Pinging your own machine

“ping” came before Ping – and it might just outlast it. Photo (CC-BY) Noah Sussman. And yes, when I asked readers about Ping, a number of people referred me to this one.

Before diving into the litany of gripes from artists regarding Apple’s Ping social service, it’s worth saying: some critics say they expected better. Many artists want a smarter, more social iTunes. That’s the only reason anyone is spending time talking about the service’s perceived flaws.

Cellist and laptop musician Zoë Keating, an independent artist with collaborations from Imogen Heap to DJ Shadow, reminded me of that via Twitter. Even amidst her own criticisms, she was quick to add:

“But it’s Apple, so good or bad we all want to be invited to the party!”

That sums up not only the most disappointing aspects of Ping, but also why anyone would care in the first place. This isn’t the age of the hit parade, of Ed Sullivan, or even MTV. It’s the era of the Web, and people expect music media to be genuinely participatory. Because of the popularity of iTunes, the introduction of Ping seemed to artists like an opportunity.

Apple has responded to criticism, addressing some user concerns: Forbes’ Philip Elmer-DeWitt, asking “Can Ping be Saved?” last week, updated his article to reflect that issues with spam and forward and back navigation were fixed over the weekend.

The problem is that the fundamental complaints – and those of artists – run deeper. They may or may not be fixable.

Every artist I talked to said the same thing: the problem with Ping is that you’re not invited to the party. Missing from the guest list: independent (or, indeed, almost any) artists, alternative music stores, iTunes listening data, musical genres, and, above all, the World Wide Web.

Zoe Keating

Cellist Zoë Keating. Her issues with Ping, paraphrased: artists can’t make their own artist pages, artists you’ve purchased don’t appear beyond an extremely limited list, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are permanently glued to the site, and the service ignores the grassroots quality of good social networks. Photo (CC-BY-ND) M’aidez / Claire Harrison.

Artists can’t make their own pages; Apple invites artists. In May, I criticized analysts for describing the iTunes App Store as being curated, a term I felt didn’t fit. This, on the other hand, really is curation: Apple invites a small number of artists at their discretion, which is why Ping makes some curious recommendations. As Keating puts it, “I’ve never bought Lady Gaga or anything remotely similar, but she is the #1 recommendation and I have to see her everytime I log on. That goes for Katy Perry too…I’ve created a world where I can pretend she doesn’t exist, but Apple really wants me to listen to her.”

Here, there’s a perfect contrast between Apple design and Apple curation. Apple design is beloved in the musical community, for the reliability and attention to detail of their hardware, operating system, and software. But Apple as curator, as tastemaker, is another matter. Apple’s (or Jobs’) obsession with artists like John Mayer had been a punchline, not a source of inspiration. For that matter, why should your computer vendor be responsible for musical taste? Would you ask Microsoft what clothes to wear today?

Ping: Recommendations

Community expert Mario Anima, who describes Last.fm as “halfway there,” ponders if Apple’s Ping is a Broken Social Scene. Photo (CC-BY) marioanima / m anima.

Apple ignores other music sources. When iTunes is criticized for promoting “lock-in” to Apple’s music store, listeners often respond that they rely on other sources for music. Apple may command big statistics when it comes to online sales, but that’s an aggregate of all music styles. For independent artists, everything from free distribution to specialized online stores – and physical CDs, which still rake in billions of dollars in sales annually – can matter more than iTunes.

Here, Apple runs into the tension between iTunes the player and iTunes the store. Ping as an add-on to iTunes the store makes some sense. As a modest feature that tells you what other iTunes shoppers are buying, it’d be unremarkable but also reasonably uncontroversial, at least before Apple hyped it as a new social network.

But iTunes the player demands higher expectations. iTunes is, for many, the virtual jukebox that the tool was when it began its life, before the debut of the integrated music store or even the iPod. I’ve even talked to frequent iTunes users, people who buy a lot of music, who have only purchased tracks from Apple a couple of times. For nearly anyone, iTunes – and by extension, Ping – must catalog all their musical activities, not just stuff they bought from Apple.

Ping: Profile

Ping is dumber about iTunes data than non-Apple services. Leaving other music stores out of the picture is perhaps unsurprising. But leaving out iTunes itself is more of a puzzler. The beauty of services like Last.fm is their ability to collect data about yourself that you can use. Sharing that data should obviously be a choice, but as Last.fm has demonstrated, the information can be useful to yourself, to fellow listeners, and to artists. It can make sure you see a favorite artist live or discover musicians based on human interactions, without violating privacy. But Ping is an inferior tool for iTunes data, compared to a third-party service like Last.fm. Wiley Wiggins, an Austin-based visual artist, has an extended complaint about Ping.

The killer insight: Ping is “store-centric,” not “user-centric,” says Wiggins. Flaws in genre handling and awkward mechanisms for tracking music and friends “make Ping seem like it is currently designed for users who 1) do not listen to much music, and 2) do not have many friends.”

Ping Feedback Form [Wiley Wiggins Blog]

Apple’s curatorial tendencies don’t make for a social network. Keating argues some of the tension here is philosophical: “Good social networking is chaotic and grassroots,” she says. “Apple is all about top-down control. Not sure this blend of the two works.”

And then there are … the genres. Aside from limiting you, comically, to choosing three genres you like, Apple seems to have lifted its genre categories from a BMG Music Club sign-up form.

Wired magazine cover

Wired cover. Sure, it seems inflammatory now, but remember when they predicted the push future of Web, powered by Castanet, ActiveX, and Java and “things you simply can’t browse”? Oh. Okay. Photo (CC-BY-NC-ND) Meryl Ko.

It’s all too broken to be social. User interface trainwrecks, hidden “like” buttons, a “lonely” scene devoid of users or artist pages, and a laborious process to add friends made worse by Apple’s row with Facebook mean that getting anything social going is a waste of time. Mario Anima, who has led community efforts for Current and Community Speak Up! sums up the problems in an excellent post. Even with some navigational tweaks, there just isn’t much in the design that works. Even with Apple’s user base, I that could spell doom for the service. If users don’t spend time, the whole thing becomes pretty useless to artists, who are already fatigued by the amount of heavy lifting they have to do to get noticed online as it is. (See more on that below.)

Apple ignores the Web. Wired Magazine infamously ran an inflammatory cover this summer claiming The Web is Dead. That article could have been written about Ping. Ping isn’t visible on a browser; click on a link to a Ping profile, and it looks for an iTunes 10 client. Ping isn’t searchable. Ping is completely disconnected, at least for now, from the rest of the world – no integration with other services, and no public API. (One developer source told me an API is coming, with extensions to be approved by Apple, but I can’t yet confirm that, and that’d still fall short of making this a Web app.)

Ping is more than a walled garden: it’s a room with no windows or doors. It’s a tomb.

If Ping were the future, the Web might be dead – but early indications are that the reality is just the opposite. (Among many retorts to Wired’s “Web is Dead” thesis, The New York Observer is spot-on, and Boing Boing negates the graph they use to open the story, which turns out to say the opposite of what they claim.)

In fact, if anything, the negative reaction to Ping proves that the Web is more important now than ever before. People expect open participation, they expect browser-based interfaces (at least as an option), and they expect open interoperability and data portability in some form.

Browsers and links matter. Even Twitter and Facebook are popular partly as ways of linking back to other sites – I know this personally, because they’re two of this site’s biggest referrers. The Web make these services publicly searchable, connected, and accessible anywhere. They are the Web, and they also make the rest of the Web even more popular. Apple’s iPad and iPhone may focus more on “apps” than the “browser,” for now, but that singular example hasn’t yet been proven elsewhere. Meanwhile, competing browser-based music services have done just fine without an iTunes client.

Oh, yeah – and don’t forget that the lack of an open API also means hackers are shut out. This past weekend, Music Hackday – which I’ll cover separately – again gathered hordes of geeks to create new musical tools. That included things you’ll never see on Ping, like MixCloud on iPad.

Best of all: Brian Whitman of The Echo Nest had a pithy answer to how recommendation services should work. He created The Future of Music, which tells you which music you shouldn’t listen to. And that brings us to the last point:

In the end, maybe recommendation services aren’t everything. Whitman has a strong argument as he describes his tool:

I have a strong aversion to music recommenders and music similarity services. I especially deal with a lot of cognitive dissonance as the company I co-founded makes a lot of $$$$$ (that is 5 dollar signs) selling ordered lists of artists to multinational music streaming conglomerates.
Nonetheless, we recently completed our first live recommender system (to be announced near the Boston Music Hack day in October) and to perhaps get myself more comfortable with a future in which children will no longer ask their cooler older dope-smoking brothers what to listen to in lieu of some HTML table in a UL, I decided to really sign up wholesale to this movement. If we rely on these computer programs to learn about music, well we might as well rely on them to fix the sins of our past and delete the crap we are obviously not meant to listen to anymore.

“Future of Music (2010)” is a Mac OS X app that scans your iTunes library and computes the music you are not supposed to listen to anymore based on your preferences. It then helpfully deletes it from iTunes and your hard drive. Skips the recycle bin.

I don’t think Future of Music will have one million users any time soon. But it does raise the most important point: the actual music has to come first.

The Horrorist

Oliver Chelser, aka The Horrorist, has charted #1 singles in Germany. And Ping just makes him… tired. Photo (CC-BY-SA) the artist.

Whether or not the general public is fatigued of social networks promising to revolutionize music, you can bet musicians are. Oliver Chesler is the blogger behind “wire to the ear” and, as The Horrorist,” an electronic musician who has topped German charts. He sums it up best:

As a musician the word to describe how I feel about the new Apple Ping social network is: exhausted. Musicians have become the tech industries guinea pigs. Why not? We try anything and work cheap right? After creating and curating profiles on MySpace, Last.fm, Imeem, Facebook and then Facebook Fan Pages and on and on now it’s time for Ping.

For his part, Chesler says he’ll make his own Ping page and promote it, even as “the Lady Gaga’s get all the love.”

Remember why we were all excited about the Internet for music in the first place? It’s a chaotic, level playing field. That can be scary, but given the miraculous, mind-boggling diversity of musical output and taste on planet Earth, it’s perfectly natural. And any business model around music must be built around that reality.

Don’t believe me? Ping may have one million members, but the fastest-growing musical sensation right now is a guy who came to his sister’s aid in an attempted rape and was AutoTuned into… actually, that’s a long story, told neatly by the New York Times. (I couldn’t wrap my head around it at first, either.)

Take a look at his fans. The guy is, literally, a rockstar. How did he get big? He spread on the Web – not on apps, not in any “curated,” walled garden vertically integrated experience. Not in any way, frankly, that makes any logical sense at all. (AttemptedYou know … on the Web.

My guess is, you’ll know Ping (or a competing service) has been fixed when you find Antoine Dodson’s profile. Antoine, if you have music recommendations, we’d love to hear them.

Magic Bonus Addendum!

Broken Social Scene references that fit iTunes Ping! (thanks to the story above)

“Broken Social Scene”
“You Forgot It In People” (or, at least, you forgot people in it)
“Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” (Katy Perry? Lady Gaga? Even Coldplay?)

  • ericdano

    It's hardly a dud. I suppose you don't remember when FaceBook first started. Or perhaps when iTunes 1.0 was released. Give Apple 6 months and you will see Ping develop into something……or get shelved.

  • tony

    I have seen and heard nothing positive about Ping anywhere…aside from the few artists who were invited to play apples little game.

    For myself, I am not now nor ever will be an iTunes user. I *hate* the software. Making ping part of it and only accessible through it (a client app for a social network? welcome to 1997) means I just wont ever use it either.

    There is a reason AOL is hurting. The client is dead. The web is it.

  • Greg

    " . . . to perhaps get myself more comfortable with a future in which children will no longer ask their cooler older dope-smoking brothers what to listen to in lieu of some HTML table in a UL, I decided to really sign up wholesale to this movement."

    I love when semi-famous people have the exact same reservations about digital networking and its influence on art that I do.

  • Kim

    “But it’s Apple, so good or bad we all want to be invited to the party!”

    That's assuming an awful lot. I'm really not interested in most things apple and I throw my own parties.

  • Kim

    Apple? No thanks … Ill take an orange.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @ericdano: Actually, I remember quite vividly when iTunes 1.0 was released. Here's a review from February 2001, to jog our memory:
    http://www.atpm.com/7.02/itunes.shtml

    You'll notice quite a lot of what people like about iTunes was in place. (Ditto the early releases of C&G SoundJam, which I also used, though I preferred Panic's rival Audion.)

    1.0 releases matter. They set a design precedent, they build the first relationship with users, and in the case of a social network, they start to build the actual community. So for Facebook, that was basic elements of the design and website, and reaching out to established networks in academia.

    This would be as if Facebook were tricky to navigate and you could only have 8 friends, and they were all from the cast of Friends.

    Even without the intense field of competitors Apple's offering faces, I don't think shipping a broken 1.0 release is a promising start. That's not to say it couldn't be fixed, but when people are criticizing fundamental design features, it might require a trip back to the drawing board. Or it may simply be that Ping is a footnote, something kind of useful when shopping the iTunes store, but not – as early press reports described it – something that would rival Facebook and Twitter.

  • Greg

    As far as that Wired article . . .

    Does everyone forget how many calls there are in some excellent (i.e. "useful") bash scripts?

    Simple, tidy little commands organized well will always be better practice, and that doesn't preclude web involvement . . . unless you're thinking about the world wide web in a form (i.e. "Accessed almost entirely through a browser) that's younger than virtually everyone reading this.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oh, PS – regarding the Apple comments. I got sort of two things:

    1. Self-described "fanboys" (and fangirls) who love Apple had trouble loving this. Hey, it happens.

    2. You don't necessarily need to love Apple or iTunes to figure that, as an artist, being in front of iTunes users is a good thing. But then, that's the problem with it not being on the Web: you *do* have to use iTunes. Aside from the requisite time and energy, I imagine people who don't use iTunes are even more skeptical. And there's Last.fm. (There's also the free Libre.fm, though I think *requiring* all music to have a free license is a bit extreme – restrictive the other way.)

    @Greg: good point. Web != browser. The browser is just one way to access the Web. I suspect that, amidst the torrent of letters Wired has been receiving, there's a torrent of letters pointing out that they don't know what the Web is. ;)

  • http://www. Jeremy Abel

    What's wrong with the way facebook has been handling music? I'm pretty happy with it. I never buy anything with iTunes, and sure, I can't buy anything DIRECTLY with facebook, but it's really how I find out about new releases and stuff, and I feel like it's been integrated really well.

  • Polite

    I think technically the web *is* equal to the browser, if you consider that www. is the general prefix for a html server, and www is what the web is named after. The internet != browser, but the web is. The web is the interlinked browser driven aspect of the internet.

  • Polite

    As for iTunes, I just wish they would make it a service that didn't require the software on your pc. Surely they should be able to provide music browsing and purchasing via the web to anyone who wants it, regardless if they subscribe to the apple way of life. I probably would have bought quite a few things over the years had i the option.

  • JonYo

    Oliver Chesler / The Horrorist said it: It's exhausting. Consider the fatigue for social networking that I've felt within the last few years with everyday usage and maintaining a profile on several sites, like facebook, myspace, and a few others. And that's just for an individual trying to keep contact with some people I already know in real life, not an artist trying to promote a product to the masses. I've since dumped everything but a facebook profile, and even that feels like more trouble than it's worth sometimes, at which point I usually disappear from it for a few days. If an artist these days has to try to maintain a presence on allllll these social networking sites, it has to get pretty confusing and tiring, with the fruits of one's labor being pretty hard to qualify.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Polite: Yeah, point taken. HTML/http did exist as a separate entity from the browser (and predate the browser client). And today, I think the independence of the two is still more important. Imagine a client that makes use of HTML and (these days) JavaScript to fetch and send over http. It's really using "the Web," but it may not be a browser, per se. Or it could be a superset of the browser. I guess it means how generally one is using the term "browser." But I have no doubt we'll see an increased number of apps that blur the categories, but could make use of the Web, particularly as easy as embedding WebKit is on mobile and desktop.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Actually, I'm now very curious about the Facebook thing. To be honest, I find I'm on artists' personal sites or SoundCloud, possibly Twitter, and almost never Facebook. (Even though Eric just implied I'm a Facebook lover? — http://www.jazz-sax.com/2010/09/06/apple-launches… ?) How are people using Facebook's music features, those of you who are?

  • vanceg

    Yeah, how ARE you all using Facebooks music features. Their usefulness has eluded me thus far….

  • Ian

    I think facebook is used more as a consolidation tool really…. people I see (myself included) know that there is no bigger social network. So it makes sense to use it to consolidate links from all over the place.

    We all use these social and music media sites… facebook is one way of tying all of those strings together. Its certainly not the only way and if I'm honest I find facebook in general a tiring experience (too much – they are the words I think of when I think facebook)

    The features themselves are so inferior to something like Bandcamp (massive big up to that service) and Soundcloud or mixcloud… but to make all of that searchable on a MASSIVE social network… now your talking.

  • http://soundcloud.com/birds-use-stars Birds Use Stars

    Personally I don't use Facebooks music features (?) at all. Just Rootmusic Bandpage, which itself is basically just a pretty, dressed up way to use Soundcloud with your Facebook. I know next to nothing about social networking crap and as an artist, loathe that I need to subject myself to yet another one of them.

  • West

    Agree 100% – Ping is a huge opportunity – missed completely. What I want from a music app:

    * Manage the music I own from any place I've purchased it.

    * Allow me to see what my friends are listening to and offer suggestions if they are similar.

    * "listen" to what I'm listening to, and make recommendations

    * allow me to buy those recommendations at high quality (lossless)

    * allow me to stream my music + recommendations on numerous platforms and devices

    If Last.FM had a standalone app (like iTunes) and its own sales integration, it would be a winner. Except that it is also region locked for streaming (on some devices anyway).

    Here's hoping Spotify can make it into other regions.

  • Matt

    @West – Spotify is what you need.

    Spotify is the future of music listening imho. I have it on my htc hero w/ 16Gb SDHC card and offline playlist sync'd. It has replaced my mp3 player now. I can sync offline playlists to 3 locations. I can recommend music to other spotify users. The list goes on.

    I have had Spotify Premium for 8-9 months now and it has totally changed what music I listen to and the way I listen to it(I had never been a playlist person always full albums).

  • West

    Yeah – I would love to try Spotify and would even pay Premium if I could. Not available in Ireland, and they've gotten wise to spoofed IP addresses. :(

  • http://www.bigmisterdoom.co.uk Ian

    I agree @west.

    Ping was a giant 'meh' for me. Missed opportunity entirely. Last.fm is a fantastic music service – scrobbling and iTunes watching can build up a comprehensive list of music listening – I cannot believe Apple do not even support / compete with the features currently out there in the marketplace.

    AND it is about time Apple started offering higher quality (lossless) formats for downloads. That is the main reason I do not purchase music form iTunes at all now.

  • http://module.co.nz Jeramiah

    Facebook is pretty good with it's discography page plugin and being able to link buy now links to whatever online shop you want, also posting mp3 links directly into the comment box will auto add a mp3 player with meta tag info, along with auto tweeting posts to twitter, integrating flickr, ect…soundcloud, i almost think facebook is a central hub for everything else now just due to most people on the planet using it.

    having a large amount of fans and posting music tracks on facebook with a purchase link to somewhere like bandcamp is great and having control of that in regards to design and implementation is what ping is missing…like using tunecore to self release something on iTunes and ping being updated about that (note: it doesn't do that as far as i know)

    there are some other cool things like iTunesLP that just dont seem to be easy to administer, well even get into and change, or even as a independent sign up for.

    what ping really needs is a artist login/interface section…eg setup profile, link your releases on iTunes and link all your external social networking sites, RSS feeds, content output…

    but that would be link apple letting adobe run it…they dont seem to like that…unless I am blind and dont see a artist management section?

    my first impression is one of a idea not being properly executed.

  • P H

    I hate to be so dismissive of an essay that comes at the issue from so many angles and is thorough, well reasoned, insightful, and correct, especially one that I happened to agree with.

    With all do respect to all involved, neither Peter Kirn, nor I, nor are most of the readers here at CDM are Apple's target demographics with this or any of its products/services from the last 10 years.

    Take iPod+iTunes for example. It's well recognized by audiophiles that the iPod is a lousy audio player. Of course, it's not really just an audio player anymore, which is good because it's not very good at being one. A product like iPod is for people who like their emotional responses to music and the social experience of music, but not the music, that sound, itself. You don't even have to surmise that this is the case. Just take a look at what types of file formats the iPod tries to support and, more importantly, what the underlying hardware is that's tasked with the responsibility of turning that information into sound. An audiophile recently quipped that the iPod is like the Big Mac. It's popular. It's not very good. Everybody knows "what's in one" (two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, etc.) but nobody actually knows what's in one (do YOU the actual ingredients of a Big Mac? Do you know what flavors of caps, DSPs, etc. are in your iPod?) The iPod uses "consumer grade" electronics. There's nothing special there, unless by special you mean low quality and ordinary. iTunes is more of the same. It's a very bad database application. People who know and study this sort of thing who like their music don't entrust their collection to iTunes because it does such a bad job. The database corrupts easily and is not fault tolerant, not to mention the fact the more iTunes generates more security bulletins for Apple than any other piece of software, especially on systems that run Safari. If you want a real audio player, you buy a real audio player. If you really want to organize your collection. You use a real database. If you want a real hamburger you don't order a Big Mac. However, unlike you, I'm not pretending that Apple is a company relevant to Audiophiles and lovers of fine food. It's not. Apple is a company for people who don't know any better, which is why your argument is attacking a windmill.

    I'm not trying to dump on iPod+iTunes. I'm just trying to suggest that despite iPod+iTunes not being very good quality compared to what's actually possible in the known universe (like a Big Mac), most people don't know, don't care, don't know they should care, or aren't competent enough to do anything about it if they overcome all of the former. Nobody pretends like Apple today is the Apple of the 1980s or 1990s. It's not for rebellious or creative people. The Steve Jobs who returned to Apple is not the Steve who helped build one of the first home computers. He's the Steve who helped found Pixar. He's not here for the knowledgeable, enthusiastic, creative types of the world who love technology. He's here to sell you content experiences, to keep you seated, entertained, and coming back for more.

    I think it's awesome that you know better than to think Ping should be a success, but most people who are attracted to Apple are too dumb to know and too dumb to care. Apple is a company that banks on people's stupidity, pulling in mindshare from recently rising "Bing" by calling it's service "ping" and building off of the PDA/smartphone pioneer Compaq iPAQ to call it's overgrown PDA the iPad.

    Seriously though, like all musicians, I think we all know that when you want the best stuff, you head to the mall, right? When my wife needed a new cello, we went to the mall. When I needed new studio monitors, we went to the mall. When we want a premier dining experience, we head to the mall. If you really want nice clothes, a good household appliance, or some nice furniture, then you head to the mall. My local Apple store is at the mall. For sure, Apple offers the same high standards of quality as the musical instruments, food, and all of the other stuff at the mall, and it appeals to the same demographic.

    Ping won't fail for any of the reasons that you cited because, for the segment of the market that ping is targeted at, they don't know or care about what you're talking about. These are the same morons that buy iPhones and iPads that can't access standard web content because of their anemic setups, so they need site developers to create "apps" just to allow them to do what the rest of us can do with real computers and real phones. This has had a terrible effect on the web, leading to a Balkanization of content sources and a watering down of development efforts. We used to have one set of people developing the one web which was accessible to all. Now we have fewer people supporting that so that an infantile few can have "magic" devices that are amazing at everything accept for providing basic functionality. BUT THEY DON'T CARE. The idiots who buy, love, and brag about these devices hangout in a closet filled with trees and think it's a forest. They don't get it. They don't understand what's wrong with it. They can just see what's "right" with it.

    Ping is here to stay, because any dummy who buys an Apple product is letting all the other dummies know that what Apple does to musicians, publishers, web developers, and factory workers in China is OK. You can't have it both ways.

    Enjoy your emotional and social responses to your "music".

  • http://music.cornwarning.com chaircrusher

    Haha @PH perfect.

    It's no mystery that Ping is weak. iTunes Genius was weak too. Maybe they make sense to casual music consumers — i.e. people for whom music is sonic wallpaper — but they're just clumsy, stupid things that waste CPU cycles and deliver little value.

    I resist the elitist impulse on principle; it is misanthropic to dismiss the ideas and tastes of the majority. One might not share them but there's no one on earth that can't teach you a thing or two if you're willing to listen. You don't have to share their tastes, but understanding and appreciating what makes popular things popular is never a wasted exercise.

    What I'd like to know is which audio player audiophiles think is good. And by 'audiophile' I mean 'people with reality-based ideas about good-sounding music reproduction,' not 'people who pay $1000 for RCA cables.'

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I can't imagine casual users of iTunes have even figured out how to use Genius.

    Buried in Apple's own press release touting 1 million users in 48 hours was the fact that only 1/3 of the people who upgraded to iTunes 10 turned on Ping. And that's likely out of a group who were early adopters.

    I'm just speculating, though; Apple of course doesn't share numbers on engagement. So, if you really want to know, you may have to anecdotally ask some of the unwashed masses PH describes above. ;)

  • http://ghmetcalfe.com Graham

    Wow PH…

    Let us know how you really feel about Apple products…

    "He’s the Steve who helped found Pixar. He’s not here for the knowledgeable, enthusiastic, creative types of the world who love technology." Is this an ironic statement? Pixar is probably one of the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, creative, and technologically savy companies out there.

    "Nobody pretends like Apple today is the Apple of the 1980s or 1990s." Need I remind you that the late 80's and early 90's was about the worst period in Apple's "creative" history. I worked there at the time, and the parade of corporate toadies nearly killed the place. The list of anonymous beige boxes from that period is pretty long. I will take my MacPro 8-core any day over my Quadra 950. The industrial design of today's systems is far superior to that of the late 80s-90s.

    "Apple is a company that banks on people’s stupidity, pulling in mindshare from recently rising “Bing” by calling it’s service “ping” and building off of the PDA/smartphone pioneer Compaq iPAQ to call it’s overgrown PDA the iPad." I agree that they are definitely banking on the Bing-Ping similarity. However Apple banking on people's stupidity…that's just an inflamatory statement without any foundation. And to claim that the iPad is derivative of Compaq? That's just plain wrong. If you look at the development of the PDA (and where the term initially came from) you will find that the Newton was really the foundation of all of that. Most interface conventions for PDAs were highly derivative of the Newton effort, primarily because so many of the Newton engineers ended up over at Palm.

    Anyway…if you don't like Ping and think it's poorly implemented (I personally have no use for it) that's fine, but trolling for a flame war with poorly reasoned, and factually incorrect, arguments just wastes everyone's time.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    @PH

    "A product like iPod is for people who like their emotional responses to music and the social experience of music, but not the music, that sound, itself."

    And I suppose you buy books for the quality of the binding, smoothness of paper and only those that use the best looking fonts? Music is about emotion. People who don't understand that are the ones Get off your high horse and get a grip on what is really important. I care about audio quality and hate listening to shitty mp3s, but music is about making you feel something, not spending thousands on speakers and amplifiers.

  • Jake Gilla

    @PH

    I think your comments are a little off base. I don't think a person's system for audio reproduction is any reflection of there love of music or there competence as a listener. Would you also judge a person appreciation for film by their TV? Is a reader less competent because he purchases soft cover books over hardcover?

    As far as Ping is concerned, I thinks its over all useless. I don't think iTunes is the first place buyers go, especially for independent music. By principle I don't think it could work unless being linked directly to the iTunes store, and even still it doesn't seem like something the end user would ever really gravitate to.

  • Fangs

    P Hs post is so full av contradicting statements ("I'm not trying to dump on iPod+iTunes". Really?) and contempt for ordinary people that it's hard to know where to begin.

    Let's just take one myth first: People used to CARE about audio quality, they used to cheerish it, they used to buy expensive equipment that sounded fantastic. Then came mp3, then came the iPod. It's history writing not even David Irving would subscribe to.

    First of all: The high fidelity crowd was never big. Trust me, I know. My dad was a hifi man of the highest order – and he was the only one around that I knew of, and probably that he knew of (except for the various staff at various shops where he'd get the hifi fix). Most people didn't care about the high fidelity, they at best cared about the music – to a fuller or lesser degree.

    This was during the 80s and 90s. You know, the cassette was around back then. The hifi crowd is probably about as big know as it was back then. No need to worry. If you can distinguish between 320kbps mp3s and 256kbps AACs, congratulations. Just don't "dump" on those don't, or even care about it.

    Yeah, imagine that – having an "emotional response to music". Are you serious? If I didn't have an emotional response to Bernard Parmegiani or LFO or Radiohead I wouldn't care about music. I discovered these bands on mediocre setups, even faulty ones, but still I had some kind of emotional response. Imagine that. The horror.

    The stuff about Jobs and Pixar? I think Graham took care of that one. Are you just making things up to fit with your already delusional starting point?

    "Apple is a company for people who don’t know any better". Really? As compared to whom? Microsoft? Dell? Sony? The Linux crowd (I've never met a more condescending crowd of people than the Linux crowd, including the couple of guys in our IT department)?

    Or are you perhaps referring to Mark Levinson or any other hifi manufacturer who's selling $20 000 amplifiers and $1000 cables?

    Oh, and all those know it alls who dump on iTunes, including mr open source himself, Peter Kirn: Please share with us what fantastic alternatives you are all using. That would be educating people.

    Seriously. Get a grip.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, let's not just turn this into a discussion of PH's comment. Sounds like people's feelings on that are pretty clear.

    @Fangs: Sure.
    http://banshee.fm/
    Terrific, lightweight player, more responsive than iTunes and runs on more platforms. Offers integration iTunes doesn't, like AmazonMP3, Internet Archive, and Last.fm channels.

    http://last.fm
    (which also works in iTunes, of course, if you like, and does more than Ping, as I said in the article, so I'm guessing you didn't really read it)

    http://www.extension.fm/
    which runs in Chrome and does what Songbird failed to do, pick up media in webpages (like embedded SoundCloud players) and listen to them rationally.

    Also need to set aside some time to clean up tags with this:
    http://musicbrainz.org/

    I buy music online these days from eMusic, from Bleep, occasionally from Beatport, far more often than I used to directly from artists (especially with Bandcamp).

  • http://nickkent.net nick

    First off – Facebook has music features? News to me (other than gig and release announcements).

    I can see this targeted at people who don't really know what to buy, have the income, and are big fans of someone or what the same stuff their friends buy and either have the income to impulse buy or don't know how to remove DRM.

    I can see this failing as name artists get told by their record labels what to put up there, who knows what new kinds of payola.

    There are no ratings, right? So potentially a lot of people will buy a dud track right away because someone else bought it before word can get out that no one likes it.

  • http://music.cornwarning.com chaircrusher

    @Fangs — I must be older than you, because when i was in high school in the 70s everyone I knew spent a fair amount of time trying to put together the best stereo they could. 'Everyone I knew' was almost entirely white and middle class, but it wasn't like the Hi-Fi impulse was rare. There have always been very few people who go overboard on it, and that market is small and way more affluent than I.

    Just as I want some good recommendations for better-than-iPod portable players, I'm with you in wanting a good alternative to iTunes. And for it to be a contender with me it has to be

    1. Free

    2. At least as easy to use as iTunes

    3. Support Drag&Drop as well as iTunes.

    This last point is huge to me — if I'm working on an Ableton Live DJ set I keep iTunes open just so I can FIND tracks and drag them into Live. People might bitch about iTunes, but it makes it easy for me to find stuff.

  • Michael Coelho

    @ Fangs – I couldn't agree more. I had a lot of audiophile friends back in the day who cared more about the equipment than the music they listened to on it. I still like to own decent audio equipment, but I don't view it as an end in and of itself. I enjoy my iPod for the convenience it provides me. My car has an iPod interface which makes it extremely easy and safe to use while driving. I don't consider myself a "dummy" for purchasing Apple products any more than I'd consider someone a "dummy" for buying a Chevy instead of a BMW.

    I feel my iPod can produce respectable quality sound when played back through good headphones or other audio equipment. It sure beats dealing with scratchy vinyl records or carrying around hundreds of CD's in a heavy case.

    Even though I purchase a lot of Apple products, I don't consider myself a fanboy. I don't much care what other people use as long as it suits their purposes. That being said, I was fairly unmoved by Mr. Jobs unveiling of Ping. I rarely jump into a new service or technology the minute it is launched. It is possible that Ping will evolve into a useful and interesting social music service. If not, competition will not doubt fill the space.

    I have purchased music from iTunes, but have also purchased from Amazon and artists web sites. I make that decision based on a number of factors including price and availability.

  • Fangs

    @Chaircrusher: I think if that's your experience, then it says more about the environment you were living in than the general population per se.

    Hi-fi has never been "big". Never. Have you seen the beginning of "Control", the film about Ian Curtis from Joy Division? He's just bought a record, he puts it on a mediocre playback system, he listens.

    That, I am pretty sure, was the experience of a LOT of people. An iPod would blow the quality of that particular listening experience out of the water – fidelity wise.

  • Fangs

    @PeterKirn:

    * banshee FM says "This release is a beta-quality technology preview with no device (iPod etc) support".

    * lastFM – isn't that a subscription service? It was the last time I checked. And how would I sync my devices and my current music to a lastFM library?

    * extensionfm – how would I use it with my iPhone? An Android phone?

    I thought we were talking about both music databases and social services software? Are we just talking about the latter when bashing itunes? Because if we are, that's easier to relate to.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @chaircrusher: I haven't tested Banshee-to-Ableton drag-and-drop on Mac. I'd be curious to know if it works. If not, it's worth adding. Otherwise, I'd definitely say Banshee.

    @Fangs/Michael/chaircrusher: I didn't refer to the player part of the equation. Right now, I don't think there is a good alternative. I'm hopeful that we'll see an Android mobile device without the cell phone attached, a la iPod touch, and that *someone, somewhere* will revisit the hard drive player concept.

    I do think that iTunes "lock in" or whatever you call it has contributed to the situation. On the other hand, so has simple, hard-won user loyalty and inept competition. But regardless of the cause, I think a market with no competition is a terrible thing for everyone – iPod owners included. Apple effectively argued that, with no competition, they've continued to innovate. But users weren't all happy with the iPod choices offered last week. And they shouldn't have to *all* be happy – that's why competition and choice are good, even if you stay with Apple.

    I'm not optimistic, but I'm hopeful, if that makes sense.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Fangs: This story was about Ping. I didn't bash iTunes. You asked what I use, so I answered you. That's what I use.

    Banshee has full device support on Linux. Support on other platforms is evolving, but it's based on cross-platform libraries like Mono, so there's no obstacle other than time and effort to achieving feature parity on other platforms. Unfortunately, the attitude of many Mac users – "I only use the Apple thing" – has resulted in a moribund situation for music players on the OS, because other choices don't get time and attention.

    "How would I use it with my iPhone" is not the first question I ask about every technology, sorry.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oh, and Last.fm has mobile clients for iPhone and iPod touch as well as Android and other platforms.

    Extension.FM is a Chrome extension. But I use it to listen to music, and it scrobbles to Last.fm, meaning it's a competitor for both iTunes and Ping. So is Last.fm. Banshee is a competitor to iTunes.

  • Michael Coelho

    @Peter – Sorry about piling on. I've actually been thinking about an iTunes alternative. I used to use WinAmp back in my pre-Mac and iPod days. Banshee sounds interesting, but lack of support for the iPhone rules it out for me. A quick search on http://www.alterativeto.net yielded SongBird, an open source app. Unfortunately, SongBird doesn't appear to work with the iPhone either.

  • griotspeak

    maybe we could split the diference on thsi hifi debate? there are plenty of mods for and opinions about the various ipods' fidelity.

    some of the models had mediocre DACs, but most of them are solid. DACs and amps have been the main complaint but have been in no way a consistent source of complaint. each generation and model of ipod has had its quirk with regard to fidelity ranging from 'un-listenable' to -'perfectly acceptable.'

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Devices don't work with the iPhone because Apple specifically blocks the use of third-party apps. Incompatibility with iPhone is by design. Apple is fully aware of what they're doing.

    There is hope, however:
    http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2010/06/banshee-gettin

    My guess is that'll work on both platforms, because libgpod is available on the Mac (Windows, probably not):
    http://libgpod.darwinports.com/

    Again, though, I wasn't dumping on iTunes in this story. I think alternatives are good, and any smart social network will support people using those alternatives. But the criticism here was using Ping. And that's significant, as I'd still recommend Last.fm over Ping to any iTunes user.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Further to that issue:

    Apple has 77% of the portable player market (iPod), and 70% of the desktop player market (iTunes). Notice the similarity in stats?

    Commentary on their dominance from Macworld/PC World:
    http://www.macworld.com/article/153893/2010/09/ap

    Is this because they've built a superior ecosystem? Or is it because the so-called "ecosystem" makes people dependent on the combination?

    I don't actually pretend to have an easy answer to that. I think it's not all that black and white; it's probably some combination of the two.

    But the question relevant to this story is, does that give them 100% control of the social network side. I don't think that's an easy win. They got 1 million users in 48 hours, yes, but they have (by their own count) 160 million player users. There's no guarantee everyone will switch it on, and there's absolutely no guarantee they'll stick around once they've tried it.

  • Fangs

    I don't care whether or not Ping succeeds, and, hey, if it doesn't Apple can always do a Google and say "there's nothing wrong with trying and not succeeding" (i.e. Google Wave)

    There are tons of other social networks, and so if Apple doesn't open up against any of them, there's no disaster looming here.

  • Drohnwerks

    As far as I'm concerned Apple have missed a major trick- lastFM does all I need, a nice interface within iTunes that gave me purchase links/ reliable scrobbling from iPhone would have made iTunes a killer app. As it is, Ping is the equivalent to mehspaec…irrelevant.

  • shim

    honestly, i have been pining for a mac sw solution to replace itunes from the first time i used it.

    itunes is straight up big brother invasive and clunky at best. DRM sucked, genius sucked, ping sucks large.

    the hardware is solid, the OS is tight but the quasi functional bloat of itunes is a near deal breaker for the above average music nerd/lover.

    a john mayer-lovin' jobs pretty much sums it up for me.

  • shim

    @ P H: i love you.

  • shim

    a thought: there's garageband logic express…itunes "pro", anyone?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Fangs: agreed. I don't see any great loss to the universe – or even Apple's ludicrously successful store and mobile player business – if this thing doesn't pan out.

    (though, re: Wave – note that Google is planning an open source release. They definitely fumbled Wave badly, but it might be more relevant in other people's hands than in theirs.)

  • Gavin@FAW

    Another interesting use of Facebook is the specialist music page. It ends up being like a community "curated" music blog.

    Here's an example:

    http://www.facebook.com/panoramabarmusic

    All youtube embedded music, with people buying the original vinyls on discogs.com for the tracks they like

    Just thought I'd share this interesting use of facebook, can see this taking off more and more lately, with label pages doing "influences" series of classic tracks etc….

  • Retardo Montelbaum

    re: extension.fm

    I worked on Songbird for two years and take umbrage to your comment that we failed to pick up media in web pages.

    The app barely functioned otherwise but extracting the media from webpages was one of the features that actually worked. In fact Songbird was the easiest way to slurp MP3s out of the Hype Machine, something I hope extension.fm can figure out.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Montelbaum: I'm sorry, I didn't intend it that way. I meant this –

    "The app barely functioned otherwise"

    I.e., to me, extension.fm took the best part of Songbird, its ingenious focus on the browser and automatic discovery, and actually put it in the browser. By focusing on that, it becomes a more stable solution, and I think the browser is where that made the most sense.

    Now, that's not to say extension.fm is slurping as well, necessarily.

    I wanted very, very badly to be able to recommend Songbird during its development, but couldn't for the reason you describe. I do appreciate the work people did on it. But yes, there has been a real challenge to make a compelling iTunes alternative. In the meantime, these tools certainly make my own listening a pleasure.

  • http://www.vijithassar.com Vijith Assar

    What bothers me about this is that seamless integration appears to be a stand-in for actual competence when it comes to the iTunes system. The iTunes DJ has an absurd UI for ad-hoc playlisting, smart playlist query logic is braindead, lossless audio is needlessly proprietary, metadata tags are deliberately mangled on podcasts, Genius uses only rudimentary "file under <genre>" rules, etc. Many compelling things could be done with a music-oriented social network, but I highly doubt Apple ever intended to do them well — just easily and beautifully and obsessively controlled. Of the many things that infuriate me about this application, certainly the worst is how effectively it seems to lower expectations.

  • http://wileywiggins.com Wiley

    I think Ping might be better suited as an app reccomendation engine, since all iOS apps come from the store, and with all of the apps available, it would be a more useful utility. I won't be quitting last.fm any time soon as far as music recommendation goes.

  • holotropik

    LOL @ P H

  • http://ttmpmedia.com Mike

    I'm interested to see how this turns out. I'm and not excited about how only major artists were invited. Looks like another major label smackdown of indie artists.

  • Svet

    it stil amazes me that people talk so much about iTunes. I use it only for webradio playback and because it works with the "play" button on the MBP :) … In terms of alternatives there's Cog, Vox etc. except you have to keep your library/folders intact in Finder. That's all. It's still an effort but it is pretty much less of an effort than to clean up the iTunes library eventually and I have never seen a well-organized one….. NEVER! :)

    About Apple cashing on people stupidity, isn't that what a big part of succesful business is all about? I don't see why people should take offence from that. If you ask why people buy iPod a lot of them wouldn't really know… But we all buy things on the principle that we don-t know any better and have been brainwashed by very very good advertising campaigns.

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