Yesterday, after unveiling an anticipated upgrade of its Apple TV set-top box at an event in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs surprised attendees by introducing Apple’s new social network, Ping. The service, made immediately available to iTunes’ 160 million users, enables those who opt in to it to view their friends’ music purchases, along with which shows they plan to attend and what songs they most like — along with other features, like concert tour information.
On the heels of the announcement, numerous comparisons were made to the social network MySpace, which has ceded virtually everything but music to Facebook and now looks well-positioned to get clobbered by Ping.
Yet a smaller startup may struggle even more to coexist peacefully with Ping: 9-month-old social buying site Blippy, which has raised nearly $13 million from VCs and angels, principally August Capital and Charles River Ventures. While in one sense, Ping validates the startup’s raison d’être — clearly Jobs has observed that people like discussing the music they’ve bought –- it could potentially slow the number of new registrants to Blippy, where iTunes purchases are shared far more frequently than any other types of purchases.
As of today, for example, Blippy users have let the service track 389,217 800,565 of their iTunes purchases, compared with 249,112 348,389 Netflix rentals, 55,148 34,225 Amazon purchases, 1,459 1,290 Zappos purchases, and just 900 199 Macy’s purchases.
Philip Kaplan, co-founder of Blippy, hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment, but in a tweet after yesterday’s Ping announcement, he acknowledged the impact of Ping. “Apple’s new thing, Ping, mainstreams the idea of sharing your purchases,” he wrote, adding, “Which is both good and bad (I liked when Blippy was crrraazzy [sic]).”
(UPDATE: Kaplan just emailed to say that a small bug in Blippy’s interface rendered the numbers we published earlier today wrong. In fact, you can see from the new numbers in the text above that Blippy is even more reliant on iTunes’ purchases than we’d initially reported. Kaplan also writes that: “We admit there was something nice about being on the edge, ‘that startup where crazy people talk about what they’re buying.’ But we love Apple and hope they’re able to help take the idea of sharing one’s purchases to a wider, more mainstream audience. Fortunately for Blippy, unlike Apple, Blippy isn’t limited solely to iTunes purchases.”)
David Hornik, a general partner at August Capital and a member of Blippy’s board, says he does not believe that iTunes purchases constitute an “overwhelming majority” of what is shared at the site, but rather a “small percentage of the total number of things” being published and discussed. He adds that the “opportunity to have mind share around everything that people think is important enough to spend money on is massive.”
Hornik emphasizes the “validation” part of the equation. “I think Apple noticed that people like to talk about all sorts of things they are spending their time on,” he says. “Apple noticed that that includes music, particularly, and in Blippy’s case could include a dinner or a bike. I think it’s more good news for Blippy that people acknowledge that sharing this information isn’t just reasonable but that people like it.”
Still, whether Blippy users like sharing purchasing information other than music in large enough numbers remains in question.
Hornik says he doesn’t know how many people have registered for the site and declined to “ballpark it.” (Kaplan also declined to address the question in his email to peHUB.) However, he appears to be a popular contributor, along with other insiders and friends of the company. Since its launch, Hornik has shared 849 purchases and reviewed 177 products. Meanwhile, Kaplan has shared 1,221 purchases, while Blippy angel backers James Hong and Ariel Poler have shared 733 purchases and 1,035 purchases, respectively.
Another active user is Brian Wroblewski, a self-described “Internet marketing guy” from Orlando, who has shared 1,000 purchases with the site and has been actively elaborating on his most recent purchases over the last several hours, including “beeeeer [sic]” from 7-Eleven and “wings to go for a party” from Hooters.
Greg Sterling, a digital media analyst in Oakland, Calif., says, “We’ll have to wait and see” what impact Ping will have on Blippy. “I think that the chances that Ping will be successful are great. Apple did a smart job on the [user interface] and they have this built-in audience and it just makes a lot of sense. It was really coherent when it showed up.”
Sterling believes Ping is a more immediate threat to MySpace than Blippy, which he says “has a different proposition.”
“Big companies come out with this or that tool or service, and there’s always a discussion about who’s going to be destroyed by it,” say Sterling. “Google Checkout is going to kill PayPal; Facebook Places is a Foursquare killer. I don’t think Blippy has a shot at being a mainstream service and maybe it was never intended to be, but I don’t think all of Blippy’s users are going to go to Ping. There are many situations in which people leap to the conclusion that a site will be destroyed and more often than not it doesn’t happen.”