Apple’s Ping social network for iTunes has the potential to be massive. Enormo-huge. But at the moment, it’s far too limiting. It’s like going to a pub and only allowing you to talk about beer. And only the beer they have on tap, too. And no sharing drinks.
If I had Steve Jobs’ ear, these are the five improvements I’d suggest (before diving for cover):
1 Base Ping around your music library, not the iTunes store. I want to talk about the songs I’m listening to from my hard drive, not the handful I’ve downloaded from iTunes.
2 Allow streaming of full songs. If mFlow can do it, surely Apple can? Even if you’re limited to a single listen to any track (a la mFlow) it would surely lead to people buying more songs. What’s the point in a social network around songs that only allows you to listen to 30-second clips? (I’d also love to share in the profits if Apple sells songs I’ve recommended, but I’ll be realistic here – and leave mFlow with a USP…)
3 Support unsigned bands. The only artists you can follow at the moment are bands with content on iTunes. But the really interesting and engaging bands are the ones that are only just emerging. Apple needs to let them sign up as artists so they can post pictures, videos and music to their followers. Then it’s really bye-bye MySpace.
4 Integrate Social media. Apparently Apple’s currently having a little contretemps with Facebook, which explains the current lack of Facebook Connect. Fair enough, but you need to be able to share Pings (or Pongs?) on Twitter and Facebook. And you need to be able to import your social media contacts into Ping. And if Apple’s not going to allow full song streaming, plug Spotify in there to (wait, Steve, stop throwing things at me).
5 Allow me to post comments about anything. Does Ping have to be so music focussed? It would be great to recommend apps or movies. And does every new post have to be related to a bit of media? Sometimes it’s nice to say something that isn’t related to an album. Something that doesn’t have a pricetag next to it.
Ultimately, iTunes has a lot going for it: its catalogue, its iPhone/iPod integration, its vast user base… but with Ping, Apple needs to do something very un-Apple: loosen the reigns, and let the users take control.