Apple launched its new Ping social network for music last week, as part of its iTunes 10 software, and it went on to sign up one million users in its first two days.CEO Steve Jobs was noticeably un-brash in his language when announcing it, describing it as “a social network for music – sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes. It’s not Facebook, it’s not Twitter, it’s something else we’ve come up with. It’s a social network for music.”I’ve been using Ping since the morning it went live, getting to grips with how it works and what it’s capable of. Right now, it’s an underwhelming experience, but there is clearly scope for Apple to add more features and functionality in the months ahead. With that in mind, here’s five ways Ping could be made a richer experience both for users and for artists.1. Get Facebook Connect working as soon as possibleWe now know why you can’t log in to Facebook to find friends who are on Ping, despite that feature being shown off at Apple’s launch event. Apple balked at Facebook’s service agreement but tried to use Facebook Connect anyway, so Facebook blocked it. Twitter and Facebook had a similar contretemps a few months ago.Apple should blink first and do whatever it takes to get Facebook Connect back into Ping. Even Steve Jobs would be hard-pressed to argue with a straight face that searching for friends’ names or emailing them one-by-one to add them as Ping contacts is a satisfactory system.500 million people already have a social graph mapped out on Facebook, and I’m willing to stick my neck out and say they include the vast majority of the 160 million people with registered iTunes accounts. Facebook Connect is the simplest and fastest way to help people find their friends on Ping – and to ensure they know when new contacts have joined up.Cutting off Ping’s nose to spite Facebook may not be senseless – it would be interesting to know what in Facebook’s terms made Apple recoil – but as a user, it makes Ping a much more lonely experience than it should be.2. Be more open and push content out to other servicesClosed ecosystems and walled gardens are what Apple does best, and in the case of iTunes / iPod and App Store / iPhone they have served the company well. However, social networking is a very different beast to consumer electronics. Hermetically sealing Ping within iTunes may be a very ‘Apple’ thing to do, but as a user it’s frustrating.Ping could easily push people’s updates, likes and purchases out to Facebook and Twitter at the very least. You can already post on both services about individual tracks on iTunes by right-clicking on them, so the lack of this functionality within the new social part of iTunes is puzzling.Making a ‘firehose’ available of people’s Ping data – with the necessary privacy elements in place – would be even better. That way consumer services and analytics companies could really make use of Ping as part of the wider entertainment space, adding iTunes behaviour to scrobbling and YouTube viewing and… you get the picture. The way has reorganised around external services is a sign of how this can work well.3. Go beyond purchases to playsPing doesn’t just monitor the music that you buy on iTunes – you can actively comment on or ‘like’ songs, and they’ll be added into your feed. What it doesn’t do yet is tie into the actual iTunes player, to make it easy for friends to see the music you’ve actually been listening does this with its Tweekly FM feature, which automatically tweets people’s top three artists and playcounts once a week. I don’t think Ping should clutter up people’s feeds with every single track played, but aggregating data on what bands and albums they’re playing lots, and automating the way it appears would be great.Ping already has an aggregated and personalised based on your friends’ activity – but again, that’s based on Ping updates, NOT plays. Of course, this could also tie in with a more open nature, if Ping could also suck in data from these other services – scrobbles for example – to provide a more rounded picture of your music usage.4. Make proper playlists from friends’ Pinged songsThis is another way Ping could go beyond the personalised charts that were talked about during last week’s launch. Lately, I’ve been using and enjoying the iPad app Flipboard. It pulls together articles, photos and videos that have been posted or linked to by your friends on Facebook and Twitter, and presents them as a dynamically-updated e-magazine, complete with page-flipping.Ping could do the same thing with music, albeit only if and when Apple secures the necessary licences to launch an iTunes unlimited streaming music service. Because this kind of feature would go beyond serving up charts and 30-second preview clips, to essentially providing a personalised online radio station based on what your friends are currently listening to and Pinging about.(Is Pinging the right verb to use? It sounds a bit silly…)One for the future, anyway. But the Flipboard idea of taking friends’ activity and turning it into something you can properly consume is a good one, and ideally suited for Ping and iTunes as and when the service allows it.5. Sort out artist signups, quicklyThis is a more b2b feature, but it’s already been noted by users and artists alike that Ping is currently populated by the big hitters of the music world – Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the rest.If this service is supposed to know my tastes, then suggesting I follow 50 Cent, Jimmy Eat World and Keith Urban isn’t a great start. Want to follow, say, Joanna Newsom, the Black Crowes or N-Dubz? You’re out of luck. And that’s without mentioning hundreds of thousands of indie and unsigned artists who might want to use Ping to connect with their fans.All indications so far are that Apple a.) does plan to open Ping up for all artists to register for artist profiles, but that b.) it plans to do this on an initially invite-only basis, with no firm dates announced for when this will be opened out. There’s already a lot of fake ‘artists’ signed up as people on Ping, meaning it’s hard to tell if the real Ben Folds, Taio Cruz and Justin Bieber really signed up as punters, or are being spoofed.Ping has been described as a MySpace-killer – one of the main advantages that site still has going for it is the huge community of artist profiles – but right now Ping is a letdown. The faster Apple can throw open the doors, the better.——–That’s my five suggestions. Ping is getting some fierce criticism on the blogosphere for its shortcomings, but I think Apple is in this for the long haul. Indeed, in last week’s Music Ally Report, we argued that Ping is just the first obvious sign that Apple plans to go head-to-head with Facebook and Google in the social networking space in the coming years.Sharing details of your favourite music has always been important to music fans – whether by wearing a band t-shirt, making mixtapes/playlists for friends, or tweeting about the song you can’t stop listening to. Ping isn’t yet hitting the spot in the way it taps into this urge, but watch how it evolves in the next few months.

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