Friday, September 03, 2010

Do I Really Need to Ping? (or: How many people do we have to virtually follow in how many ways?)

Along with a variety of product upgrades, this week Apple launched Ping as part of iTunes, version 10. Billed as a social network for music, Ping--as Apple summarizes it--will allow one to "follow your favorite artists and friends to discover the music they're talking about, listening to, and downloading."

As someone who has a great passion for sharing music that I love with others--through extensive CD compilations, blog posts here (including one about several legal sources for free online music) & actual conversations ("does anybody remember laughter?")--and in return am always excited to be turned onto something good, at first blush Ping would seem to really intrigue me.

But although I installed iTunes 10 and now have a basic Ping profile, I'm not all that excited about using it, or--unlike many of Apple's truly transformative products over the past decade--expecting it to add much to my life.

This isn't a knock on the product itself. It's a very logical idea and for people who have large online "Friend" communities eager to follow each other on myriad outlets, Ping can probably be of considerable benefit with no notable downside. And although there are currently only 14 participating artists to follow, it could be kind of fun to see what Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Shakira, Taylor Swift and U2 are listening to and loving.

Rather, this screed is more about my own limited Inter-reach and how all the "social networking" websites on which we're expect to follow-and-be-followed may be actually making us anti-social.

Certainly, as someone who spends hours writing blog posts each week and providing Facebook status updates at least once a day on average, I clearly must plead guilty to the delusions of self-importance required for active participation in the social networking age. I love sharing my thoughts on this blog, am grateful for any friends & strangers who read them and have found utilizing Facebook to be pleasurable and LinkedIn purposeful. I also have an online photo gallery, a more professional blog and some restaurant reviews posted on Yelp, but apart from some ad hoc commenting on various sites and rating movies on Netflix & IMDB, this is about the extent of my online self-expression and interaction (apart from email). 

But despite a substantial increase in traffic to this blog, as I knew when I sat at a corner lunch table with the same four friends all throughout high school, I'm not that popular. This isn't something I bemoan, as I would take quality over quantity in friendships any day. And though I have just 10 friends as speed dial "Favorites" on my iPhone--see, Apple, I really do like you--they include those who date back to kindergarten, high school, college and long-ago jobs, as well as a few close friends I've made in recent years.

Sending and accepting Facebook Friend requests almost exclusively to/from people with whom I've had at least one real conversation (even if over 30 years ago) and would to be happy to talk to again, my Friend count stands at 119. This is officially about average, though far less than the 500+ many people seem to have. And seemingly only about 20% of my Facebook Friends either post status updates or comment on mine in any given week.

Adding the 166 contacts I have on LinkedIn, this seems quite enough in the way of "follow me and I'll follow you" Internet connections. I find Twitter almost completely useless and don't feel compelled to also develop "Friend" communities on Yelp, Google Buzz, Digg, Flixster, MySpace, similar sites or now, Ping.

For if I did, I think I might be able to connect with about 5 people and they would be the same ones I regularly talk with about music in person, by phone or even through Facebook (where I and other friends often post videos of songs/artists we enjoy. 

So if you're reading this and want to know what music I like, just ask me. I'm always happy to banter about my musical favorites, give some album recommendations and maybe even send you a mix-CD.

But as for Ping, it's too soon to know for sure, but I think I'd rather go back to where this whole electronic-engagement age really started...and play Pong.

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