In the unlikely event you missed it, Apple launched Ping last week, a social network for music with a Facebook/Twitteresque activity stream, and that is deeply meshed into the ubiquitous iTunes store. 160m credit card accounts users can follow updates from friends and favorite music artists, access custom charts, news feeds, and 17,000+ concert listings all from within the iTunes store environment.

With Ping, Apple just reinvented social shopping. Sort of.

Ping has been heralded as the future of social commerce (and another death nail for the withering MySpace); a “social discovery” platform for music shopping, allowing users to make smart shopping decisions based on the preferences, opinions and activity of their friends – in a unified and seamless iTunes store experience.

Whilst Apple reports that a healthy 1/3 of iTunes 10 downloaders have joined Ping, potentially putting Ping on a trajectory to eclipse Twitter (45m) and probably making Ping already to big to fail (although Netflix’s version for movies (‘Friends’) did just that), the reality of Ping as a social platform is less than revolutionary.

Apart from teething problems (comment spam, Facebook Connect API, a dearth of bands to follow, poor personalised recommendations, virtual impossibility for bands/artists to set up a new profile, and a yet to be optimized UI), Ping offers users no more – and often many fewer – social features than other music-oriented social platforms, Pandora, Last.fm et al. And users are straight-jacketed into conversations around purchases – it’s definitely a shop-first-social-second experience.

But the shop-first-social-second weakness of Ping as a social platform is Ping’s strength as a shopping platform.  It is clear that Ping is set up to help Apple sell more music to more people more often; if it allows users to make smarter shopping decisions, using social intelligence and social graph, then so much the better.  Ping is all about conversion – not conversation.  We think it’s smart.  And why, our status as card-carrying Apple Fanboys notwithstanding, we think some of the gripes about Ping as a substandard social platform are missing the point.  iTunes Ping is an e-commerce optimization tool – a social network in a shop, not shop in a social network.

Our guess is that Ping will see a number of iterations – fast, as Apple experiment with the the embedded social network to boost conversion, order value, and customer value.  And then expect to see Apple roll out an optimized Ping to movies, TV, and books – integrating the Genius social recommender engine.

iTunes Ping.  This changes everything.  Again.