PingThe centerpiece of Apple's (APPL) recent product announcements was clearly its new music-centered social network dubbed Ping. The unveiling was both a surprise and totally expected.

Ping's core technology appears to be have been built by the team from Lala.com, the music streaming startup that Apple acquired in January, 2009. I knew Lala very well: I'd all but migrated my music consumption to Lala where I loved buying streaming rights for 10 cents a song that could then be played on any Web-connected device.

And I'm still smarting from the nifty service's abrupt shut-down, which has cost me a few hundred bucks in songs and left me pining for streams ranging from "Here's to the Halcyon" to Bach's Goldberg variations.

The Challenge in Building a Network

Which brings to me to why Ping doesn't have the right ring. For starters, Apple already had my email address (I'm an Apple customer) and my Lala records. Why not make me whole by inviting me to join Ping and giving me an iTunes store credit to make up for my loss? It wouldn't totally replace the streaming rights, but it would be a nice start and would certainly get me thinking positively about Ping.

But Apple didn't believe it needed to scrape for customers in social networking. Apple's "halo effect" would be more than sufficient. And it was, with 1 million people joining Ping in its first two days. Trouble is, the quality of your network isn't dependent on the first one million users -- it's dependent on the 500 millionth user. Like any true network effect on a business, each node on a social network is more valuable as the size of the network grows. Right now, Ping is essentially a community for the Apple aficionados and the alpha download squad.

Every Apple employee who has a Facebook account must understand the impossibility of building a social network where you can't find and follow your actual friends, and where the entire network is hidden behind avatars or email addresses. Perhaps that feature is coming, but it alludes to another difference in Ping versus other new Apple products. This does not feel like a product where Apple has completely improved on a broken model.

History of Innovation

The genius of the iPod was in turning something that was complicated and failed the Grandma Test (as in, can your grandma run an Archos MP3 player? Not.) into something intuitive and beautifully designed. iTunes also passed this test, automating what had been a dreadful chore of wrenching music from plastic platters or corset-like DRMs. Then came the iPhone, a product that liberated the smartphone from the carriers' grasp and set it free -- and in a single stroke created an ecosystem that has transformed the U.S. from a wireless application backwater to a bellwether.

But in social networking, the model doesn't seem very broken. Facebook, despite its flaws, is doing a pretty good job. People are voting on this by signing up and using the service. Facebook makes it very easy to find and follow friends, interact with large groups of friends and to reconnect and maintain relationships of varying degrees of closeness. This perfectly suits the current zeitgeist where everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing but not to the point of actually interacting in depth with more than a select few friends.

Ping Isn't Transformative

So what problem does Ping solve? I'm not sure. I liked Lala a lot, but it didn't completely blow open a stodgy market. Did it make me stop using Pandora, the Internet-powered free radio service that's actually a much better revenue model based on local advertising? Not a chance. Is it so much better than anything else that I just gotta have it? Without the streaming music model, which I doubt record labels -- still smarting from Apple's quick march to market-maker in their business -- will allow, Ping is half the service Lala used to be.

Maybe Steve knows something that I don't. In fact, he certainly has known a lot more than I claimed to know in the past. But for me, Ping simply doesn't ring true. No, it's not a bad product. I like its looks. The user interface is slick and well designed, like everything Apple does. It's just not terribly transformative. Check back in two years, and let's see where it goes.

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swasdiva

When I first heard about Ping, I thought it referred to Ping.fm, a free tool that updates multiple social networks at once. Seems like Apple's chosen a name that's already in widespread use by similar products. Dunno how they can get away with that? I'm a Grooveshark.com fan, anyway. It's got free streaming with option to buy through Amazon MP3 and iTunes, a great radio and a social network all built into it. I don't even need Pandora, so why bother with Ping?

September 06 2010 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Happy Face

Thanks for the warning. I won't buy one. I have Windows 7 now. I wish MS would fix the constantly occuring (Not Responding) problem with Internet Explorer. I wish these companies would fully debug their products before dumping them on the public. Just my opinion anyway.

September 06 2010 at 1:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
hemipwr54

Want to get rid of problems with your Windows Computer ? Install Linux and kiss your troubles goodbye !

September 05 2010 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Susan

Ha! Apple won't give anyone anything unless their testicles are nailed to the wall. You will turn blue and keel over if you're waiting for Apple to give you credit for anything. BTW, my husband bought a new iPhone and it took an act of congress to find the link to the Apple ap for a free case. They've buried it. You can't find it doing a search on the App store. BUT here's the link, folks. US IT and make Apple pay for their mistakes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iphone-4-case-program/id383941000?mt=8&cid=CDM-US-DM-P0009605-162992&Email_PageName=P0009605-162992&Email_OID=66ff701d2c6faa6a7a33aaf521f80d09&cp=em-P0009605-162992&psid=&sr=em Hiding the link, like your complaint in your article, is just more sliming by Apple. I like the iPhone but I can't wait to move it to any other carrier than Apple's crooked partners at AT&T. AND I just bought a Kindle for reading. Why spend $700 for a wifi enabled iPad when I can get a reader with FREE 3G and wifi capability for $179?

September 05 2010 at 4:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ren

Honestly, I still don't really even know what Ping is or why it's "necessary." It seems like it's just to "follow" artists, which you can basically do on MySpace or Twitter, and to see what your friends like or buy. As you said, your friends may or may not be on Ping. Most people I know or am good friends with either don't have ANY Apple products or don't like Apple or some combo. If Ping allowed you to share your iTunes music collection with other people, at least in the way of listing what you have or--better yet--allowing at least friends of yours to click songs in your collection and stream it to their computer, it would be amazing and, as you say, "transformative" because nothing out there really allows this unless you and the person are on the same network. As far as I know, it doesn't do this.

September 05 2010 at 2:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ren's comment
Susan

I'm wondering how long it will take for this 'social networking' stuff to go away? I still can't imagine why people are so self-involved that they think anyone wants to know what they're thinking at any given moment. I mean, really...I don't CARE that someone is about to do their laundry or is about to take a nap. I don't CARE about your smart little 12-yr-old clique's sayings. I certainly do not CARE about anyone who doesn't have the interest in maintaining an actual, quality relationship with actual, quality emails. These people like to think it's cool to have 200 'friends' and then they don't take the time to really communicate with them - it's all little smart-a** 2 line posts about things that no one cares about.

September 05 2010 at 4:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ezlapez

Synopsis: Whiney blogger complains about a service because he feels burnt by an almost completely unrelated service shut down. Quit lying, you didn't lose any money with LaLa, Apple gave you a full iTunes credit for all of the streaming songs you had rights too. If you downloaded the full songs for 89 cents, then you should still have them. Knock off the pathetic complaints, and get a comment filter to prevent spam. Pathetic, its too bad this blog is listed anywhere near some of the other Weblogs, Inc. blogs.

September 04 2010 at 2:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply