Ping will live within iTunes and allow users to "follow" artists and each other.
Apple has launched what it's describing as a social network for music. Called Ping, the service will reside within the iTunes store software on PCs, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices, while employing vocabulary ("follow," "like," and "status update") popularized by social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Using Ping, users will be able to follow bands and recording artists, and be alerted in the news feed when those musical entities release new albums or announce concert dates. Additionally, bands will be able to share music they like and communicate directly with fans via status updates. Users can also follow each other, sharing songs and commenting on each others' posts.
At an Apple event today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs demoed Ping, showing Lady Gaga's account and playing a video she recorded for followers there.
Jobs described Ping as a system for "social music discovery," and Apple has an obvious financial interest in supporting such a system. Ping song recommendations will be available for sale through iTunes via one-click purchase. Additionally, Apple will offer a "top 10" chart of songs and albums being downloaded by people a Ping user follows.
The Ping service may threaten the last shred of unique value MySpace still offers users and recording artists. As the News Corp-owned site has allowed audience share to hemorrhage towards Facebook in recent years, MySpace has managed to sustain its appeal among bands that use it to host tracks and notify fans of tour dates and releases.
With the creation of Ping, some artists may turn to iTunes to provide that same level of fan interaction.
Jobs said Ping would be made available to 160 million iTunes users in 23 countries via a software update later today. However, iTunes still lacks the reach of category leader Facebook, which has a global audience of 500 million.
Steve Jobs addressed the privacy implications of social networking early in his presentation, noting users will have the choice to be followed by any iTunes user or to approve follow requests individually, a model Jobs referred to as a "circle of friends."
Also today, Apple unveiled a new fleet of iPod devices and an updated Apple TV set-top device. The Web-connected TV product offers HD movie and TV rentals and compatibility with online services such as Netflix, YouTube, and Flickr.
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