With Ping, Apple dives into social media

The music network comes exclusively with the iTunes 10 upgrade.

by Frank

Apple joined the social media market last Wednesday with the announcement of iTunes Ping, a music social network made available through the new iTunes update.

With the announcement of Sony’s Qriocity, a new online media streaming service meant to rival iTunes, Apple hopes Ping will drive up music sales.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Ping at a Sept. 1 press conference in San Francisco. He also unveiled the new iPod Touch and iPod Shuffle, as well as a price drop for an improved Apple TV.

“Nobody was expecting that Apple would do something like Ping,” said Brian Mathieu, a former University of Minnesota student, an avid Apple user and self-proclaimed expert. “Apple didn’t provide any clues that they were stepping into the social media realms in any way – it’s not something that they generally deal with.”

Apple will partner with Live Nation, a concert promotion company, to sell tickets. When Ping users select an artist to follow, they will receive notifications when the artist will perform nearby.

Suraj Pai, a College of Science and Engineering first year and Apple user, described Ping as a hybrid of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. “It seems like it is set up exactly like iTunes is,” Pai said, describing how Apple was able to maintain the signature iTunes feel.

Ping users will create a profile displaying their favorite artists. There is also the ability to follow other individuals and comment on what songs they’re playing.

“With Ping you can follow your favorite artists and friends and join a worldwide conversation with music’s most passionate fans,” Jobs said in a statement.

With 160 million iTunes users worldwide, Ping surpassed the one-million-user mark within 48 hours of its release. “One-third of the people who have downloaded iTunes 10 have joined Ping,” Eddy Cue, vice president of Internet Services for Apple, said in a statement.

While Ping is in its initial launch stages, artist profiles are invite-only, but Apple spokesman Jason Roth said soon any artist can create a profile on Ping, but with limited capabilities.

Featured artist profiles can include uploaded videos, Roth said.

Ping is also available on Apple mobile devices.

Early issues with Ping included the lack of anti-spam protection and poor navigation. Several featured artists’ profiles were plagued with spam posts luring users to take surveys that offered free gifts. In response to poor navigation features, Apple added “forward” and “back” buttons.

While the number of Ping users increased steadily during its first week, many iTunes users have yet to try the new social network.

Vishal Yelisetti, a CSE first year, said while he has not used Ping himself, he predicts it will succeed.

“Whatever Jobs has done has turned into gold,” Yelisetti said.

Impressed with Apple’s ambition, Mathieu believes Ping will be something that Apple will stick to in the long run.

“I think most people who buy music on iTunes will use Ping and will get enjoyment out of it,” Mathieu said, although “it’s not a replacement for Facebook or anything like that.”

“They invented the whole iPod market, and I think Apple is doing a good job of keeping it fresh so it’s not just the same things every year that people will generally lose interest in,” Mathieu said. “They keep adding new features that people don’t think of but people will really like.”