Last week, Apple released their latest version of iTunes, Version 10.0. While there were improvements to the overall interface and the addition of TV show rentals in the iTunes Store, the biggest (and initially most exciting) announcement was the addition of Ping, a social network focused on music that functions right out of the player. The announcement caused some industry expert to say that the new feature would be a threat to existing music sites that focus on social networking, specifically Last.fm.

However, after fooling around with Ping for a few days, I have come to the conclusion that those predictions are far from accurate. There are several advantages that Last.fm has over Ping that assures that it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Focus on Discovering New Music: The most obvious advantage that Last.fm has is its radio feature, which allows you to enter in an artist’s name or a song title and then creates a station with similar artists. It’s basically a social network version of Pandora, and it has lead me to discover many great bands. Also, in addition to bio information and tour dates, artist profiles chart what their most popular songs and albums are. This sort of emphasis on discovery is sorely lacking from Ping, as there is no robust radio feature or push for members to branch out in their musical tastes. The recommendation system is seemingly random, as the artists suggested to me range from Empire of the Sun to Cher, music that has nothing to do with the majority of my library. For discovering new sounds in a social way, Last.fm is still the best.

Scrobbling: Perhaps the best features of Last.fm is the ability to track what you listen to through several mediums. Scrobbling enables you to record every play from several different media players in addition to iTunes, your iPod, and even streaming services like MOG and Spotify. It organizes all of that information into charts, meaning people can see what you listened down to the last 7 days. Additionally, it is used to determine your musical compatibility with other users, a helpful tool in adding new friends. By contrast, Ping only tracks what you rate, review, and buy within the iTunes Store, meaning that people only see the music you like based on how much you utilize Apple’s player. Not only does this lock you into using iTunes, it doesn’t have the ability to take what you listen to on your iPod or MP3 player and add that to your overall totals. In this regard, Last.fm has Ping beaten hands down.

Ease of Use: Since Last.fm is an actual website, you can access it from anywhere you can get an internet connection. This means that you’re never too far away from your profile or your friends. Ping is, as of right now, only operational through the iTunes program, meaning you have to be on a computer that has the program installed and then sign into your iTunes account, which is a lot more of a hassle than pulling up a webpage. Also, the overall layout of Last.fm is more pleasing on the eyes. Your Ping profile page is very bare bones, with your picture (that oddly takes days approve), a bio, thumbnails of the 10 albums that you like (and only 10), and your recent activity taking up a white page. Meanwhile, Last.fm homepage contains a list of what you most recently listened to, several different charts, and links to your library, the events page and several other features that Ping lacks. Compared to Ping, Last.fm is just easier and more intuitive to use.

While there’s not doubt Ping will catch on with people tethered to the iTunes/iPod combination, for those who want more of an emphasis on discovering new music, an easy way to track what you’re listening to, and a user-friendly experience Last.fm is the better option.

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