Why Ping will succeed as a social network.

pingI don't own any Apple devices, haven't use a Mac since OS7 when you had to have a 3rd party TCP/IP stack just to get on the web, have never installed iTunes and probably never will so am looking in from the outside, experiencing Apple's Ping vicariously from the comments of others.

It would be fair to say that it has come in for quite a bit of criticism from many including being called non-intuitive, not a social network, and merely an underhand ploy to generate sales through iTunes.

The basics

Ping is currently a fledgling network, a version 1.0 in every sense. We are spoilt by the current state of Facebook and Twitter et al so any new offering coming to market that is not all bells and whistles seems incomplete. We need only look back a few years and remember how our current favourite networks behaved when they were young and we can draw instant parallels.

Holes in the service leading to a plethora of third party applications helped growth but also caused fragmentation and inconsistencies in the Twitter ecosystem - some of which Twitter is now trying to resolve. Facebook is more like Apple in that it has a much tighter grip over what happens with its service but, obviously, still comes nowhere near having the element of control that Apple has over its whole domain.

Many have said that the fact Ping only exists inside iTunes is a big failing - the obvious parallel here is Google Buzz only existing within Gmail. This obsessive control, however, will mean that Apple can grow Ping exactly as it wants with little outside interference, although the comments of its users would be the most valuable tool to ensuring a happy camp. Giving people a sense of investment in your product is a sure-fire way to breed loyalty - the "I made this" factor is very powerful (Microsoft have been using it for years with their beta testers) and should not he ignored.

Perfection

Apple, and specifically Steve Jobs, is a perfectionist and will not take criticism of Ping lightly. Over time we will see Ping run through a number of iterations with features being revised, completely re-written, added and even removed in order to transform the network into the most effective social music platform it can be. After all, the better the network and the more comfortable iPod/iPhone/iPad users are with it the more likely they will stick around, share their suggestions and - most importantly - make new purchases based on the shares of their friends.

As some have suggested, it is most unlikely that Ping will sit on its laurels but instead it will morphine and grow to encompass other areas of online life in the Apple sphere. Music, video, games and applications, even Apple hardware itself could become a topic of conversation.

Apple may have fallen out with Facebook just prior to launch over the "onerous terms" the latter wished to impose but the two won't stay mad at each other for long. The two will most likely become bed-fellows as some point in the future. As Ping grows Facebook will realise it is missing a trick and make further advances to Apple but more on the latters terms. Apple was obviously keen to have a connection in the first instance but balked when faced with possibly the only other arrogance on the web to equal its own.

Linking to Facebook will be the first step to getting a wider platform for Ping so that it is available outside of iTunes. A separate client for the various Apple mobile devices would be a good start - the larger iPad would be an obvious first choice. Being inside Apple's walled garden whilst, not being ideal, would not be the death of Ping on its own as long as Apple let you discuss and recommend items you already have rather than revolving around new purchases; better tie-ins between Ping and iTunes are a must.

As the service grows "taste profiles" will no doubt improve - they have to, as do building more accurate recommendations based on what you already like and the likes of your friends. As one of my friends on Twitter put it:

"It would make more sense if it actually compiled tastes from your entire collection & listening habits and didn't suggest Katy Perry"

There will no doubt be promoted albums and artists, new releases and popular items across the board but the distinction between social recommendations and promoted ones will need to be made. Apple will quickly realise this and move to appease their customers or risk a backlash and reduced sales - cash is king.

The bigger conversation

It is understandable why Apple have not opened up Ping to additional conversations and updates outside of the current experience - they are no doubt concerned that the banality of conversation from other networks may dilute the goals of ping in getting customers to part with their hard earned but, without the ability to enter into a wider dialogue, users may become disillusioned.

I feel it is, therefore, inevitable that Ping will widen both its scope and remit in the coming months after an initial period of bedding down. Apple invests itself whole heartedly in its products and is not prone to admitting failure; because of this Ping will be made to work, by hook or by crook.

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