Ping is here as a part of the most recent iTunes updates for your computer and iPhone. We're here to help you understand the ins-and-outs of the first social network from Apple.
In Wednesday's special event, Steve Jobs demonstrated Ping, a music-centered social network included within iTunes. It combines elements of Facebook, Twitter and music recommendation services like Last.fm. After the announcement, fans eagerly waited to download iTunes 10 to try it out. After about eight hours of waiting, users finally got to install iTunes 10 and found that Ping... didn't quite match the demo.
Whether in iTunes, on your computer, or the iPhone iTunes app, it is fairly simple to find a song or album and "like" it. This feature works exactly as advertised and will feel familiar to existing Facebook users. You can only choose tracks from the iTunes store to like or share, not from your own collection, even if you own the iTunes version of the track. Another, more obvious, limitation is that you can't recommend songs iTunes does not carry, like the Beatles. The ability to "like" something is currently limited to music in iTunes, and the option does not appear for movies, podcasts, etc.
Setting up your Ping account needs to be done from iTunes on your computer. Upon initial setup, you can choose privacy settings, put in profile information, upload a picture, and choose 10 of your favorite songs to demonstrate your tastes to visitors of your profile.
One of the challenges with Ping is to find the artists that you want to follow. When iTunes 10 was first released, there were only about 15 artists that you could follow. That number is growing, but very slowly. Chances are, if you try to find your 10 favorite artists, only one or two may be available to follow in Ping. Luckily, you can "Like" and comment on albums from every artist in iTunes, regardless of whether you can follow them or not.
While picking artists to follow is challenging, finding your friends is no easier. When first launched, Ping had the handy option to scan your Facebook friends for other Ping users. Unfortunately, this option was pulled within hours due to a contract issue with Facebook. While many other sites give you the ability to import addresses or scan your address book from sites like Gmail or Yahoo, Ping doesn't offer that either. The only way to find friends is to search for them one at a time, by name or email address.
iPad users who are frustrated by how long it is taking to get iOS 4 features on their devices will have a new reason to be frustrated. The iPad's iTunes app will not have access to Ping until November, when the iOS 4.2 update is released. Since there is no website for Ping, that means there is absolutely no way to access Ping from the iPad.
It's obvious Ping isn't designed to be a replacement for Facebook, but rather for more music-focused services like Myspace and Last.fm. In both cases, Ping currently falls short. However, with over a million people signed up to date, it's obvious that Ping really has the the interest needed to grow into a great music-focused social tool.
Have you signed up for Ping? Is it something you want to use on a regular basis? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.