When Steve Jobs took the stage on Sept. 1 and started talking about Ping, the company’s new music-based social network, some wondered exactly how it would be implemented. After all, there are several social networks already in the wild. As Apple has shown time and again, iTunes is a place to buy content and consume it on one of its products – not a place where users hang out.
But Apple has a lot riding on Ping. The company hopes to make it the social network that its users turn to when they want to communicate. And by adding it to iTunes, the company has effectively shown how important that service really is.
However, so far, Ping has done little to impress. The service might have some value to music fanatics that don’t like Facebook, but to the rest of the market, it becomes part of the noise. And the chances of it succeeding in the highly competitive social space seem awfully slim. Here’s why:
1. It’s one of many
Some folks might like to think that Apple is providing the first music social network, but it isn’t. In fact, there are several social networks designed for music lovers already available on the Web. Last.fm, for example, allows users to share their musical tastes with friends. And although none of the social networks perform poorly, they aren’t on Facebook’s level. And they never will be. That’s something that Apple (and its supporters) must keep in mind.
2. Buzz should be a lesson
Apple has seemingly forgotten about Google Buzz. The search giant’s social network was supposed to be the platform that would beat Facebook, thanks to the millions of Gmail users. But in the end, it turned out to be a service that few in the Gmail community even think about. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Ping will turn out like Buzz, but if history is the guide, the cards are stacked against Apple’s social network.
3. Full Facebook integration would be nice
Recently, Apple CEO Steve Jobs told All Things D that his company tried to ink a full Facebook deal with Ping, but the terms of that contract were “onerous.” That’s unfortunate. Having full integration with Facebook would have added considerable value to Ping. And it would have likely helped the service get over the first hurdle of competing with the world’s top social network.
4. Speaking of Facebook – it’s a titan
Facebook is a major issue for Ping. Although Apple was quick to point out that it’s offering a music social network that won’t compete with Facebook, it really is. After all, it wants users to communicate and use up their precious time on its social network. Facebook wants the same. And given the size of Facebook, it’s likely that most users will choose that option. As other social networks have shown time and again, standing up to Facebook is a tall order.
Ping Pursues Success as a Specialized Social Network
5. Specialized services rarely do well
It’s hard to pinpoint a single, specialized social network that has performed all that well. Some may point to Foursquare and its location-based social networking as a prime example, but that service only has a few million users. And with Facebook Places now available, it’s likely being hit quite hard. Since specialized social networks don’t do all that well, it’s unlikely that Ping will be any different.
6. Growing pains
Like any social network, Ping will go through growing pains as more people start using the service. Expect privacy concerns and bugs to cause some discontent among users. How Apple responds to those complaints will determine Ping’s success or failure.
7. Success is a relative term
Unfortunately for Apple, success in the social networking space can be difficult to attain. The company might eventually say that 50 million users have joined Ping, making it a success, but in the end, it will be compared to Facebook’s 500 million active users. Success in the social market nowadays requires users to best Facebook. And as much as Apple will want to claim victory, it just isn’t attainable.
8. Artists will need to buy into it
A key component in the success of Ping is its ability to attract musical artists. Steve Jobs showed off the service as a way for artists and users to communicate and find out about upcoming events. But so far, artists have been slow to adopt the service. If that continues, Ping will have little chance of succeeding. After all, if users can talk with their favorite artists on Twitter, but not on Ping, what good is it?
9. The future isn’t in iTunes as users know it
When Apple acquired Lala, many hoped that the company would transform iTunes into a streaming service. But so far, that hasn’t happened. However, there is a chance that Lala will eventually play a key role in future iterations of iTunes. And when that happens, the service as it is known today will be totally different. For Ping, that means transformations going forward. And as Facebook redesigns have shown, users don’t like change. Facebook can overcome it, but Ping might not.
10. It will get lost in the mobile noise
Apple said that Ping will be available to users on their iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. For road warriors that find value in the service, that will be a good thing. But for those folks that have a hard enough time keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare on their smartphones, adding Ping to the mix could be one too many. It’s something that Apple should be thinking about. And it could stunt Ping’s growth.