Pop goes Ping on iTunes

Mother Monster updates her page. The status: "Miss you so little monsters. Been working so hard for you. I can't wait for u to hear new music."

The familiar picture in the top right corner of the profile shows Lady Gaga in heavy eyeliner bearing a look unknown to the taxonomy of human facial expressions. Her bra mixes the expertise of Victoria's Secret with pyrotechnics. The eye moves to the top of the page and where one might expect the familiar bird and blue bar, instead there is the Apple logo. Gaga's profile is on Ping, the latest addition to the realm of social networks.

The recently released iTunes-based system integrates much of the characteristics of a social networking site like Facebook with the music recommendations of its predecessor, iTunes' Genius. The driving features include status updates and profile pictures. Fans can follow Lady Gaga or any other artist on the site and have the option to comment or "like" posted statuses.

To the right of Gaga's profile picture are her 541,711 followers as of Wednesday morning and even further to the right are the album covers of artists like Michael Jackson and David Bowie. This is the category known as "Music Lady Gaga Likes," an integration that incorporates some of the qualities Genius used. Ping's predecessor would recommend music to users based on the their previous purchases, but the new integration of music suggestion comes with an edge: it has the artist's "stamp of approval," a useful marketing strategy.

Individual user profiles also share some of these qualities, but there exist no direct communications among non-artist users. The only interaction between user profiles seems to be the ability to view recent purchases, reviews, recent activity and people.

As is the case with many social networking sites, Ping has already been greeted with controversy. It was noted that some of Gaga's posts involving gay issues were censored. The implication that Ping has the power to, and is already using, censorship is disturbing. Without digressing into a discussion on civil liberty, Apple has already had the surprising audacity to limit the free speech of Lady Gaga, one of the top-grossing artists on iTunes. Such actions may cause one to consider where the company's values lie and also Apple's perception of itself.

"I think it's scary that we live in an age where media's original content is so easily warped with pushes of a few buttons," freshman Nimesha Perera said.

The evolution of Ping going forward will be interesting. According to a number of websites, features of Facebook will soon be integrated with Ping.