Apple (s AAPL) announced on Wednesday a cornucopia of new hardware and software: sleek iPods, a brand new Internet-enabled video streaming device and new versions of its iOS software and iTunes 10. However, the most impressive to me by far was Ping, the music-only social network that Apple is opening up its 160 million existing iTunes users.
No, I’m not blown away by the 160 million number. What I’m impressed by is the thinking behind Ping.
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
- 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 (s goog), the fast-growing MOG and the sadly defunct iLike and Imeem show that people gravitate towards music as a common, collective experience. 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 (s AMZN), 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.
Ping, from what little I saw during Steve Jobs’ demo, allows a similar level of social interaction. It can tell me who my friends think are cool and the top 10 favorites of people in my social graph. Some of my friends are famous deejays. Others just have eclectic musical tastes. They can collectively sift through over 10 million songs and help with the discovery of music. This social-powered discovery is part of the biggest theme of our times: serendipity. About two years ago, when I wrote about serendipity, I said:
The problem is that there’s too much data coming online too quickly, and the traditional method of search that involves first finding and then consuming the information is not going to work for much longer. There just won’t be enough time for us to do that and still have a life. It’s a problem, and therefore solving it is an opportunity — a very big opportunity.
My belief has only been affirmed by growth in the amount of data available. With 12 million songs and 250,000 apps, the best way for Apple to enhance the iTunes store – aka its shopping experience — is through the use of social. Back in 2007, I argued that social networking was merely a feature that had to be embedded into applications to enhance their value. Apple has done a great job of that, but it’s also gone one step further, not only by adding a social networking layer to iTunes, but by meshing it with its commerce engine, the iTunes Store. And it’s made this experience available on both the desktop and its devices.
Apple received much of this social capability with the acquisition of Lala, an online music service, which as a standalone company used sharing of social objects to drive folks towards paid music downloads. Now Apple is only closing the loop by further sharing what users bought. I wouldn’t be least bit surprised if sales of music on the iTunes store rocket upwards, thanks to social discovery.
Amazon, which recently started experimenting with Facebook Connect, has similar ideas, but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. On Amazon, I’m reduced to reading reviews from absolute strangers for music. I have a handful of friends who have impeccable taste in non-fiction business books, are all members of Amazon, and they already use email to share new book suggestions with me.
What if they too could share their likes and dislikes via a social layer inside Amazon.com? Or what if I could follow my favorite authors and get updates on their books? Much like Apple, Amazon owns book-based social service, Shelfari, and should find ways to embed the social layer inside of all Amazon products and connect its tens of millions of users.
Like Apple, Amazon too has a lot more data about its customers and their behaviors and could create a compelling discovery experience. I believe with tens of thousands of products in its store, the retail giant needs to figure out ways to surface content and other offerings smartly.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Why Google Should Fear the Social Web
79 thoughts on “Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce”
OM – been a while since I cruised by GigaOM – and the browse was worth it. You make the points very well – good post. Cheers!
Great essay – I agree totally. Oftentimes we see broad initial communications applications that then fragment into vertical interest areas.
Great article, really hits the nail on the head. This is the way companies need to think about social networking.
However, the nature of social networks also require openess, which is uncomfortable for many companies, Apple included. Without that, these ventures may not “stick”. We’ll have to see how they do with it. For example if Ping users, recognising the commercial value of their voice, decide to organize against a song, a group or maybe even a record company who the feel is abusing artists, how is Apple going to react? Apple tends to be pretty heavy handed and that may backfire on them.
a social net inside a desktop app?
if anyone can make that work it is apple
This seems to be a problem I have with Amazon (but don’t with Apple), I buy something I’m going to give as a gift and it throws their entire recommendation engine off. Apple is strict product categories and not physical products so other than gift cards I don’t buy specific gifts thru iTunes. So, not sure Amazon could pull it off.
Amazon makes it easy to delete a specific purchase that you don’t want it to consider when making purchase recommendations.
You mention movies being something people love to talk about. What is your take on Netflix’s failure with ‘Friends’? Ping sounds pretty similar to this.
Zune has had these features and more for a long long time. Apple need to spend time rewriting iTunes, rather than just copying Microsoft with XBOX Live and Zune.
Zune? What’s that 😉
iPod is to Zune, as
Windows is to Mac, and
Android is to iPhone
Apple and social couldn’t be more opposite; Social is antithesis Apple’s command and control DNA
but completely agree with you and more to the point music and movies are not at the heart of social networks by any means. Most people talk about much more interesting and sublime things. I just tried using Ping and it only took three minutes before I was totally bored. Itunes is just a store and an expensive one at that.
I’m just waiting for someone to explain to me how Google is going to revolutionize online music through social networking any moment now, and therefore iTunes Ping is irrelevant.
> a social net inside a desktop app?
iTunes Ping is a feature of iTunes Store, not iTunes. iTunes Store is not a desktop app, it’s a cloud app. You can access it from any Apple product or from a Windows PC running iTunes. The reason it’s not accessible from a Web app is the Web only just recently got audio video support, and the majority of browsers are not even compatible with that audio video support yet, while iTunes Store is 8 years old.
But even just iTunes for Windows by itself has a larger installed base than Facebook has users. So it is not hard for users to access iTunes Store if they want to.
>>The reason it’s not accessible from a Web app is the Web only just recently got audio video support, and the majority of browsers are not even compatible with that audio video support yet<<
Don't be a fool. The Web has had this for years. It's called Flash.
While Microsoft has attempted something similar with Zune and Xbox Live, it does not have the same installed base as iTunes and is quite different from Ping in execution.
I definitely see the bits of Facebook and Twitter in Ping but as an Xbox360 owner and Live user, I have never once used my Xbox as a media center much tried to find content through recommendations. I don’t even play DVDs on my Xbox.
The commenter who raised the question about organizing boycotts raises a valid question too but I guess we actually have to use Ping to get a full understanding for what it can actually do.
Great analysis, Om.
You’ve been talking about the both importance of relevance in sifting through the atoms of data on the web for years now, as well as the power of social within apps. Music is among the most social experience in media, and I think this takes itunes to yet another level of growth and fluidity.
The big loser from Apple’s launch of Ping is MySpace. All it really has left is the social linkage and recommendations of music/bands, and its weak attempt at selling songs from artists.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple were to buy it for cheap from Murdoch as a way of integrating band pages, and getting more people into the iTunes fold. (Once on iTunes, a device is not far behind).
Agreed. Ping is what MySpace should have been a long time ago.
Ping assumes that in addition to interacting with my friends on Facebook, Twitter, Y! Messenger, Gchat, AIM, Email and Tumblr about music, I want a niche interaction with those same friends for something that will/would take a toll on my wallet.
Ping takes off because it is seamless to the 160 million iTunes account holders. You don’t need another log-in and already go to the site to buy music. And can easily invite friends via email and Facebook. Seems like it is setup to succeed.
Only downside that I see right now is that it is another social network. That’s going to irritate some. “Hey Bob go to PIng and talk about music with us. Not here on Facebook.”
Even with this social service though you’re never going to have enough to listen to all worthwhile music.
“Only downside that I see right now is that it is another social network. That’s going to irritate some. “Hey Bob go to PIng and talk about music with us. Not here on Facebook.””
Bingo. That’s why it’ll fail.
A new social service is a hard-sell when people must sign-up afresh at an unknown http://www.xxx.com. Ping is different in that people will go to iTunes whether Ping is there or not, and the network effect of nearly 200 million users is large. It will succeed.
“Bingo. That’s why it’ll fail.”
By that logic, we will never have a new, successful social network from now until the the end of the universe. Common sense FAIL.
It will irritate just some, by the way Facebook and Twitter also irritate some. But here we’re talking about the other “some”, those willing to give it a try, and they are in millions, they don’t even have to register, they’re just asked 1 click to get in. I won’t be surprise if in a month from now, “Ping” becomes the verb for using iTunes.
I disagree. By the same logic, Linkedin would have failed too! And it sure isn’t. A social network with different context does have potential to succeed as long as it serves a latent demand. In this case, music discovery through friends and immediate fulfillment is a killer combo. Wonder when they would do it for Books on iPad.
I just tried it. If it stays like that it will fail because it is too boring. However, facebook have quickly realised that it is not in their interest to cooperate with Apple.
Excellent analysis, Om.
Search connected us to the pieces of web which were hard to remember and not easy to find. But, it became the gatekeeper trying to monetize. It became the durbaan collecting money and policing people going to a community theater.
Social changes that. The durbaan ain’t there, instead there is a facade which tells me who else is inside. There were several attempts to bring people together and shop collaboratively, a lot of which succeeded mildly. Now that people are already together, all we need to do is connect them with their behaviors of spending money, getting a job, holidaying with the help of their offline network which is now online.
Intriguing though on Amazon. Given the vast array of their products, it will be a larger undertaking, but they could somehow marry with the social aspect w/reviews which many users already do. They could perhaps create pages by categories and tie it to everything there. So on the TV channel, I can review the Cnet top 10, set price for a particular model, have the page reach me when a review gets posted etc. But your larger point about social media integrating within company product offerings resonates with me.
thanks again for a great post.
“The problem is that there’s too much data coming online too quickly, and the traditional method of search that involves first finding and then consuming the information is not going to work for much longer.”
Ia free with this, but I’m not sure that Ping is the answer.
I’m not sure that people will want another social network that frankly replicates the social aspect (admittedly, not as integrated with the commerce ‘this is what I bought’ aspect) networks that have been formed around music and sharing love for music.
Other networks haven’t taken off because it’s too one-dimensional. Think of Twitter: most people signed up for an account with a particular goal in mind: “I’m going to find people to talk about web design with” or “I’m going to meet my clients and grow my brand.” These people are now using it in a far more general way. Talking about their families, their other hobbies, and… music and movies. 😉
Very astutely observed, looks and sounds a lot like Apple being Apple, but nonetheless well put. If you like Thievery Corp, check out Emancipator, Quantic, Bonobo, and Fila Brazilia. Cheers
Yes. Steve Jobs is brilliant. I agree that Ping will be the Biggest Social Network for music. Apple never stop dreaming… and never stop taking action to reach their dream.
this is a boring service for people who barely deserve to listen to traffic
How can you claim the future of social commerce with a closed platform? You can’t even copy/paste text from Ping status updates – http://twitter.com/fascinated/status/22768369862 – not so much the future I’d like to be apart of
Apple – the illusionists..!!
Absolutely on everything, plus one other that is huge: Privacy. Trusting the closed and non-advertising based Apple ecosystem could be the reason why Ping may become more than just a limited-interest network, but over time one that is more general. For future thought: impact on Facebook, and relation to Wired’s dead web meme.
Pardonez-moi while I die laughing. 😉
Exclusivity is inherently a bit more private to begin with, I’ll give you that. But for it to be “social” you have to opt out of some of your privacy. That’s what these networks are all about. Facebook happens to default to horrible privacy settings. Twitter makes it relatively easy to stay private. This “Ping” ultimately -can’t- be any more or less social (at least in terms of options if not defaults) than any of the rest, really. At least not if it wants to go beyond limited interest.
Sorry, but I don’t think that it’s gonna be successful. Ping will die. It’s not even finished now… http://twitter.com/matrixagent/status/22788080422 :p
The way I see it – Apple is going to do music first. Then either movies or tv, then the other. After that i feel they will expand out more, if they do.
It is so satisfying to drop by GigaOm and be confident I will bump into relevant and apt analysis like this.
Thank you, again, Om.
There are so many sites that pat themselves on the back for their “insight” on the Web and tech biz – that are completely worthless. I check them for gossip, rumors – because they might get one right. When it comes to understanding business, communications, getting it right – I rely on my daily visits here.
Meh…iTunes is a horrible program on Windows. I do whatever I can to avoid using it.
Great post Om.
Agree that Apple are way ahead of Amzn in terms of execution, but tbh, iTunes (as a desktop app) is pretty poor experience.
Either Apple embraces likes of Facebook/Twitter for “sharing”, acquires the likes of MySpace or it runs the risk of being a “lonely nightclub”
Why exactly should I try to build up YASN (yet another social network)? Especially one that can do Facebook Like and nothing more? Right now, I’m underwhelmed – majorly!
It’s like nobody here ever used Last.fm, or Xbox Live.
Good for the folks that had no clue about this, nothing new, nothing to see.
That’s exactly what I was thinking.
Ping sounds like last.fm, but with less capabilities, restricted to people using iTunes, and following the usual Apple rule it’s a closed environment that doesn’t even play with big players like Facebook.
A social network that doesn’t play well with others and stays in it’s own little clique is kind of an oxymoron.
Not Impressed that you can’t really share the activity stream there on FB, just links to songs. Wonder if I can insert my iTunes affiliate link in my feed and make a few bucks.
Anyone know how much of LaLa is in Ping?
Come on Om, this will have about as much social impact as the current level of iTunes users who endure that crap interface of their own free will. Anyone else who doesnt already endure the jobs iron fist vision for content will find comparable alternatives around the next corner. Chances it will be Amazon or someone else.
It’s a shame it’s only available in a select few countries:
Will be really interesting to see how long an the ‘open-graph’ line lasts. Fascinating future ahead
I looked at the featured musician’s comments on Ping and there is absolutely nothing of interest in them, so I stopped “Following” them, just attempts at advertising. Waste of time. Unless Ping improves, it will fail.
Mr Om aka Apple cheerleader – spammers have a field day with Ping http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/pda/2010/sep/03/apple-ping-spam. Of course we all know that Google does not get social and everything Apple does form crisis management to this creates history in the books of Gigaom!
My only issue with the service has been how you can’t promote songs/artists you like if they aren’t in the Apple catalog (the Beatles being a big one). Once you get into more obscure bands, it’s not as helpful.
I like Last.fm for this reason – it tracks whatever it is you are listening to (obscure or not) and makes suggestions. It is not biased on it’s catalog. It does have concert venues and you can share pics from the concerts you attend.
While Apple may have a hold on the digital content distribution market and name recognition, there are several services that have existed for a long time that do this a lot better. I do think it is brilliant for Apple to tie it into their sale engine though.
You make some good points, but ultimately, I’m left wondering why both the elephant in the room and obvious opportunities for animal metaphor and reference to “DNA” were ignored.
Where is the, “Pandas, Lobsters, and Crocodiles: Why Apple will never understand ‘social'” headline?
Is it that “social” doesn’t really need freedom?
On a related note, I love the allusion to the 2007 post, especially in light of Mr. Ingram recent memo.
Very interesting aritcle, I looking forward to see if Ping does indeed take off. I really think it should