Apple Ping Has an Unambitious Strategy: Like MySpace, Only Worse

Last Updated Sep 7, 2010 2:58 PM EDT

You'd think that getting a million people to sign up for a social networking site within 48 hours of going live would be unqualified success. But if the company is Apple (AAPL) and the service is Ping, the conclusion is different. The turnout is lower than should have been expected, the service is flawed, and Apple has a lot of fixing to do, at least if it wants to make social networks help the company's goals.

As Apple CEO Steve Jobs pointed out last week, iTunes has 160 million active accounts (with an average 73 song downloads each). Of course, we don't know how the company defines active, but give them the number for a moment -- one-third of all people who at that point had downloaded iTunes 10. That is, if you rule out all the spammers who jumped on board because of the lack of filters for spam and malware.

If Ping were really well-targeted to Apple's apparently involved customers, wouldn't a lot more people pick up on it right away? (Like Google Buzz, where tens of millions tried it in two days? Oh, wait, that turned out to be a bust.) It doesn't cost anything, and they already go to iTunes. After all, how many customers can Apple get to buy a new iPhone or iPad the weekend of its launch at a price of hundreds of dollars? This should have been easy. Some people who are normally fans of Apple products were disappointed in Apple's choices on how to implement the service.

But then, maybe everyone has over thought what Apple wanted to achieve. Here's something more from the company's press release

Ping lets you follow your favorite artists such as Lady Gaga, Coldplay, U2, Jack Johnson, Yo-Yo Ma and more, to see what they're up to, check out photos and videos they've posted, see their tour dates and read comments about other artists and albums they're listening to. In addition, you can post your thoughts and opinions, your favorite albums and songs, the music you've downloaded from iTunes® and the concerts you plan to attend.
This doesn't sound like a social network, which isn't surprising, given that Jobs is adverse to ceding to users control of their own lives. It's more like an online celebrity magazine, only without any shocking and interesting scandal. Apple has just reinvented MySpace, only without interactivity or broad musical reach.

It's a pity, because the lack of ambition will affect what the service could have done for the company. When you point consumers only at the highest profile music, you almost ensure that people see what they would have purchased anyway, not what might have opened new areas of interest -- and their wallets.

Image: stock.xchng user riesp, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.