Almost 10 years after releasing iTunes in January 2001, Apple last week announced and released iTunes 10. The new version offers a slightly refined interface that stacks the Close, Minimize, and Zoom buttons and desaturates the sidebar of all color (neither of which seems like an improvement), along with a new icon that drops the background image of the audio CD. Overall, iTunes 10's features are essentially the same as version 9, save for one big addition, called Ping.
Ping adds musical social networking to iTunes as a way of making it easier to discover (and buy, of course) new music. As with Twitter, friend-to-friend connections are asymmetrical, so a famous musician can pick up zillions of followers without having to follow each one back. You can set up your own profile so that anyone can follow you, so only people you approve can do so, or so no one can. Once you have a few friends, you can exchange messages about tracks and albums in the iTunes Store in a Facebook-like manner, see what music your friends are downloading, and even view a top-ten music list that summarizes the most popular music your friends are downloading. You can also view concert listings - Apple claimed a database of over 17,000 concerts - although it remains unclear if you can limit concerts to those in your immediate vicinity.
It all sounds very trendy, and we're looking forward to seeing if it helps us find excellent music that we'd otherwise never hear about. Although Ping should be a money-maker for Apple, it could also provide a financial boost for smaller bands that rely on word-of-mouth for marketing. Ping is available to all 160 million people with iTunes accounts, but we suspect that the number of people who are interested in social networking and music discovery may be a good deal lower.
Look for Ping in the iTunes 10 sidebar, under the Store category. Ping is available not just in iTunes 10, but it is - or will be soon - also available in the iTunes app on various iOS devices, where it will show up in the tab bar at the bottom of the screen.