Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Ping Averts Its Gaze: Apple's New Social Network Doesn't Really Want to Know Much About You

Steve Jobs says Ping is supposed to be a “social music discovery” service: You share your musical taste with friends and vice versa. But if you really want to share, you’re going to find it harder than you think.

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.

Steve Jobs’s demo yesterday gave the impression that Ping would link up with users’ iTunes music player and library. But Ping only cares about what you do on the iTunes Store–it has no idea what you actually listen to and like.

If you buy something at iTunes, you can tell your pals. And if you want to recommend something, and you can find it in Apple’s store, you can click on the link there and talk it up.

But if it doesn’t happen in the store, it doesn’t happen at all.

You can see why Jobs, who has made a point of playing up Apple’s privacy bona fides in recent months, wouldn’t want to automatically peek into people’s iTunes collections. And Apple’s “Genius” feature, an opt-in service that does track what you play on iTunes, makes a point of not connecting that data to your name and account information. But it would make a lot of sense to let people choose to open up their library.

Because, as Apple knows very well, most people fill their iTunes collection with music they acquire from every source but the iTunes store.

“97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store,” Jobs wrote in 2007. Hard to imagine it’s changed much since then.

You could go out of your way to tell Ping about what you do with your iTunes collection. But, again, if you’re inclined to do that, you’re probably already doing that somewhere else. Like on Facebook. Or a Tumblr account.

And if you don’t make the effort, Ping will know next to nothing about you, because Apple has blindfolded the service. Another metaphor, via Debcha on Twitter: “Basing my musical tastes on my iTunes downloads is like judging my eating habits by what I buy at highway rest stops.”

Maybe Jobs thinks that Ping users will be happy with rest-stop recommendations. My hunch is that he plans on fleshing it out over time, trading privacy for utility. We’ll see….

[Image credit: Billy Rowlinson]

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