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Apple unveils Ping, a social network for iTunes

September 1, 2010 | 12:44 pm

Ituneslogo From a music lover's perspective, the most interesting announcement to arrive during this morning's fall Apple presentation was the unveiling of Ping, a social network that's part of the dominant iTunes application. Apple CEO Steve Jobs called it "Facebook and Twitter meets iTunes ... but it's not Facebook, it's not Twitter. It's a social network all about music."

In the realm of sharing music, Ping could be the kind of game changer that Apple has proven itself capable of creating, a beefed-up network that not only records and broadcasts all a listener's musical habits, but in one fell swoop also makes those habits available for friends and fans to admire -- or dismiss. 

Jobs said that, out of the box, Ping will have 160 million potential users who can automatically begin following each other (or not -- the service is optional). Got a friend whose tastes are impeccable? Start following her and see what she's listening to. Is one of your friends plugged in to the jazz scene? Follow him and discover what his favorite albums of the month are. If you have an obsession and want to turn friends onto it, all you have to do is post the track along with your review. Friends can listen to it and, in a single click, buy it -- from the iTunes store, of course. The service will also offer tailor-made concert listings that will match your playlist with upcoming gigs.

Artists will have their own pages too. If you're, for example, a Janelle Monáe fan, you can decide to follow her Ping page and receive announcements and news of new songs the moment the information goes online. If Weezer releases an expanded version of "Pinkerton," news of its availability will be broadcast via the band's page -- along with a purchase link. And if you're curious as to what Monáe is digging right now, she'll be able to coerce you into checking out her page: "Follow me on Ping!"

The company most affected by Ping is Last.fm, an application that does nearly everything that Ping is offering. Last.fm tracks your iTunes playing habits and publishes them on a personalized Web page, and listeners can become fans of one another. But Last.fm has never reached that tipping point of popularity. With Ping, all this information can be tallied in-house.

And it will definitely be tallied. Where before, iTunes charts were comprised solely of sales of downloads, Ping will no doubt keep track of a song's overall play count, and the resultant charts could change the way that listening habits are monitored. Whether or not a song is "sticky" will be able to be quantified.

Granted, this is assuming that a critical mass of people opt in to participate. A social network is only as valuable as its members' enthusiasm for it, and whether the service is a success will be dependent on how many music fans are interested in cramming their opinions down peoples' throats. But for those of us whose obsession with sharing music and our reactions to it is a daily, if not hourly, pasttime, Ping offers a platform that, on first glance, could become an essential part of the music discovery process.

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Steve Jobs also unveiled a new iTunes logo, shown above.