I’m a big fan of Last.fm, but I’ll admit that music-based social networks haven’t completely nailed it yet. Part of the problem lies in the lack of problem-solving for the user. Last.fm gets halfway there, in that it is a simple way to catalog listening behavior into a social profile. It loses in the sense that it is so passive that most people forget to engage. Or if you’re like me, you go whole months without realizing that your scrobbling has lapsed.
I’ve never been keen on subscription models for music, although I never thought I’d be keen on a subscription model for movies, yet I’ve been a Netflix member since the beginning. So, I suppose there is room for convincing. That said, the proposition of a cloud based music library bolted to a social network is extremely compelling. When Ping was announced, this was the very first thing that came to mind — the promise of what this thing could become if allowed to grow in the right directions, oh the possibilities!
Imagine my dismay when finding that Ping does offer that very promise, yet fumbles on a few of the basics along the way. Specifically, interaction design around social activity. Yes, a company like Apple can produce iPhone after iPhone with an industry changing UX, yet they seemed to have dropped the ball on some very simple things. Before I dive in, let me preface that all of this is easily correctable, and I suspect we’ll see most of these issues addressed in future updates.
1. The Lonely Island
Joining Ping is an extremely lonely experience. Sure, Apple makes some follower recommendations right off the bat, but they aren’t particularly good ones. To be fair, a network that requires activation like Ping is bound to have limitations in the “People We Recommend You Follow” department, so Apple is wise to offer up recommended artists to follow. Yet, it still chalks up to a miss, and here’s why: I’ve never listened to an MP3 from any of the artists Ping recommends via iTunes. They have my listening data, they have my library, and they already scrape both of these for Genius recommendations, so chances are these are the closest matches they could muster. But some of them are so completely off base that it left me scratching my head.
Browsing deeper into the recommendations revealed another off-putting issue: The recommendations sometimes duplicate, which throws off the count. That means I see the opportunity to browse through 16 recommendations, only to find out that I’m actually offered 14, and the duplicates don’t even match my musical preferences. What does this say? Right off the bat, this gives me the feeling that I won’t find anything of interest for me here from an artist perspective. But that’s OK, I would be happy enough just to connect with friends and share music likes and dislikes. Ping leads with this call to action, but it isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. To make matters worse, your option to search in iTunes or Ping doesn’t really offer a remedy, but more on that in a bit.