Fixing the App Store with Measure of Credibility

iPhone apps live and die by the reviews they get, and it’s an extremely competitive market, filled with people lusting after stacks of cash.

To be an iPhone programmer these days, you better have some friends, or some “marketing” dollars. If you don’t, you might succeed, but you are going to be at a marked advantage to both the teams that know lots of people with iPhones, and the companies with dollars to hire PR firms to juice their rankings.

Having PR firms, friends, and family boost your ratings is absolutely pervasive in the App Store, and not just in the high-value games category. However, I think there’s actually a pretty easy way to fix a lot of this, or at least make it harder to cheat.

If you are a savvy iPhone App buyer, then before you trust a review, you know to click on the reviewer’s name and see what else they have reviewed. You know that you have to be particularly mistrustful of five-star reviews, and that if you click a name and that’s the only review the person ever left, it’s probably not sincere.

So, if Apple has any interest in getting trustworthy information to App buyers, then they could simply list the number of reviews a person has submitted next to their name. Instead of a review “by andrewljohnson” they ought to have the reviews show “by andrewljohnson (2).

Some might argue that Apple already helps establish credibility by letting users rate whether they found a review to be useful, but this system only contributes to the problem. As it turns out, if you have 30 people willing to write reviews for you, you also have 30 people willing to downvote the bad reviews, and upvote the cooked reviews, so this system ends up reinforcing the fraud.

I do believe in the end that the good apps end up on top – most fraud strategies end up being unsustainable. However, they do lead to some dollars ending up in the bad guys’ pockets, drained from the bank accounts of the less capitalized companies, where a few dollars matter the most. Most importantly though, a lot of consumers get duped into buying crappy products, even if the rankings come out right in the end.

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