Apple introduced a new social music service for iTunes today. The company isn't the first to offer such a service but Apple is the world's largest music retailer and it has 160 million registered users of its iTunes store. So tens of millions of music fans will be able to join Apple's social network without much effort.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced what he's calling Ping at a press conference — where he also unveiled a new line of iPods and a new version of Apple TV. But perhaps the most significant announcement was Ping.
It will appear as a button on the side of your iTunes page. You can search for friends or your favorite artists who have signed up and find out what songs they like and what songs they're playing. So, if you think your friend Sue Smileybot has amazing musical taste, you will know when she downloads a new song. Or if you're a fan of Josh Groban (!) and you want to know what kind of music is exciting him, you can follow Groban on iTunes.
The music companies are going to love this. They've been trying to find ways to use social media as a marketing tool and Apple has just handed them a big one. But do you think all of Lady Gaga's favorite songs are really going to be her favorite songs? Or will her record label play a big hand in creating her playlist? Ping will also let Apple and the record labels in on which song you play the most — giving them a lot of information about which types of songs are catching on with users.
Ping will also have listings of concerts and your friends can tell you which shows they plan to attend. This does raise a question about Apple's connection with the concert business. Would Apple try to sell tickets in the future — presenting competition to Ticketmaster? Some people may hope so. Irving Azoff is likely not one of them.
Ping is "a social network all about music," Jobs said, and he made it clear in a brief discussion after the press event that he wasn't trying to replace Facebook or Twitter. But if I were MySpace I'd be worried. Music has been one of the last social network areas where MySpace dominates — and a giant named Apple has just stepped into the pool making a big splash. Last FM, which publishes people's iTunes playing habits but has never hit the big leagues, is also vulnerable.
Recently a source told me that he thinks the future for such services as Pandora or even Apple's Genius is grim because people are bothered by play lists that are automated by an algorithm. In the future, he thinks they will want playlists drawn from the music their friends like. I'm not certain he was right but he does have a point — especially if they generate playlists like "Josh Groban's Greatest Grabs" or "Lady Gaga's Monster Music." Or maybe even "Sue Smileybot Hearts These Songs."