Tech Review: Ping a handy iTunes add-on that shows promise
Apple Inc.’s new music-discovery feature, Ping, is a potentially useful addition to iTunes. It lets you see what songs your friends are buying and where your favorite bands are playing next.

LOS ANGELES - Apple Inc.'s new music-discovery feature, Ping, is a potentially useful addition to iTunes. With it, you can see what songs your friends are buying and recommend some of your favorites to them.

It's great Apple is finally incorporating elements of Lala.com, which offered similar social-discovery tools until Apple bought the start-up in December and shut it down a few months later. And if people use Ping to honestly discuss music, it could be valuable to me as a consumer and help music sales, too.

Ping is a good start, but I hold out hope for some improvement.

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To use Ping, you must install the newly released iTunes 10. It works fine on my Windows XP laptop, but requires Mac users to have at least the Mac OS X 10.5 operating system, or Leopard, which came out in 2007. Upgrading the operating system will cost about $90. It's not likely worth the expense just for Ping, which itself is free, as is the iTunes software.

Ping starts out by having you fill out a simple registration form.

You can have Ping automatically display the music you like based on songs you've already purchased. Or, you can choose what to like and display, which is what I did; I put up such artists as Lily Allen, Owl City, Cowboy Junkies and Jewel.

After that, Ping recommended some artists and people I might be interested in following, which would then allow me to see what they are buying, recommending and commenting on.

I found Ping's suggestions simplistic at best, however. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, U2, Taylor Swift and Dave Matthews Band came up, as if Ping merely picked the most popular artists, not ones related to music I liked. How about some obscure artists I wouldn't have found on my own?

I tried following a few artists that I liked, but not all were on the service yet. It will probably take a while for Ping to get populated with artists to the same degree as sites such as MySpace.

The Ping charts, which show top albums and songs bought by people I follow, could prove more relevant if I were to follow more actual friends or industry people I genuinely find interesting. After all, if I follow only well-known, mainstream artists, I'm bound to get recommendations for more mainstream music from well-known artists.

Overall, Ping is one more tool to help sort through the noise, and it's a conveniently placed one, at the heart of the world's largest seller of music online.

If future versions have full-length song plays and incorporate the ticketing transaction into iTunes, I'll be sure to sing its praises.

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