Call me a cynic, but I can't imagine that Apple's new, ambitious social network Ping is going to take off. Built into iTunes and the iTunes Store iPhone app, it's designed to let you share what music you're enjoying with your friends while also following your favorite musicians.
It all sounds well and good at first blush, right? Who doesn't like discovering new music based on the recommendations of like-minded friends? But here's the problem: it only tracks what music you buy from iTunes. Just look at where it's located on the iTunes sidebar: in the store section. Any "sharing" that you do is just pushing iTunes' samples at your friends. Yes, it's all just a big setup to trick you and your friends into buying more songs from Apple.
What about music you've ripped from CDs? Or that you've bought from other MP3 stores, such as Amazon? Or, God forbid, music someone sent you or you downloaded illegally? That music might as well not exist. To Ping, you've either bought it from Apple or it's not worth sharing.
Not to mention the fact that there are already sites out there that do what Apple is purporting to do, but with more features and better implementation. Take Last.fm, for example. With a little plug-in, it silently tracks what you're listening to. You can then log on to the website and see your listening history organized by time period, artist and song. You can add friends to see what they're listening to in real time, and you can even listen to streaming radio stations based on the artists you listen to the most, or the artists your friends listen to the most.
Compared to that, what does Ping offer? Not much. It lets you tell people when you're going to a concert. It lets you follow bands. It tells people when you buy a song from iTunes, and it makes charts based on what songs your friends are buying. All of these things can be better replicated elsewhere, such as Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm, which are already populated with people you know.
But the real roadblock that's going to keep Ping from becoming in any way relevant? Apple's own customers. They're just too savvy to get suckered into a scheme like this. People these days, especially people who spend a lot of time online, know when something is being sold to them. They're bombarded by ads all the time, so they've learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. There's a line between something useful being used for marketing purposes and a piece of marketing disguised as something useful. And with Ping falling squarely in the latter category, Apple may have a ghost town of a social network on its hands.