It was the Nth time I’ve had this conversation in a board meeting, “We can’t figure out how to get on the leaderboards. The app stores aren’t working for us as a distribution channel.”
To which I replied “All the app stores use a leaderboard model which makes the rich richer and everyone else poorer. We are in the 99%, wishing we were in the 1%. It makes me want to find a park inside the iTunes store and camp out there in protest.”
All joking aside (and #OWS is not a joke), this is a serious issue for the mobile application market. There have been multiple attempts to build alternative app marketplaces but none of them have developed much traction. For the most part iOS and Android users go to the app stores to discover and download mobile applications. And unless you know what you want, you are shown leaderboards to pick from. Search is a horrible experience. Discovery is worse. Of course, Apple and Google could change this, but they haven’t. It makes me wonder if they even want to. It makes me angry. It makes me want to protest.
Just because an app was the most popular six months ago, doesn’t mean it should be the most popular now. But a leaderboard model is a self reinforcing action. The most popular stay the most popular. The new upstart doesn’t stand a chance at unseating the ageing category leader.
There are promoted download offerings from the likes of our portfolio company Flurry and others like TapJoy that can be used to stimulate downloads and impact your leaderboard position such that you can attempt to join the 1%, but Apple took actions earlier this year to limit the usefulness of those approaches, which weren’t that great anyway.
There are app discovery services like Appolicious, Appsfire, and several others of note. They have great promise as alternative discovery channels for apps. But to my knowledge, they have not yet captured much of the market and most smartphone users head to the native app stores when they want apps.
Centralized control of an ecosytem never offers as much opportunity and diversity as a decentralized system. And in the leaderboard driven app store model, we have centralized control. Let’s rise up and protest against this model. It’s not healthy for anyone, most certainly not healthy for small developers of the kind we like to work with.
Read more posts on A VC »