Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dirty Underbelly of App Reviews

Recently my inbox received a solicitation offering to sell me ratings and comments for apps in the Android market.  I publish a number of apps and the sender probably sourced a list of all developer addresses for an email blast.

Naturally I had to investigate.

According to the site, for the low, low price of $1.00/ea I can purchase a 5-star rating for one of my apps.  And for an additional $1.00/ea I can buy a positive comment to go along with the 5-star rating.

My guess is the owners of the site have a phalanx of Android user accounts ready to lay down reviews when they get an order.  Or at least that's what they're claiming.

This isn't the first time I've seen offers to review apps.  You can find them around the Internet on places like Craigslist, etc., where they're not usually so blatant.  Often something more along the lines of "I'll give your app an honest review for $5."

In this case I can buy whatever review I want.

In theory we all know that ratings we see in app stores, Yelp, Amazon and whatnot are subject to gaming.  And it's not just online, a few years Danny Manning was exposed as a fake movie critic Sony used to pump up movie press.  But it was still surprising to see it in practice.

Now here's the devilish part, I can buy buy a 1-star review and a negative comment too.  Also for a $1.00 apiece.

It wouldn't make sense for me to buy negative ratings for my own apps, but it might be a perfect gift for a competing app.

I recently surveyed Android users to find out how they make app purchase decisions.  Most follow a few simple paths:
  1. Browse "Featured" apps
    (A list that shows up on the Market app home screen.  Curated by Google using Google goodness.)
  2. Browse the "Top" apps in interesting categories
    (Again, a Google curated lists this time for a specific category e.g., Games, Utilities, etc.)
  3. Keyword search for a particular app or feature
Once they see a potential app users drill down and view the details.  Almost all users heavily base their purchase/download decisions on the number of ratings an app has, the number of stars and recent comments.

They don't realize that the reviews and comments fraught with Danny Mannings.

What do you think?  Will users eventually realize they need a new metric to base decisions on?  Will App Store Marketing (ASM) techniques like buying reviews eventually crowd out truly good apps?



Disclaimer: my startup App Advocate aims to fix this problem by adding trusted social credibility.  We help users find good apps by filtering the Android market using their Facebook friends.

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