ping-so many possibilities, but not there yet


iTunes 10 finally was released late last night on the East Coast. It has a new icon and somewhat tweaked UI, plus an Album View that omits art for albums that don’t have more than a few tracks (although one can force all artwork to be shown, but only by setting individual prefs for each playlist, which is cumbersome). But the biggest feature is the presence of Ping, a music social network. Based on Steve Jobs’ keynote yesterday, before Ping was even available, it was being heralded as the MySpace killer. Granted, MySpace is terrible, and I actually visited my profile just the other day with intent to delete it once and for all (I wavered at the last moment, so it’s still there. For now). But is Ping the MySpace killer others are talking about? More importantly, is Ping useful in terms of sharing music and encountering like minds and new music, much as SoundCloud, for all its faults, is?

I’ll cut to the chase: no on all counts.

Don’t get me wrong-Ping has promise, to be sure. It’s interesting to see what others have listed as their key albums, and how they’ve rated various things in the iTunes Store. But Ping doesn’t go beyond that. You’re limited to 10 albums in the Music I Like section, all of which must be in the iTunes Store. Those of us who have pretty unusual tastes for albums that are not part of the iTunes Store mainstream are out of luck. And do I really care that much about how others have rated various albums? It’s interesting, but not that useful. I’m also ignoring the occasional bugs that hopefully will get fixed, like the ability of me and at least one other friend to be able to successfully upload a photo of ourselves. That was something MySpace got right, along with pretty much every other social network out there.
Music networks like blip.fm, SoundCloud and MySpace have their faults. I’ve gone back to SoundCloud recently because it finally seems to work better with Safari and I have many friends there. We can upload our most recent compositions and improvisations and share them, so it’s pretty easy to encounter new music. What I would have liked to have seen from Ping is a meld of what Ping is now (iTunes Store-only) with SoundCloud (personal and experimental uploads). You can’t upload your own music to Ping. That was what made MySpace, at least initially, so attractive to those of us who either love independent music or create it, or both. And in the end, I’m far more interested in a network that allows me to upload my own creations and encounter those of my friends, since there are many gems out there that are being created every day but will never be in the iTunes Store. I have a few things on iTunes, but those are flukes. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to get iTunes to include albums that I create for free distribution; hell, I can’t even get iTunes to list me as anything but a “new age” composer. Guess there are worse things, but according to the gods at Apple, I’m classified in the same group as George Winston and a host of touchy-feely, feel-good performers and composers. Would it kill iTunes to have an experimental or postminimal or even minimalist classification for those of us who are part of the new music world? Maybe they do have those categories, but I can’t get them to change me from “new age.” Sigh.

Anyway, for now at least, Ping is probably going to be one of those networks I go to only occasionally, like LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a good network, but its latest UI is terrible-I could blog just about its many faults. And also about how unresponsive LinkedIn is to constructive suggestions for improvement. In terms of Ping, I’m sure more folks will join up (right now it’s reminding me at times of eWorld. Remember eWorld? It was a virtual ghost town back in the days of Prodigy and Compuserve). But like me, I think at least some will find Ping somewhat useless. I understand the rationale for Ping-it’s a way to stimulate sales of tracks from the iTunes store. And I’m sure it will. But that’s not what I want in a social network. Sure, it might be interesting in some sense to see what my friends are listening to. But I’d find it more interesting to be able to encounter new music, whether avant garde classical or indie rock, that just doesn’t make it to the iTunes Store. And as Kirk McElhearn (right now, my only friend on Ping) pointed out on his Twitter feed, one can’t even “like” The Beatles, since they’re not represented in the iTunes Store. Now, how useful is a music social network that excludes The Beatles? Honestly…