Putting Music in the Network: iTune’s Ping

This year has undoubtedly been a banner year for Apple. With the release of the iPad in April, and the launch of the new line of iPods last September, Apple has maintained its reputation as an innovative manufacturer. Quite recently, an enormous upgrade to iTunes was made with the introduction of the new music and social networking service, Ping.  Combining features from Facebook & Twitter and integrating them with the music found in the iTunes store, Ping provides a musical experience unlike any other. Users can search freely through Ping’s database for their favorite artists and connect with friends whom they can musically interact with.  Though still in its early stages, this service has the potential to open up an entirely new way for listeners to purchase and discover new music.

To get started on iTunes Ping, all one needs is an Apple ID. If you own an ipod or are involved in any of Apple’s retail services, you can use the same ID to log on and retrieve all your personal information. The next step after logging in is to create a profile where you can upload your picture, share music you like, concerts you’re going to, and eagerly wait for friends to post their new findings on your wall. Once your profile is created, the world of Ping is at your fingertips. One can easily navigate through the music database either by searching for a specific artist or friend, or by browsing recommendations from the homepage. In searching for friends or people with similar music tastes, Ping allows you to look at the music they’ve purchased, what upcoming concerts they’re going to and what music they might recommend. If you’re only interested in following certain bands, the information on each artist’s profile is more than enough to fuel your craving. All music released by the band is available for purchasing directly through the iTunes store as well as videos and concert tickets. In addition, you can preview the band’s discography (in most cases), read about their history & influences, and even be notified of upcoming tour dates & new releases.

On Friday September 24th, iTunes released Ping version 10.0.1, which corrected the major operating issues found in the first version, as well as introduced some new features. Now, listeners can “like” and share music directly from their iTunes library as opposed to manually searching for songs or artists while inside Ping. Once selected, every song in your library has a Ping button next to the track title, which allows you to either share the song on your wall with a personalized note, “like” the song, or recommend it to others. This feature is currently only available for music sold in the iTunes store. In addition, direct Facebook and Twitter integration was added, allowing users to share their findings on other social networking platforms with a simple click of the mouse.
Ping adds a whole new dimension to digital music sales. Websites like Spotify & Mflow offer a similar service in the UK, and the potential of the digital market in the US could be better exploited. AsTunes Ping debuted in the United States on a near-universal platform, it is bound to stimulate the domestic music Internet market; it could possibly take it by a storm.

Discovering upcoming live events and purchasing tickets, for example, is a huge benefit of Ping. Having signed a deal with Live Nation/Ticketmaster for all ticket sales, consumers can easily purchase tickets directly from the artist’s Ping profile. Once an item is purchased, the transaction is automatically posted on the user’s wall, thus informing other followers and Ping users of the upcoming event. All surcharges and fees associated with Live Nation/Ticketmaster are still implemented, but the process of obtaining tickets is far less painful.

As with any new technology, Ping could use improvement. Before the 10.0.1 update, users were only able to share and “like” music they had purchased directly through the iTunes store. With the new update, the door has been opened to allow people to share songs from their library that have not been purchased through iTunes. However, if the song is not recognized in the iTunes database, it still cannot be shared with your social network in essence, defeating its purpose. Another constraint: Ping currently features artists signed only to the majors and prominent independent record labels. While the social media feature coupled with the iTunes library boast a vibrant new landscape of musical discovery, one finds a disappointingly limited selection of anything too far off the mainstream path.  Fortunately, independent artists can open and create Ping profiles and they have been doing so in quantity. Still, the iTunes catalogue and network is yet no match for sites like Mflow, Spotify, thehypemachine, last.fm, thesixtyone and mybandstock.

The appearance of iTunes Ping is another step in the simplification and better utilization of the digital music market.  The merger of social networking technology with an Apple product will this time enable users to discover songs and artists with their peers and share in the excitement of music and concert ticket purchases from within the same device. As well, direct integration with Facebook and Twitter will enable access to as yet more universal social networks. Finally, the hope is that as artist profiles multiply and the iTunes library diversifies, Ping will begin to establish itself as a consumer standard that may trump iTunes.

by Jamie Anderson



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