Why iTunes Ping stinks... but has potential
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Why iTunes Ping stinks... but has potential

While 1 million people have already enabled Ping in iTunes 10, plenty of picky early adopters have found it lacking.

On Wednesday, following a keynote address from Steve Jobs, Apple released iTunes 10, the latest version of the popular media management software. One of its major features is "Ping," a new music social network from Apple.

According to an Apple press release, over 1 million people have already enabled Ping in iTunes 10, making it a pretty successful launch by most standards. Nevertheless, plenty of Ping's pickier early adopters have found it to be lacking in a number of ways, citing major perceived failures and sundry minor annoyances, including the following.

1) No way to "like" or "post" podcasts on your profile. This is a major FAIL for anyone who listens to podcasts more than they listen to music (myself included). Obviously it's also a major frustration for podcasters. Apple has made no announcement about whether podcasts will be integrated into Ping in the future.

2) No way to like or post iPhone/iPad/iPod touch apps on your profile. This wasn't as big of a deal for me, but a lot of people have been complaining about it. Since Apple has a monetary incentive to let users share their favorite iOS apps, I think it's likely that we'll see App Store integration soon.

3) Very few artists to follow. At launch, the very short list included Lady GaGa (by far the most popular featured artist) as well as Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Diddy, Jack Johnson, Linkin Park, Shakira, Taylor Swift, U2, Yo-Yo Ma, and few I'm less familiar with. A handful of others were just added to the Featured list, including Death Cab for Cutie, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. It may not be a terrible list depending on your taste in music, but still, Ping launched with only 14 featured artists you could follow, and it currently has 27. That's it.

Even if there were a lot of other artists to choose from, there's no easy way to see who is most followed by your friends, so you can't get personalized recommendations based on who your friends are following (or, if you can, it's difficult to tell because of how few featured artists there are). Presumably the number of featured artists will continue to improve in the coming weeks. In the mean time, here's a tip: try searching for your favorite artist anyway; some are there in stealth, such as Al Yankovic and Weezer.

4) No way to import friends. Any good social network will allow you to either upload your contacts database or find friends by connecting to another of your social network profiles. Not Ping. You can either manually search for the name of each and every person you want to add, or paste in a bunch of e-mail addresses and annoy the heck out of every person you know who you think might have signed up for Ping. Facebook integration was a planned feature but was yanked at the last minute due to disagreements between Facebook and Apple. Here's hoping that the ability to automatically search for people in your Address Book is coming soon.

5) Ping only cares about what you purchase, not what you listen to. Fans of other music social networks like Last.fm are quick to point out that Ping doesn't let you share what you're listening to, which decreases Ping's usefulness for music discovery. If your friends are still listening to an album they purchased a few months before Ping launched, or even 10 years before, you may never know it. Heck, even Microsoft's Zune Social network (which launched in 2007) gave users the ability to automatically share what they're listening to right from the start. Perhaps Apple delayed this feature in hopes that it would reduce the media's awareness of...

6) Privacy issues. Yeah, every social network has 'em. One thing that surprised me about Ping is that your real name, first and last, is now associated with all previous reviews you've ever written on iTunes. Many (if not most) people tend to be a little more critical and less forgiving when a pseudonym is attached to their reviews than when their full name is. And yes, Apple really does require you to use your real name in Ping, because it's tied to your iTunes billing information. I guess this makes sense on some level because searching by a person's name is currently the only way to find someone on Ping. Maybe Apple hopes that people will be less likely to leave critical reviews after signing up for Ping; fewer bad ratings on songs and apps could potentially translate into slightly increased sales for Apple, one might presume.

7) No notifications when people follow you. You have to manually check into Ping to see whether someone has started following you. With other popular networks like Twitter and Facebook, you can choose to be notified by e-mail when you get a new follower. If you follow a friend on Ping, you just have to hope that your friend logs into Ping eventually and notices that you've followed them, or I suppose you could find some other way to contact them directly and ask them to follow you back. (That's assuming, of course, that they'd want to follow you back. After all, this is a music social network, so should you really expect people to follow you back if you're a Justin Bieber fan and the only thing they listen to is death metal?)

Follow notification would be a simple feature to implement, and it's in Apple's best interest to add it because the more times people check into Ping, the greater the chance that people will buy a new song or album based on a friend's recommendation and thus add to Apple's growing pile of cash (about $46 billion and counting).

8) Compatibility. Frankly, I'm not surprised that iTunes 10 (and thus Ping) doesn't work with Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger, since iTunes was pretty much the only thing Apple had still been updating for the striped cat OS anyway. Apple no longer patches vulnerabilities that exist in Tiger, so incidentally from a security perspective it's good that Apple's giving users another reason to upgrade. For those of you stragglers still on Tiger, you'll have to at least buy an upgrade to Leopard, assuming your Mac supports it. If not, Apple will be happy to sell you an Intel Mac. That's quite a price to pay if all you care about is upgrading to iTunes 10. Technically this is more of a gripe about iTunes than about Ping, except for the fact that you can only use Ping in iTunes. Which brings me to my next point...

9) You can only use Ping in iTunes. Unfortunately, this experience is kind of klunky at best. For instance, there's no way to open multiple tabs like you can in a browser. But hey, it makes absolutely certain that people have access to the iTunes Store on any computer where they might want to use Ping since, let's face it, the main reason Apple developed Ping in the first place is to make more money.

10) It's not very polished. In the first couple days of using it, I've already noticed a number of little bugs and annoyances that make Ping feel like it's lacking the Apple "polish." If one of your top 10 favorite songs has an apostrophe near the beginning of the title, the whole rest of the title gets cut off, so "Weird Al" Yankovic's track "Don't Download This Song" appears as "Don" in my favorites. Also, if you have a nickname you want to include alongside your own real name (not really a supported feature, I'll admit), you have to be careful about special characters that might make it difficult for people to search for you; I had to input my name as "Josh Long ( the JoshMeister )"—note the odd spaces between the parenthesis—in order to show up in search results for "the JoshMeister" (which is how I'm known on most social networks and to my podcast listeners).

In spite of all that, Ping is actually starting to grow on me, and I think it has a lot of potential. If Apple quickly adds more artists and the features that fans are begging for, Ping could turn out to be a pretty useful social network for music junkies—and hopefully podcast and app enthusiasts, in the future.

-- Josh Long

Josh Long is the producer and host of MacTech Live, the official podcast of MacTech Magazine (http://www.mactech.com/live). You can find him on Ping and various other social networks at (http://social.thejoshmeister.com).

 
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