Apple hasn't shown much social media savvy to date. Apple employees don't blog or tweet about work-related matters the way that Google or Microsoft employees do. Apple's corporate communication is tightly controlled. It comes through official public relations channels or direct via e-mail from CEO Steve Jobs.
So it's not surprising that Apple fumbled the launch of Ping. Ping comes with iTunes 10, the latest release of Apple's digital content organizer and store. It's supposed to be "a social network for music."
Social networking for Apple appears to be what privacy has been for both Google and Facebook: something to be learned through painful trial and error.
At the moment, Ping is "drowning in scams and spams," as Sophos security researcher Chester Wisniewski puts it.
Wisniewski says that Apple isn't completely oblivious to the degree to which spammers abuse social media because Ping profile pictures require approval. But the failing here is that Apple has ignored meaningful security measures, like requiring some means of user identification, such as a credit card, to create a Ping account, while implementing security measures that come across as paternalistic and anti-user, like picture approval.
Facebook would not be the success it is today if every user profile picture had to be approved. And Ping might have been more of a success if it had worked with Facebook Connect, as it would have had Apple and Facebook been able to agree on terms.
Apple iTunes user David Lisweski deftly summarizes the shortcomings of Ping.
"My impression of Ping is totally underwhelming," he wrote in a post on Apple's support site. "Why in the world would only iTunes purchase history be considered and not library play counts, ratings, genre tags and so forth. No, really .. can this be explained? As it stands, Ping is utterly worthless to the musically-driven social net citizen and is not likely to have promise as a social networking platform in Apple's marquee media store.
"Surely Apple must realize how scale-free social networks form, right? Without well-connected nodes capable of generating quality content, and without those nodes' wealth of preference data you've got nothing going on here. You see, had my library and playlists been pulled in I just might [have] cared enough to write some reviews, invite my tribe and hang around long enough for a little more Lala DNA to show up. Not a chance now."
In Apple's support forum, there's a minor rebellion against iTunes 10 and Ping. There are complaints that the search function is ineffective as way to find friends, complaints about the removal of the ability to create ringtones from songs stored in iTunes, and questions about how to remove Ping from iTunes (which apparently can't be done on the Mac without disabling the iTunes Store through Parental Controls).
A handful of users have downgraded from iTunes 10 to the previous version, 9.2.1.
The discontent will die down in time. Apple will probably make it easier to remove the Ping icon from iTunes. It will find a way to curtail spam in Ping. But it's too soon to tell whether a company that found such success being insular and controlling can find a way to open up enough to allow social networking to thrive.