Apple has just recently announced their first foray into the social space and it’s an interesting product, if only because it embodies the Apple way of doing social. Apple Ping is a social network for music, embedded into iTunes. What it is, above anything else, is what MySpace should have become.
MySpace served an amazing niche in that it served as a platform for bands to reach audiences. Before, every band had to build it’s own website, maintain it’s own mailing list and acquire each fan painfully & manually. MySpace leveled the playing field by giving anyone those tools for free and letting bands concentrate on the more important task of making, promoting & selling music.
I think the idea behind Ping is great. That music should be a social activity is a bit of a no-brainer duh type revelation. There are at least a dozen different companies attacking this from all different angles but Apple’s entrance is appealing because it has an asset others cannot have, verified purchase data. This is an incredibly strong position to leverage off of.
However, I think Apple’s biggest mistake with the actual implementation of the product is that they haven’t realized that most conversations about music are not about music. There are the super-fans who find the ability to connect with bands appealing. Those were the ones who, before web 2.0 would actually visit band websites and read their blog posts. However, these represent a tiny minority of music listeners. For the most part, the average consumer is happy to simply listen to a piece of music without any special desire to investigate the story behind it. Instead, for them, the social purpose of music is that music serves as a conversation proxy. That is, they use music as a channel to open up a conversation with their friends about life in general. I’ll ask how that concert you went to last night but what I really want to know is who you went with, why you like that band, how you heard about that band, what you did before & afterwards, how’s your week been, heard any funny stories recently etc.
Apple Ping is a place to have conversations about music. What Apple Ping should be is a place to have conversations involving music. The difference is the audience. Because Apple Ping is it’s own separate walled garden, the only people who are going to go to the effort of checking are the people who are passionate about music which means the only content that is appealing for me to produce is conversations about the actual music itself. I’m going to write on Apple Ping about what my thoughts are on the new Lady Gaga CD but I’m not going to write about who wants to go to a concert with me next month since the people who would potentially go with me are not on Ping, they’re on Facebook.
What Apple needs to do to make Ping a success is simple. They need to turn it into a Facebook App. They need to leverage their core strengths to enable to people to have conversations involving music that they never could have before. If they do this, Ping will be a success. If they do not, it will die a miserable death of neglect since it’s simply not sustainable to have a conversation platform that’s only about music.