Apple Unveils Ping and Enters Social-networking War with Facebook and Twitter
By Jeff Sayre
During Apple’s media event today, CEO Steve Jobs previewed iTunes 10 which will include Ping, a social network for music (Ping press release). I believe this is possibly a game-changing event for Facebook, Twitter, and the Social Web in general.
Music is a big aspect of social sharing. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and even Twitter have launched the careers of fledgling artists, have helped promote established artists, and have been important platforms from which fans can interact with each other and sometimes even their favorite artists. Music and entertainment are one of the major activity hubs in these social spaces.
Now with Ping, Apple has shifted the calculus. Ping will allow all iTunes’ users, whether on a PC or Apple device, to follow other users, to meet new people, and make new friends. Users can see what their followers (friends) are listening to and have recently purchased. They can post comments and participate in any part of the realtime activity stream. They can discover new music and find out when their favorite artists are coming to a town and which of their friends plan to attend the show. They can even purchase tickets to the show all from iTunes.
One of the most compelling features of Ping, however, is that artists will have their own page that allows them to keep fans up to date and to interact with them. I believe that unlike Facebook and twitter, the vast majority of artists will choose to actively participate in Ping as they derive a noticeable percentage of their revenue from iTunes. This one feature alone could make Ping a phenomenal success.
Does this mean Facebook and Twitter are in trouble?
Of course Ping has just launched. So should Facebook and Twitter be concerned? With a userbase of 160-million music and entertainment lovers, iTunes offers Ping an instant userbase that is almost one third the size of Facebook’s user network. That is a substantial foundation from which to launch a new social networking destination.
But a massive userbase does not equal an instant community. A community can only germinate if Ping allows its users the freedom to control the experience, and the tools to interact in a truly social way. If managed properly, Ping could very well encourage a large number of music fans to move their discussions about music away from Facebook, Twitter, and more music-centric networks like last.fm. After all, iTunes is a platform that has always been dedicated to music; iTunes is a platform they already know and love to use—at least for purchasing music.
By fracturing their users’ attention, Apple is seeking to chip away at Facebook’s and Twitter’s success. Jobs even alluded to Facebook’s crummy privacy controls, saying that Ping has easy to use, easy to understand privacy controls. The impact may be small at first, but as Ping builds momentum and the word gets out–via Facebook and Twitter of course–the shift could be seismic. Facebook and Twitter will survive as they are not just about music, but they will not be unaffected. Why is this?
Whereas music is the first target for Ping, it would not be unrealistic to see Ping expand to encompass all of iTune’s digital content genres—movies, TV, books, apps, classroom lectures, etcetera. Ping could become the de facto social network for all media discussion.
What impact will this have on Facebook’s and Twitter’s business model? It could be huge. Since iTunes is already a widely-successful platform for selling and distributing digital media, the addition of a social-networking layer could divert tens of millions of dollars away from those networks. Ping’s success will depend upon whether Apple understands social sharing, whether it can envision a way for its users to have more control over the experience—something Apple rarely grants on its platforms.
But Ping has bigger implications for the Social Web. That is the topic of my next article.
What impact do you think Ping will have on Facebook, Twitter, and social media in general?