Apple’s Ping Versus the Social Web
By Jeff Sayre
In my last article, I wrote about the potential impact that Apple’s iTunes Ping, their just-released social network for music, might have on other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The more important question is, What impact might Ping have on the Social Web?
Since posting my article, I have read a number of other observers’ opinions about Ping. Although many of these articles show great insight and erudition with respect to why Ping, in its current incarnation, falls short in offering a truly social platform on which to discuss music, I have not seen a single article about the most ominous portent of Ping.
A Private Social Club
A big part of my professional day is spent thinking about issues surrounding the Social Web and working on solutions. I do this via debating and evangelizing approaches to making the Web a better place for users and by actively participating in the development of open source social media projects like BuddyPress.
What’s interesting to note is Ping will be an instantly-large social network that is not part of what we have traditionally termed the Social Web. Since iTunes is not a Web-based platform, instead running on a proprietary application that ties into the Internet, the software infrastructure that enabled the success of Web-2.0 startups like Facebook and Twitter is removed from the equation. With Apple’s successful line of products and large install base, more social-networking attention will shift away from the Web.
Ping is another closed data silo, but one that does not live on the Web. It is a closed data silo on a private, exclusive island. It’s a private social club. Will large companies follow Apple’s lead and migrate their social networks off the Web and onto proprietary platforms as well? An increasing percentage of Twitter traffic, for instance, is generated off Web, with input and output instead happening via proprietary applications (TweetDeck as an example, or via one of Twitter’s mobile apps). Fortunately, Twitter provides Web APIs that allow for a subset of their data to be discovered and shared via URIs.
But Ping is different. Its data are not Web-discoverable. Although you can share a Ping URI with friends via the Web, the link redirects from the browser to iTunes—Apple’s proprietary platform. This allows people into Ping’s private club but does not free Ping’s data to the Web. Ping operates in the Internet, not the Web.
This is an issue as the Social Web already struggles with identity and privacy management and still has not lived up to the promise of user-centric data control. Closed data silos snub their nose at the full potential of the Web but closed social islands, like Ping, simple refuse to accept the vision of the Web altogether.
If companies do migrate their networks to propritary platforms, then the issue of data portability and semantic discovery via the power and promise of the Web of linked data will become moot. What will happen to the Social Web? It will become a cobweb on a rundown offramp of the Internet.
What impact do you think Ping will have on social networking, in particular the Social Web? Do you see social networking moving away from the Web, and if so, what are the impacts to users? Do we need to rethink the meaning and use of the term Social Web to encompass social platforms that exist off Web?