Steve Jobs introduced Ping to the world during a presentation in San Francisco on Sept. 1, 2010. “It’s a social network all about music,” he said. Ping was designed to be “Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes.”
Users of the service, which was integrated with iTunes, could follow their friends to see what music they were listening to, get concert information and discuss all things musical. Singers and bands could use Ping, too, bringing fans closer to their favourite artists. Jobs, for instance, highlighted Lady Gaga’s profile during his presentation.
For Apple, the goal was to boost music sales through iTunes, but Ping also marked an attempt to break into social networking. The idea wasn’t completely outlandish. Jobs boasted that iTunes had already amassed more than 150 million active users, a healthy base to draw on, and Ping attracted more than one million users within two days. Wired magazine deemed it “too big to fail,” and speculated it could be the “opening gambit” to create an even larger social network centred on content sold through iTunes, such as movies and television shows.
But Ping had problems before it even launched. Apple worked for months to secure an agreement to integrate the service with Facebook. Talks fell apart, and Apple decided to go solo. Facebook’s chief technology officer said at a conference shortly after Ping debuted that he remained “very confident” Apple and Facebook could work together. Jobs, in contrast, told tech reporter Kara Swisher that Facebook demanded “onerous terms that we could not agree to.” In the end, Ping users couldn’t even import their contacts from Facebook. Jobs didn’t see that as a problem. “You can type [your friends’] names into search or send them e-mails inviting them to join,” he told a skeptical Swisher. Even Lady Gaga had doubts. Jobs once invited the singer and her business manager to a meeting to share their thoughts on Ping. Lady Gaga was disconcerted by the lack of Facebook integration, according to The New York Times, but “left respecting Mr. Jobs’s overall vision.”
Jobs’s stubborn belief that he didn’t need Facebook proved incorrect. Most people just weren’t willing to start all over again on yet another social network, particularly one so narrowly focused on music. Reviewers also complained that Apple’s ambitions were transparently commercial, as Ping frequently pushed users to buy music rather than share and talk about it. Musicians never showed up, either. Twitter was far more effective for interacting with fans.
An entirely new crop of companies was also working to combine music and social networking, such as Spotify, Pandora and Last.fm. In fact, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek appeared on stage with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s developer conference in September 2011 to announce a partnership between the two companies.
Ping’s inevitable demise was all but confirmed in May. “Will we kill it?” mused Apple CEO Tim Cook during a question and answer session at a tech conference. “I don’t know.” Four months later, Apple unveiled a new version of iTunes. Ping was noticeably absent. “Ping will no longer be available as of September 30,” reads a message greeting those trying to sign up today. “Thank you for your interest in Ping. We are no longer accepting new members.”