Ping is Apple’s new iTunes-based social network. At this writing, it’s simply terrible. Here’s a sampling of what’s wrong with it:
1. The lack of Facebook overlap. The service offered Facebook Connect integration for a few hours, but that connection was then pulled. Like it or not — and frankly, as a web product guy, I like it, and as a consumer, not so much — Facebook powers much of the social web. Don’t make me re-add all the friends, with whom I’ve already established relationships on Facebook. Properly integrated, Ping could import not just my friends, but my favorite bands too.
2. Ping shares only my iTunes Music Store purchases. I imagine that the very vast majority of music libraries in iTunes only contain a fraction of songs from the Music Store; sharing only my purchased music history is ridiculously limiting. As Glenn Fleishman noted on Twitter, the current Ping setup benefits only Apple. I understand Apple’s thinking, but it’s no way to grow a successful social network.
3. You can’t “like” or comment upon the song you’re listening to right now in iTunes. It’s hard to nail the stupidest design choice in Ping, but this one is pretty close. It’s an off-shoot of limitation #2. This should be Ping’s core feature. There should be a system-wide hot key for “Post a like and comment about the awesome song currently playing,” for crying out loud. The one benefit of squeezing a social network website into a fake web browser like iTunes is the tight integration it can offer. Instead, Ping ignores what you’re listening to.
4. That Ping is limited to music only would make more sense if #2 and #3 weren’t already hampering the service. But if you’re going to make a limited social network — an approach to which I have no objection — I’d say you ought to embrace everything you can. The behemoth that is iTunes and the iTunes Store includes not just music, but TV shows, movies, podcasts, apps, and e-books. And as I said above, while most people’s music libraries skew heavily imported, vs. bought from iTunes, I’d wager that the vast majority of videos, podcasts, iOS apps, and e-books in peoples’ iTunes libraries are indeed direct from the iTunes Store. Across those media types, Apple’s forced limitation to socializing around store-bought content wouldn’t seem nearly so foolish.
5. The near-total lack of notifications. This is very easy to fix, but is frankly a “must-have” feature for launch. I want to know when someone follows me, without needing to turn on manual follower approval. Even more importantly, I want to know when someone comments on my posts. Even without email notifications as an option — which, again, are a must — Ping needs an “updates for you” page that shows you all the likes, comments, and followers you’ve scored. You know, exactly like Facebook.
6. You can only post if your post is tied to a song or album. I was initially on the fence about this one. In truth, I don’t need another place to share status updates after Twitter and Facebook. But if Apple wants me to “hang out” in Ping, I need to be able to create posts that aren’t intrinsically linked to iTunes Music Store content.
7. The wrong content is collapsed. Given the lack of notifications, the weird folding in Ping is entirely nonsensical. I sometimes see comment “threads” where only one comment is visible until I click “see all comments.” This might be useful were Ping overrun with conversations I didn’t care about. But the service is so new, and my follower list so small, that I want to see these exchanges in full without requiring extra clicks. It’s easy to miss comments completely, and this just makes that worse. What Ping should collapse is entries like, “Andy bought [song]” followed by “Andy liked [song].” Buying implies liking, and seeing dual entires like that over and over again is rather frustrating.
8. Finally, I think that not allowing you to surf Ping from within your web browser of choice is a very Apple-like decision, but the wrong one. Modern web surfers use tabs. iTunes doesn’t. On Facebook, I can click updates from multiple friends to open them in separate tabs, and respond to everything I’m interested in efficiently. Ping within iTunes eschews such efficiency completely, and I find it’s a constant frustration.
Can Ping be fixed? Absolutely. But I don’t know how much time it has before users write it off completely.