Apple seems to still be looking for the right place for Ping, its new music-centric social network, introduced in iTunes 10. When Apple released a minor update to iTunes at the end of September, the company replaced iTunes' Genius sidebar with a Ping Sidebar. Now, Apple has quietly made another change to combine the two features.
As Macworld senior contributor Kirk McElhearn noted on his blog, instead of an all-Ping sidebar, iTunes now features a sort of hybrid iTunes Sidebar. The top now features an area for the currently playing song and buttons to "like" or post a comment about it. Just below is a My Recent Activity section to help listeners keep in touch with feedback from Ping friends on their activity; possibly an answer to initial complaints that Ping doesn't make much effort to keep users coming back.
The third and largest section ushers in the return of the Genius Sidebar, now a Genius Recommendations section that displays similar music from the iTunes Store (as long as iTunes can track down the currently selected song, of course).
Apple was able to make the change without releasing an update to iTunes. The sidebar is powered by HTML--it's basically a thin Webpage built into the side of iTunes, so Apple can serve up whatever it wants in that spot.
Interestingly, the design of the new iTunes Sidebar means that, as long as users opt into both Genius and Ping, Apple is now providing iTunes music listeners with quick access to two different kinds of recommendation systems: Genius, automatically (and anonymously) generated by the six degrees of iTunes Store purchases; and Ping, ideally a more organic stream of new music that flows from the circle of friends that you manually create in the store.