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iTunes 10 and Ping

Apple released iTunes 10 for Mac OS X and Windows last week. The feature that's getting the most attention from the media is Ping, Apple's iTunes social network for, well, mostly, for music sales from the iTunes store.

The way Ping works, is that once you've downloaded iTunes 10 and installed it, you click Ping in the Source List on the left of the iTunes window. You'll be asked if you want to turn Ping on, then guided through setting up Ping, and entering your iTunes/Apple log in ID and password.

You're presented with 10 items tracks you purchased from iTunes as potential favorites to share (you can choose your own instead), and a profile that you may, if you wish, fill out with your musical tastes in terms of checkboxes for selecting three genres, and some privacy settings. You can upload a profile picture (which Apple must approve before it goes live). Next, you're given an opportunity to enter email addresses of people you think might want to share their Ping profile (and musical tastes) with you, and a list of those already registered whose privacy settings and choice of music Ping thinks might work for you. There's a setting that you can click to require approval of anyone following you. If you check it, anytime someone wants to add you to their list of Ping users to follow, Apple sends you an email notice. Note that two-way following may require two email notifications, one for each of you to authorized being followed.

Once you've set up your account and profile, you can send email invitation, search for people to follow (including a few artists, like Lady GaGa) or browse the musical tastes of others who have made their Ping profile public, and choose to follow them, or their followers. Ping will suggest a few profiles to you as people you might want to follow. You can post brief comments (as comment spammers realized almost immediately)—but any comment must be tied to an item from the iTunes store. You find an item in the iTunes store, click the arrow beside the price item, and choose Post (or Like) from the pop-up menu (see the image above). Once you've set Ping up, you can click Ping in the Source List side bar, or in the header bar to see your Recent Activity page, listing the Ping activity of people you follow, as well as your own. For many artists and bands, you can see a list of concerts. Once you have a few people you're following, Ping displays a top-ten list of music they're purchasing from iTunes.

There are several catches in what might otherwise seem like a lot of fun. First, the music selections that Ping "sees," whether they are yours are a friends or someone who might share your musical tastes, are entirely restricted to items purchased from iTunes. So, right out of the box, that's a fairly major problem in that Ping presents skewed pictures of people's musical profiles. To me, that's a far greater flaw than the one the geek press is all excited about, that being that Facebook was initially going to be connected to Ping, and that until Facebook blocked Ping's access a few hours after iTunes 10 was released, worked for a few people. Steve Job's comment that Facebook's requirements wanted "onerous terms that we could not agree to" is the closest thing to an explanation I expect we'll get.

If I leave a comment, and someone responds, there's no way for me to know that—there's no alert, or list in Recent Activity, or a email. In otherwords, Ping is entirely set up for one-to-many traffic, rather than building a community of people who like music of a particular sort, share another social network (like knowing each other in real life, or work, or membership in another social network). Ping isn't well integrated with the iTunes in some basic ways; you can see a list of iTunes reviews from a Profile, but the pop-up menu in the iTunes store doesn't offer you an option to write a review; you have to go to the album page.

I understand, even support, Apple's decision to promote iTunes. I hoped Ping would work in tandem with the ability share music legally already built into iTunes, or even include things like Pandora or Last FM playlists and stations. Instead, what we have is a slightly tailored version of Facebook's Wall, designed to sell music. It's early days yet, so I'm hoping as Ping gains participants, we'll see more content, and more features.

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