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Will Ping ding Bing? Apple's music network name rings a bell

September 2, 2010 |  4:31 pm

Bingvping Ping. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Isn't there another online service with a similar name? Also offered by a huge technology company? That was started in the mid-1970s?

Ding ding ding!

The Ping-Bing coincidence is surely one of those happenstances of this fast-changing and multifarious world -- one in which many things occur at once and unrelated events often appear connected.

But isn't it tempting to think that at some point, in some Apple meeting during which Steve Jobs and company were choosing the name for their new social music service, some smart fellow brought up the major similarity between the working favorite name, Ping, and blood rival Microsoft's upstart search engine, Bing?

And that, at that moment, Jobs paused to think, smiled, and said, "All the better!"

(Apple declined to comment for this post; Microsoft has not yet responded to a request.)

As far as names go, you can't get any closer to Bing than Ping.  For starters, "bing" and "ping" are both onomatopoetic words for short little chime sounds. 

And the letters P and B are very close, both phonetically and orthographically. B is just a P with an extra curl on the bottom. And the B and P sounds are the English language's only two "bilabial plosives": speech sounds that use both lips and are created by stopping the airflow when you're speaking. (The M sound is bilabial but you don't have to stop the airflow -- try making the sounds and you'll hear/feel the difference).

Even Microsoft likes the similarity of the word "ping": It looks like the Bing team was actually planning a feature called "Bing & Ping," which would help Bing users send search results to friends. Not clear whether Bing will be going forward with this.

Whether the naming similarity matters will depend on which service succeeds -- and which fails.  Bing has increased its share of the search market more than 50% since last year. But it's had trouble stealing share from Google, which commands close to 65% of the market to Bing's 13.6%, according to Nielsen's July numbers.

Meanwhile, Ping is an upstart in the supersaturated social networking space, and it remains to be seen whether its rather baldly commercial aims will make it a strong Facebook competitor.

As far as which one is a better name? Well, Ping has several connotations that match with its underlying service. First, the musicality of the word itself, and second, the sense of connecting over a network that comes from the word's other, more technical meaning. Doesn't seem like "Bing" has much to do with searching, but I could be wrong.

Still, if Ping manages to become bigger than Bing, it will be a memorable zinger in the long battle between Apple and Microsoft.

-- David Sarno

Image: A mash-up of the Bing and Ping logos. Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times