SiliconFilter

As Music Gets More Social, is Apple Getting Left Behind?

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When I opened Spotify on my desktop this morning, a pop-up informed me that “Spotify Loves Social” and that I should discover “great music with [my] friends.” To get started doing just that, all I had to do was click “Get Started.” Spotify also conveniently pre-checked the opt-in to Facebook’s new Open Graph feature. I’m not sure most mainstream users will understand that opting in to the pre-checked Open Graph option means that all their listening data will not just be forwarded to Facebook, but that their friends will likely see everything they play on the Facebook ticker as well. As Spotify now forces its users to have a Facebook account, chances are quite a few people will sign up for this “service” unwittingly.

No matter what you think about this, though, it’s clear that the future of music is social. Facebook has partnered with everybody who is anything in this business, including Spotify, Slacker, turntable.fm, iHeartRadio, MOG, SoundCloud and Rhapsody. The one exception: Apple.

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As Cult of Mac’s Mark Elgan rightly points out, Facebook – at least in the music world – “has become not just a competitor to Apple, but the Mother of All Apple Competitors.” Apple, of course, has Ping, its own music-focused social network. Ping, however, is not a huge hit and whereas Apple couldn’t even get Facebook to agree to let its users export their contacts to its own social network, though, the world’s largest social network was more than happy to work with all of these other streaming music services.

If Ping were a huge hit, this wouldn’t be a problem for Apple, but Apple’s social network is neither very social nor very active these days. Indeed, one has to wonder if Apple itself is still thinking about it much, as it hasn’t seen any major updates since its launch.

Two Trends that Could Hurt Apple: Social Music and On-Demand Streaming

Two trends are converging on Apple here that could unsettle it as the leading online music provider in the long run: social music and on-demand streaming. As on-demand services like Spotify, MOG and Rdio slowly gain traction (both with their paid and free tiers), users may just decide that they don’t want to buy music but prefer a monthly flat-fee that costs less than the price of a single album instead. Couple that with Apple losing out in social, and it’s clear that some people over in Cupertino must be starting to get worried. So far, Apple hasn’t been able (or willing) to offer a flat-fee plan and its social initiatives haven’t caught on, either.

Elgan argues that Apple needs its own social network for its music and entertainment business to succeed in the long run. Maybe that’s true, but I would think that a closer partnership with the existing networks – be that Facebook or Google+ – could help the company to get into the social music game. Users have pretty much reached the saturation level when it comes to new social networks. At this point, partnering is a smarter move than building your own, especially if social networking isn’t part of your core competencies.

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4:09 pm


3 Biggest Disappointments in Tech of 2010

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Lots of great stuff happened in the tech world in 2010, but for every success like the iPad, Instagr.am and Roku, there was also a major disappointment along the way. The bigger the hype, the greater the disappointment, of course, so this list features the top three products and events in 2010 that, in my view, were the biggest letdowns.

Google Closes Wave

It’s no secret that Wave never caught on with the masses, even though it was among the most hyped products of 2009 and 2010. The fact that the team needed 1 hour and 20 minutes just to explain the concept at the introduction in early 2009 should have made a few alarm bells ring.

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Most people never understood why they should use Wave and what they could do with it. While I always had great hopes for it (and even used it for live blogging at one point), in the end I had to concede that it was just too complicated and different for most people. Instead of giving the Wave team a chance to succeed and hone its product, though, Google decided to shut it down just a few months after opening it up for general use. Google always insisted that the Wave protocol and ecosystem was what it was really interested in, so maybe we’ll see some action on that front in the future.

Wave’s lead developer Lars Rasmussen is now at Facebook and the rest of the team is working on other projects. Some remnants of Wave are now available in Google Shared Spaces, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a return of Wave as a fully featured communications platform. Shame.

Google Buzz Doesn’t Catch On

Google launched Buzz, its latest and greatest social initiative in early February and immediately got lots of bad press thanks to major privacy issues that Google’s should have noticed long before it launched it. While Buzz looked like it could recapture some of FriendFeed‘s greatness (after all, it looks and works almost exactly like FriendFeed did before Facebook bought it and its developers moved on to bigger and better things), it’s mostly a wasteland today. Even though Google pushed it into millions of Gmail inboxes, it’s hard to find any real interactions on Buzz today. Instead of going to Buzz, most people just share their links and thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

Sadly, Google never quite figured out how to move Buzz to the next level. While I don’t think the company will abandon it the way it dropped Wave like a hot potato, it remains to be seen for how long Buzz will remain in Gmail. Maybe Google’s next social initiative can breathe new life into Buzz, but I highly doubt it at this point.

Apple’s Ping Fizzles

Apple isn’t known for getting “social” right, but just like Google pushed Buzz into millions of inboxes, Apple baked Ping right into iTunes, the world’s most popular (though not always loved) music management software. Still, after botching the launch by not asking Facebook if it was okay to use its API to connect millions of iTunes users and promptly having to shut that system down, Ping never quite recovered. Without the Facebook integration, users had to hunt their friends down by their email addresses and few people ever bothered to do so.

Not being able to share songs that were already in your library didn’t make it any more useful. For something that bills itself as a “social network for music,” Ping just isn’t social enough.

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In its latest version, Ping now makes it easier to share songs from your existing library and you can now import your Twitter friends, share playlists and tweet your “likes” out to the world. Still, even with these new features, NPR rightly called Ping one of the “worst ideas of 2010” and I couldn’t agree more.

When was the last time you even looked at Ping?

What’s On Your List?

So that’s my list for 2010? What’s on your list? What were the apps and services that disappointed you the most? Flipboard, which looks cool but isn’t that useful? The iPad, because it’s just a giant iPhone? Windows Phone? Android tablets?

Let us know in the comments?



3:47 pm


Can The New Version of iTunes Breathe New Life Into Apple's Ping?

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Apple just released a new version of iTunes for Mac and PC that makes some much-needed changes to how the company integrates its social network Ping into the application. Until now, not only was Ping somewhat hidden in iTunes, but you could also only really interact with it from within the iTunes store and not from within your iTunes library. Unless your friends are compulsive music shoppers, chances are that few of them ever went through the store to mark their favorite songs. Now, however, in the new version of iTunes (10.0.1), you can very easily like songs right from within your music library and you can choose to see a sidebar with the latest activity from your Ping friends while browsing your library. Chances are that this will raise the activity level on Ping, though it remains to be seen if this will be a dramatic change.

ping_hasselhoffIn an ideal world – where Apple was following the Lala model it acquired not too long ago – you would be able to not just see what your friends like, but also play those songs in full once or twice. As of now, seeing your friends’ likes is great, but you can’t really do much with that knowledge unless you buy the song or album. For the most part, Ping is still too closely linked to iTunes to be genuinely useful.

For the time being, Ping is also still a completely isolated network without a connection to Facebook and Twitter. Not only is it still too hard to find your friends on Ping (due to Apple’s inability to come to an agreement with Facebook).

With this update, Apple has addressed one of the major grievances that most early users had with Ping (the inability to like items from the music library). Is that enough to breathe new life into Ping? Probably not. Until Ping is connected to other social networks, it remains a silo where you can put information in but can’t get any of it out to the rest of your friends.



11:32 am