The Case for Apple's 'Ping' Social Network

ladygaga1.jpg
Ping lets Lady Gaga reach out to fans
Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced today that his company is hopping on the social network bandwagon with a service, called Ping, that will connect music fans, musicians, and their friends and followers. Jobs describes Ping -- which will be available on Apple mobile devices, but not through web browsers -- as "Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes."

Fair enough. But it has taken Facebook years to build itself into the giant of online social networks, and Twitter, while ubiquitous, is still struggling to figure out exactly how to make money. Is there a case to be made for Apple diving into social just as other big, big fish -- including Google -- are rumored to be working on similar services?

In a word: Yes.

Prognostications about the fate of Ping amount, at this point, to speculation. But as long as we're speculating, there are a few features of the new service that bode well for Apple.

First is the interface. Ping combines some of the salient elements of Facebook and Twitter -- you can choose to create a selective circle of friends with whom you share information or, Twitter-style, open your account for everyone to follow. (Jobs says that major artists, such as Lady Gaga, will be in the latter category.)

A more subtle but perhaps more significant plus is that Ping is cornering the digital market on one of humans' most common forms of social interaction: gossip about music, musicians, albums, and concerts. People love to talk about what they're listening to, and, as wired.com notes, MySpace -- formerly a hub of music networking -- is obsolescent, opening the field to a fresh service.

Basing the whole thing within iTunes, where users buy music and create detailed records of their tastes, is another ingredient for success. Jobs says the iTunes store currently has 160 million active accounts -- an enviable user base for a social network of any kind. And if Ping takes off among music buffs, who's to say it can't be expanded to include Apple's other online media offerings, such as movies and television?

Not us.

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