Apple pinged to triumph already from a slice of social media

6 Sep 2010

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Siliconrepublic editor John Kennedy on the implications of Apple’s move into social networking with Facebook and how the Facebook deal is an inevitability.

It’s kind of mad when you think about it; the iPod and MP3s were around quite a while before people had contemplated social networking. The iPod debuted when people mostly congregated in chatrooms, whinged and whined on sites like Boards.ie and sent one another joke attachments via email. Napster had an element of social kudos, everybody felt guilty, and bit torrents required a certain amount of social cohesion – and collaboration – just to work.

The beginning of social networking

When email went mainstream in most offices in the 1990s, the essence of social networking was mass emails containing the latest funny photo, rude joke or long streams of text. It was the height of cyber achievement to be included in the ‘in’ email list.

That the social networking revolution has been and gone and still going well more than five years – Bebo came and went and media sharing is well under way – means Apple is pretty late to the party. Or is it?

Last week, Apple launched its new Ping social music system, along with the latest generation of its iPod Nano and Touch families and not to mention an exciting redux of its Apple TV product. The exciting implication of this is that Apple has 160 million users. That’s 160 million people with credit cards. A social-networking site called Ping with 160 million credit card owners who love music is a vertical too hard to ignore.

At the time that Apple launched Ping, the implication was that it could connect with Facebook. That turned out not to be the case as both companies had failed to come to an agreement and therefore the APIs that would have allowed an iTunes Ping user to search for and connect with their Facebook friends weren’t in place.

According to Jobs, the terms were onerous. My take on it was that Facebook would love if its 500 million users all had credit cards, it wants to build out its Facebook Credits currency platform and also plans to make money from the sale of music.

Factors that may affect Ping

Apple’s arrival with Ping might throw a spanner in the works. Or will it? We all want choice, not every Facebook user has an iPhone, an iPod or an iPad. Many will carry Android devices and will want choice when buying music or recommending tunes.

What no one has said about all of this is that Apple itself missed a trick by not catching on to the social opportunity ages before. Seeing what songs your friends are downloading is something I’m sure the boffins in Apple’s R&D department could have done – throw in a messaging system and voila, you have a social-networking site.

I fervently believe, however, that the two colossus that are Apple and Facebook will come to some kind of arrangement. They have to. It will no doubt centre on a share of sales that the connections generate and figuring out the rights management and legals.

In its first week, 1 million iTunes users have adopted Ping. Not bad going.

But what Apple has done is prove that an irresistible new model for selling content is possible and this could have implications for other forms of media, from newspapers and magazines to radio, TV and movies.

Let’s hope the lawyers don’t waste too much time on this one, eh?

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com