobic. To begin with Apple even prevented linking out to external sites for a while, though this restriction has now been lifted.

4. All paths point to the store

Internal links on Ping have always been are fine, because they point to the iTunes Store. Thankfully, of course, the Apple ID you signed in with already has payment card details associated with it.

5. It’s not social

You can ‘like’ songs, but only within Ping itself, and you can post them – but only to your own Ping profile

Facebook integration was suggested and may still be on the cards. But as for a ‘social network about music’ …

Perhaps those music recommendations pointing to the iTunes Store will give Ping a niche future as a social shopping network. If so they’ll need to do something fast, because although just two months old it’s already looking like just another ‘build it and they will come’ relic.

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