With the entire internet being social media experts these days, we’ve heard from both professional and amateur alike on the state of Ping, and more broadly, the state of iTunes 10 as a whole. What Apple has done and what they could have done better is the talk of the town. It’s not surprising. When a company like Apple throws their hat into a ring that’s already dominated by someone else, people are going to notice.

All in all the new social network of music lovers is  pretty bare-boned, but it lays a great foundation for future upgrades. There’s a lot that could be added to the service, and while most people are clamouring over themselves to figure out just how Apple missed the boat — it’s in vogue after all — we’re a little more reserved. You have to start somewhere before you can be the best.

What We Love

Ping’s got some pretty interesting ideas, and considering it’s in its first version, it’s pretty impressive what they were able to roll out. Keeping in mind that all of our favourite social networks had modest beginnings, we thought it’d be best to analyze Ping through that lens.

There’s potential here, despite what the pundits might have you believe.

Seeing other people’s favourite songs.

First thing’s first, having a band on Ping “like” all their own music is the modern day equivalent of showing up on stage wearing your own merchandise. It’s lame — don’t do it. Your fans want to know who your influences are and they don’t really care what your favourite tracks are from your discography.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, being able to see what my friends like is a huge opportunity for Apple. Having been obsessed with Last.fm over the last couple of years, it’s pretty obvious that there’s potential in the ability to “like” certain music. Outside of the obvious high schoolesque pressures of “liking” the right types of music, social interaction around music is going to help people find new and interesting music just as much as it’s going to help Apple, and the music industry by extension, sell more albums. I’ve found a lot of new music through Last.fm, and I’ve already found some interesting music through Ping, and this is where the power lies. Being able to find new music and buy new music in the same place is something no one else can accomplish on such a large scale. iTunes has it all wrapped up into one place now.

That being said, there are some small additions that would make Ping even better, and we’re pretty certain that Apple’s got some ideas of their own, but we’d love to see the music “liking” to be a bit more automated. For instance, there’s a “most played” smart list in iTunes. If Ping could determine what my favourite music is from that playlist, my experience would be far more accurate and automated. Obviously, if I spend my whole summer swooning over Yeasayer, the smart playlist knows about it, and in turn, Ping could know about it. I wouldn’t have to think about updating my favourite music, and my followers and friends would have a more accurate representation of my music obsessions.

If I’m embarrassed by what I’m listening to, then I shouldn’t be using Ping. Life’s too short to care what other people think about my musical tastes.

What Needs Some Polish

Finding Friends

Apple’s just now getting into the social world, and with Game Center and Ping, it’s looking like our Apple ID’s might quickly become the equivalent of our gamer tag’s on XBox Live. It’s associated with everything we already do with our Apple products, and we don’t expect it to change any time soon. One thing that really stood out for me when setting up Ping was the inclusion of Facebook Connect. It didn’t even last twenty-four hours, but it was certainly a lot faster finding friends that way than it is now, having to manually search for friends by name.

It has me wondering if Apple’s outlook on Ping was a service for “real life” friends, over “online friends.” To me, there isn’t much of a differentiation these days, but  on Apple’s campus it still seems to be that way. The sad thing is that after being out for half a week, I’ve yet to see a friend request from my “real life” friends. Now before you go all, “Pft, he doesn’t have real life friends,” you should probably know that we’re not the first people to notice this either.

Take a minute and look through your following list. You’re probably in the same boat as we are — a giant group of early adopters and tech journalists. It makes me wonder just how useful the social features of iTunes will be if it’s not going to help me share music with friends and family that I associate with while I’m away from the computer.

Concert Listings

Again, we’re fully aware that Ping is in its first version, so we’re not complaining about the lack of features that most are. Instead, we’re hoping to add some insights into things we think will make the services just a little bit better, and in the process encourage some discourse on our thoughts.

If you’ve gotten this far in the article, you’ve probably noticed that I’m huge on the automating feature set. To me, a good social network is automated, and I don’t have to spend my time thinking about stuff that technology’s capable of solving for me. With Ping, concert listings also fall into this category. As it currently stands, there’s only a couple handfuls of artists on the Ping network providing concert listings. This is the one feature set that hasn’t really been solved for most users. There’s been plenty of attempts by others in this space, but nothing seems to have caught on with the general population.

If Apple already has our Apple ID information, then they already have our home addresses, so why is it that we’re seeing concert listings for every single gig a band has in their tour docket? Tell me the concerts that are going on in my home town, or a surrounding radius, and leave the other stuff off our profiles.

One of the biggest hurdles I have with going to live shows is not knowing that a favourite band is playing in my home town until it’s too late. Knowing that Weezer is playing in Las Vegas on October 1st, 2010 isn’t going to help me in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Tell me who’s playing here and now in a culminated list, and I’ll be sure to check into Ping on a daily basis. Besides, it’s only one click away.

Contrary to my picking on Weezer in this post, I’m huge fan.  I had a great time at their show here back in July, and recommend you go check them out when they show up in your neck of the woods.  They’re great live.  They also deserve huge props for getting on Ping as soon as possible, and attempting to use the service to its maximum capacity.

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