By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
September 6, 2010

10 things Apple can do to rescue its experiment in social networking

Apple (AAPL) announced Friday that less than 48 hours after its launch more than 1 million people had signed up for Ping, its new social network for music.

That’s not necessarily a good thing, given how many of those people are complaining — loudly and with pretty good reason — about Ping’s shortcomings. Among the more articulate gripers:

  • TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld. The Problem with Ping: “The biggest problem I have with Ping is that it lives in iTunes. Not only does it live in iTunes, it is isolated there. iTunes is not social. It is not even on the Web.”
  • All Thing D’s Peter Kafka: Ping Averts Its Gaze. Apple’s New Social Network Doesn’t Really Want to Know Much About You: “This isn’t about Apple’s walled garden that keeps Ping walled off from Facebook and other services. It’s about Apple’s decision to wall off Ping from your own music collection.”
  • Scripting News’ Dave Winer. Ping: It’s even worse than it appeared: “Ping is not a social network, by any realistic definition of the term… My guess as to why we can’t post to the timeline is that Apple is afraid we might say something harsh about them or Ping.”
  • Xconomy’s Wade Roush. The Leaning Tower of Ping: How iTunes Could Be Apple’s Undoing: “Adding a social networking interface, on top of all of iTunes’ other functions, is like grafting another limb to the forehead of an octopus. It’s just too much.”
  • Cthulhu and other crazies’ Swizec. Apple’s Ping is a big pile of steaming dung: “Meh I give up, there is nothing worth following on Ping. The artists I do find are labeled as users and everybody knows it’s not really them there, it’s some automated bot thing to keep us notified of their stuff.”

So what can Apple do to turn Ping into something that feels like a real social network, not just a way to sell more music? Here are 10 suggestions, culled from the complaints:

  1. Fix the navigation system, starting with a back button [UPDATE: back and forward buttons were added on Saturday]
  2. Keep out the spammers and scam artists [UPDATE: By Monday, the spam had all but disappeared]
  3. Expand the “Music I Like” choices beyond three genres and 10 songs
  4. Link Ping to our libraries so we can “like” the songs we’re listening to, not just the ones we bought on iTunes [UPDATE: Added 9/25/10]
  5. Add simple ways to find out what our friends are listening to
  6. Create a mechanism for sharing playlists, ratings, number of plays, etc.
  7. Come to terms with Mark Zuckerberg and restore the Facebook Connect button
  8. Add other ways to bring in people we know — from mail lists, people we follow on Twitter, etc.
  9. Allow cross-linking so that iTunes pings turn up in Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.
  10. Let ordinary users — not just celebrities — post notes, pictures, songs, etc.

With 160 million iTunes accounts and 12 million songs, Steve Jobs had an opportunity to create a great social network for music. Instead, he gave us Ping.

Ping might still be saved, but it needs a lot of work and it needs it fast, while it still has our attention.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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