Yesterday amidst Apple’s fall announcement of new stocking stuffers for music lovers, Steve Jobs announced the new social service for sharing music, called Ping. Aside from taking a term that many geeks and network administrators have used for some time now, I’m sure Ping will have its desired goal of increasing discover-ability and helping Apple sell more music. It’s a service that looks to be in its infancy at the moment, but then that’s the world we live in where we get a new service or product and know that it will continue to evolve.
Om Malik points out that Ping will be good for social commerce and I agree. But there’s a side of what Ping (and other social services) offers that doesn’t get talked about much and that’s a big part of the commerce model as well. And that’s the collection and then sale of user data, trends, etc… to the marketing mavens. Online services aren’t the only ones that make big bucks by doing this. Banks, supermarkets, any business with a value card, they all collect info on our purchases and sell it to others. The guys from Mad Men would have loved to have had the kind of easy way of accumulating customer data the way we are able to do now in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc…
But the issue I’m referring to in the headline of this post has to deal with the marketing mavens who control the music industry. You know the ones. They discover trends amongst the data, and then manufacture and market boy bands (dating myself I know) and any other fad that comes along. That’s why you typically see an explosion of a certain kind of music or musical act happen all at once. Don’t get me wrong gifted musical and songwriting talent will continue to exist and some cream will continue to rise to the top. But Ping is actually a tool that lazy marketers will use to determine trends for the future. What we follow and “Like” will determine which songs get written, what new acts will emerge, and which new trends we will be following. It eventually becomes like a snake eating its tail. In the end that will make it harder for the real talent to emerge. The problem I’m alluding to is no different than some other industries that are falling on hard times, like the news industry. When content becomes manufactured based on trends there will be success initially and the bottom line will improve, but eventually the consumers of that content catch on, and interest wanes and then fades away. So does business. The business of politics is the same. Market an idea, ride it until it burns out, and then move on. That’s why there’s very little leadership anymore in that business. That’s why newspaper circulation is down, TV viewing is way past being called “on the decline” and consumers of all of these are out wandering in a wilderness looking for original voices. But wait a minute. What about giving the customer what they want? Well that does indeed work as a maxim and in practice. The problem becomes when the marketers go overboard, which they typically do, and when they play to the lowest common denominator, which they also do. Specialness gets ruled out in favor of the trend line. Heart gets taken out of the equation. Uniqueness is considered a marketing problem, until everyone else is being unique in the same way.
Another problem I see at the moment with Ping is that there is no way for users to create content beyond liking or commenting on what bands and your social circle puts up. It’s all geared to purchasing. The bands and musical acts can put up content, but your average Joe or Jane can’t beyond commenting and liking what’s there and what others comment and like. While in and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, and perhaps it will evolve down the road the way Apple products typically do. But at the moment Ping doesn’t give users much room to operate beyond becoming a circle of agreement. The shrewd will take positive advantage of that as long as it lasts. Users, beyond the rabid fans of certain acts, will quickly tire of the way things are set up now in my view. As a matter of fact, the rabid fans of any particular act probably don’t need the service anyway to spread the word about their passion.
Again, don’t get me wrong. As a commerce model Ping will probably do just fine. But it will do so based not solely on how much music you or I purchase based on what our friends may like or recommend. It will do so because the data we create will get sold time and time again to marketers who are looking for the next big trend so they can continue to weaken the creativity stream even more.