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 aging 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.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. John Britton

    I’d love to see an app store with rankings / leaderboards that functioned more like reddit. The ranking algorithm takes time into account and uses a gravity factor to bring the most popular submissions to the top for a sufficient amount of time before the score decays and fresher submissions are given more prominent ranking.How reddit rankings work: http://amix.dk/blog/post/19588

    1. fredwilson

      exactly. that is the kind of change that apple and google could/should make.

      1. John Britton

        Search and discovery is incredibly difficult, which is why I don’t rely on the app stores for promotion (most of my apps are side projects). I think it’s a terrible mistake for a developer to drive traffic to an app store landing page as a primary destination because of the lack of control the stores give and the lack of customer information.Apple, Google, and the others are missing out on a lot of opportunity because of decisions to drive traffic to somewhere other than their app stores.For example, I drive all traffic for my chrome extension http://whoworks.at to my own landing page where I can tweak anything and measure the effects. I’m able to collect user email addresses before letting them download the extension, so that I can stay in contact with users. Additionally, I’m able to encourage sharing via social sites and email. The app stores don’t do that very well.I think one way to improve search and discovery is to provide an “over-the-shoulder” experience. Let users see what their friends are using and build app gifting and recommending directly into the stores.

        1. fredwilson

          that’s great advice John

        2. Christian 

          John is not what is doing new facebook?

        3. OurielOhayon

          John, good point. friend discovery is one of our main dimension in appsfire. getting your own web page to control the experience is a must. good point too.

        4. Luke Chamberlin

          I have a friend who tweets out screen captures of his iPhone home screen in his never-ending quest to curate the perfect app collection.It has influenced more of my app purchases than anything else.

          1. mydigitalself

            Interesting, what’s his Twitter handle?

          2. Luke Chamberlin

            @bpapa:twitter iOS dev in NYC

      2. andyswan

        Why don’t they?

        1. gorbachev

          They have no incentive to do so. They’re getting paid by the buttloads using the current system.

          1. andyswan

            So what you’re saying is… “they shouldn’t”.  Agree.

          2. gorbachev

            I think that depends entirely on whether you’re an Apple shareholder or an app developer.

          3. Borzoo

            Andy, seems to me Fred’s intention is a dialogue – based on evidence he’s seeing in his position as a VC. You have a point you’ve thought deeply and are passionate about, but so does the other side 🙂 Not sure if you’ve read this article or not, good read (especially the part on “reason vs. the reasonable”) http://nathanielbranden.com…

      3. raycote

        You would think finding better, more organic, ways to amplify user/App discovery interactions would be a top priority for all App-Stores as it amplifies the value equation for both the users and the developers.Assuming utility creates its own buzz,  that translates into a lot of value added for any App-Store walled or otherwise.

    2. Alan Mendelevich

      The problem in applying “reddit” model is that apps aren’t news stories. 1 year old app could still be the best in it’s category.

      1. John Britton

        The idea is more that recent input is more important than historical input to avoid the “rich get richer” effect.The top 10 apps in each category could be determined by the number and quality of ratings in the last two weeks as opposed to all time.

        1. Alan Mendelevich

          I believe this is how it is in reality right now. Doesn’t help much.

        2. Carl Rahn Griffith

          I’ve always been wary of empirical evidence…

        3. ShanaC

          Why is more recent imput more important than historical data – Wouldn’t that be category specific (probably the best medical app has been that way for a while if you are a doctor, the best game probably should be time weighted)

          1. daryn

            You’re right, two different things: trending/hot and all time popularity. You still need to normalize for age in all time stats, but they mean different things.

        4. Tom Labus

          Why can’t it go further and show how they performed and rated by users?

      2. mrcai

        Maybe you need two leader boards. Trending apps and Most downloaded apps.

        1. Alan Mendelevich

          I think as a general user you don’t really care what’s trending. Maybe in games. In productivity apps you want “the best app that does X”.

          1. mrcai

            Which the most downloaded list should give you.Ok, in reality, people are different and what works for the majority may not work for you. Perhaps you could subscribe to groups, ‘Creative geniuses with ADHD’, and then see the most popular or trending productivity apps amongst users of that group?

          2. Raul Moreno

            Exactly. I think both ideas are useful at Kinetik we have a trending section from friends and from community. We also implemented hashtags so we can know what is the #bestappforNY #architects. Also the follow model similar to twitter helps in curation. Would love if you could try Kinetik and let me know your thoughts.

    3. zoeadamovicz

      i think recency in case of apps is not as important as in news.it may be more important for games and entertainment, if you’re looking for cool new stuff. but if you’re looking for a tool such as savings manager or a to-do list, recency matters much less.also imagine you just got an iPad for your kids, and you wanna fill it up with kid-friendly, educational apps, and maybe your kid has special preferences like drawing or cars. here recency doesn’t help much either.maybe reddit algorithm would help developers to get noticed, but i’m not sure it would help users get apps they need or want.

  2. kirklove

    It’s healthy for those in the top ten, not so much for those stuck on the outside looking in. Overall though, I think the App Store does a pretty good job given the sheer number of Apps. Ultimately I don’t think you can blame Apple or expect them to bubble up content. That onus is on the developers.1. Build a great, unique app2. Spread the word3. RepeatInstagram comes to mind. There are many more. Cream rises.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Agreed that the App Store does a good job in general. Getting people to download your apps is always going to be a challenge (particularly with paid apps). I’m still figuring it out, but I jotted down some thoughts in a recent post, “Making an iPhone app that people will buy”.

    2. Bernardo Carvalho

      Today it is the app store. Eight years ago it was the operator deck. Same problem, just WAY more centralized.If you’re a believer in our bright HTML5 future, this will all be behind us as it will be on mobile as it is on desktop – you get your apps by typing an URL, searching on Google,  whatever. Never mind these hybrid models (i.e. Phonegap) where developers build HTML5 apps and wrap them on native containers so they can be published and therefore discoverable (yeah, right) in the app stores. This is just a distraction. In our bright HTML5 future, the app stores will go the way of the dinosaurs. Or maybe as the operator deck was replaced by the app store, the middlemen will find a way to wedge themselves into that value chain by providing some sort of, erm, value. Today that value is some level of quality assurance and billing (forget for a second about the fact that you can’t install an app on iOS outside of the app store without a degree in computer science). Tomorrow? I wish I knew.

      1. fredwilson


      2. andyidsinga

        Im a total Html5 and web app believer, but hybrid apps are a perfectly reasonable stepping stone.They’re also a fairly awesome dev. model when you want to build a mostly web app but have access to better device & os functions.Oh, and app stores aren’t going anywhere , imho, there will be more of them and they’ll be better for developers and consumers.

    3. raycote

      That is true for mass-culture utility Apps.Matching best long tail Apps up with an end users needs and constraints is a different story.

  3. jason wright

    What would give Apple an incentive to change this model? Clearly the existing model is of value to Apple. What new model would add more value to Apple? A protest, or a new position?  

  4. Sam Daams

    A certain travel exec once boasted to me how knowing how to use Mechanical Turk could be helpful in getting to the leaderboard… and as you say, once you are there, if your app is decent enough it should stick. Mark Cuban did a post on this ages ago, referring to it as the ‘new pagerank’ if I’m not mistaken. A very smart call, long before anyone else was thinking about it.

    1. fredwilson

      mark is smart. but pagerank is more democratic than popularity

      1. Wannapreneur

        Democracy is a popularity contest.

        1. raycote

          Ouch !Doesn’t that equivalency vary with the process literacy of the audience / citizenry ?I sure hope so !

  5. JimHirshfield

    I agree. Unfortunately, from Apple’s perspective, there’s no problem, nothing’s broken. Which makes it all the more frustrating.Popularity has always been a self -referential biased signal, whether we’re talking apps or beauty queens.

  6. Killick

    The recently upgraded Android market really made this worse – putting much more focus on the featured apps and just burying anyone not featured.  We immediately saw a large impact from this – discovery is clearly a LOT worse.  You have to think this is intentional – in order for Google or Apple to show off their platforms, they need people to run the best apps, and they want to curate that set.  I can understand that, but there has to be a better way to get new apps into that mix, much more frequently.And, at least on the Android side, the new design is a disaster.  It’s pretty and gives them a lot of control, but it just kills apps that are not featured.

  7. Neil Bowler

    The only way to get Apple to do this is to show that enough of their customers want it, not developers.That was how the Green My Apple campaign worked.Do consumers want a better discovery experience? I know I do, but do the masses?

    1. Joe Yevoli

      The problem is, the masses don’t know this is a problem.

      1. zoeadamovicz

        you nailed it.

    2. zoeadamovicz

      i know that iPhone/iPad/iPod users download 8-10 (!!) apps a month, and Android users 4 apps a month, on average. it’s almost hard to believe that with such demand there is no need for better discoverability. but indeed the need of better discoverability is mostly expressed by developers, less so by the users.wondering why.

  8. Dave W Baldwin

    A leaderboard set up is frustrating for the new app to gain notice.  At the same time, just because you break into the upper tier doesn’t mean you’ll stay there over the medium term.Market the thing.  Use the social networks available now.  Have some cash in the bank to scrape long term.

  9. Carl Rahn Griffith

    I never refer to the Leaderboard, nowadays – it led me to a number of purchases/downloads which rapidly proved to be worthless. Whilst I may have only wasted circa $30 and a couple of hours or so of my life regarding such experiences over the past year or so, I resent the dismissive attitude towards any form of purchasing – exchanging money for any product/service needs to be accorded more worth and intent – it’s become far too transient and made a mockery of money/values in a similar way to those who OWS are protesting about.This bitter experience is the corollary of nurturing a psychology of impulse purchases. Encourages too much transient dross.I get a much better feel for what apps are relevant/worth a try by scouring Twitter with some keywords – couldn’t Twitter take on this role somehow, Fred?

  10. Rohan

    To find great apps, tough it is. The iPhone app store search function, sucks it does..User experience suffers, it does.

  11. Dave Pinsen

    There does seem to be something wrong with Apple’s App Store leader boards. Scrolling through the one for top paid finance apps, I see a handful of apps that usually come up on AppShopper’s top-grossing list, but not Portfolio Armor, which is often on that same AppShopper list. AppShopper says it gets hourly updates from Apple, but maybe there’s a lag with Apple’s own leader board reporting.That said, overall, I think Apple has done a great job with its app store. It still amazes me that I can have customers in places as far-flung as Sweden and New Zealand buy an app and it’s seamless.

  12. LGBlueSky

    Most apps suck.  Build a great app and in the words of a dinosaur, it will be in fire. . Let community promote and spread the word.  Don’t kill the messenger – Apple.



  13. jason wright

    Perhaps the best way is for the app to have viral personality. Linked to phone address book data the app could spread outside of the app store listing. It would just need an initial seeding in the market at critical nodes. Identify the need, the market, the network, and release it. I could be entirely wrong as I don’t have an iphone and no experience of the AppStore.

  14. Jan Schultink

    Apple/Google should allow people to construct “personal stores” on top of the regular app store, like Amazon does.Or maybe simpler, you should be able to create “playlists” for apps, like Spotify, so you can share what apps your recommend and/or have installed on your device, with deep integration into the app store. “fredwilson just installed angry birds” click to buy.

    1. fredwilson

      great ideas

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes, but generating a list is not frictionless. You got to do it. When was the last time you did a list on Amazon. Only few people do lists.But along that vein, if you could flag or tag apps you downloaded and they automatically show-up in your “shared recommendations” and some other matching mechanism could bubble these up for your friends, then that’s great. BUT,- that only solves the serendipitous discovery process. It doesn’t solve the “better search” problem, i.e. when you need an App to do xyz, and a search for xyz returns dismal results.

      2. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        What we need is a delicious for apps. Which is kind of what Appsfire does.

      3. OurielOhayon

        yep, social is one dimension. we integrated it in Appsfire from day 1. but there are more dimensions to discovery (deals, local, taste graph, search, passive serendipity,…) all wrapped in a fast simple interface…

    2. William Mougayar

      And combine that with the idea Dave Pinsen and I were discussing to generate recommendations to your friends. 

      1. Jan Schultink

        yes, sounds similar. did not read through all the comments



      1. Jan Schultink


      2. fredwilson


        1. Robert Holtz

          I basically ALWAYS agree with @FakeGrimlock:disqus which always amazes and delights me.  But in a rare move, I’m going to have to disagree with my fine robot dinosaur friend.  Well I agree actually that Google and Apple are not good at social.  But I don’t agree that the best answer within the integrated experience of a walled garden built directly into the OS will ever come from outside.  That’s why these attempts to make taste maker app blogs and websites don’t take hold.  The real power is INSIDE the user experience IN the device and that’s the part that makes Fred want to OCCUPY.  But here’s my take on the easiest solution and I think they’d do it too.  All they need is one more tab called NEWLY HOT.  The criteria os not only that it is highly downloaded and well rated but also that it is brand new…. 30 days… 15 days… 10 days… not sure what the right aging is but the idea is you can only make it on that list if you’re a newcomer.  As apps age, they naturally fall off this list.  If people genuinely like them and download them, they will rank on the other lists.  They just need that first place for discovery and the rest of the leader board concept fixes itself.By the way, it IS possible to get an app on the FEATURED tab.  That generally costs some $$$ and its nice to be the keeper of the garden.  I fully agree with @StevenKane:disqus about his remarks to that effect.  But the NEW+HOT idea would work and it would be easy to implement.  In my opinion, any recommendations that are not directly integrated into the user experience may as well not exist at all.  The app store model has fundamentally changed the way people shop for software.  The one-tap unified billing instantaneous install ease of it all is just too sexy to ever want to go back to the old model.  Sure it is counter to how search and social have always worked but that’s exactly why this is such an important topic.  It is disruptive in both positive AND negative ways.

    4. ShanaC

      I love the playlist thing.

    5. vanelsas

      This is what Zwapp was build for (shameless self promotion, as I am the founder)

      1. Jan Schultink

        Thank you, will check it out

    6. Yann LECHELLE

      Jan,Actually, Appsfire does just that. Check it out: http://getap.ps/appsfireWe have appmixes, VIPs, buddies and their apps, etc…Of course, we point back to the appstore for purchase, but at least, you don’t have to use the appstore for discovery.Yann.

      1. Jan Schultink

        Will check

      2. Dennis Chu

        Appsfire is not good enough, well at least to me.

        1. Yann LECHELLE

          Dennis, do tell what you’re missing!We have managed to please a couple of millions of active users, and certainly will strive to exceed expectations for them. But also listen to those not convinced yet. That’s one thing we’re good at. But if you don’t tell us, hard to go your way! 

    7. raycote

      How about rating Apps on their average post-download duration and frequency of usage ?

    8. Raul Moreno

      I agree Jan. “Playlists” or “AppLists” is the way to go and Spotify is a great example of how this works. Our aim is to do something similar at Kinetik.com and would love to know your thoughts. 

      1. Jan Schultink

        Will check

    9. Dennis Chu

      We don’t even need stores that are “personal”, what about a network that people can swap apps?

  15. RichardF

    Maybe you should you be using avc somehow as a platform to promote portfolio company apps.  Or an avc community curated app list.  You might be able to influence the leader board, well maybe not in the fart app category.I don’t see rising up working, Apple control their ecosystem and are never going to give that up. I’d be pretty sure that’s something that John Doerr recognised.Android offers far more opportunity to disrupt the leader board model.

  16. Alan Mendelevich

    I’m doing my part to mitigate the situation in the Windows Phone Marketplace with AdDuplex ad exchange. Obviously it’s not a solution to the global problem, but a real aid to a small guy.

    1. Tom Labus

      What’s the market reaction?

      1. Alan Mendelevich

        The reaction is great. By the number of apps that use it it’s already a 3rd ad network on Windows Phone. Second only to Microsoft and Google. People see the problem and see that we address the problem. Maybe not in a radical way, but at least you can do something about it without having a million dollar advertising budget.

        1. ShanaC

          well congrats!

  17. markslater

    we are entering a bold new era of collaborative consumption (think Uber, airbnb, zaarly)….centralized toll booths and aggregation models are going to be decimated.Its a new world built around the intention economy and its Open, realtime, and the attached image is the evidence. We hope to catch this wave and build on it.

    1. awaldstein

      In my gut, I agree Mark.Talk some more about how discovery works in this ‘intention economy’. Fine to use your app as an example as I don’t think this concept is flushed out or well understood as yet.

      1. markslater

        in the APP use case, discovery is achieved through myriad of methods. Social, location, search and so on – this part of the economy has been or is being innovated. companies like 4square have built great discovery tools – but they veer off the road by layering on a CRM model….the groupon now numbers spell similar doom for radar if you believe the folks at yipit. (i am still on the fence on this – but getting merchants to take non-native action – self service deals…. is not going to happen)once we discover things on the app (using social, location, search etc) we can then engage in a peer to peer fashion. the merchant engages natively (app, text, web, email) and a conversation ensues. (any kind of conversation) – this then becomes collaborative consumption. the B2C industry has hit $800 billion saturation point. the C2B wave coming will pass control back to the user. verticals are already making headway here – (uber, zaarly, airbnb, relayrider) – we aim to be the communication API that more verticals can build on top of.for the use case of one – i open my app, i either search or tap a favorite (list of favorite merchants) – i ask ricky downstairs at the sandwich shop for a ham and egg on an english) – he responds “6 mins, salt and pepper?” – i then tap my dry cleaner to pick up my shirts, and ping 3 restauruants about dinner plans. this is all in my app. its all in chat format (think groupme).for ricky – its his POTS on super roids – he went from a phone attached to his ear, with people on hold, and writing stuff down, to an APP where he can manage 10X the inbound should he wish to (he controls his status obviously).this is the beginning of the intention economy. Where B2C is saturated, where innovation allows for realtime collaborative consumption, and where the user begins to really take control of their commercial universe. PM me if you want the screenshots – hope this answers your question…

        1. awaldstein

          We need to sit down in front of a whiteboard sometime Mark.

          1. markslater

            anytime! drop me a line at mark at getabl dot com – i’ll send you over some stuff – and if you travels bring you to boston – come by the office! our walls are whiteboards!I’d love for you to pilot the service – but we are only in boston right now

          2. OurielOhayon

            mark, very impressed with your analysis. spot on. this is our road map at appsfire 🙂 Discovery is a multi level process. not only based on rankings

          3. markslater

            @ourielohayon:disqus thanks. Send my regards to Fabrice. – its been a few years.

      2. markslater

        i am just super excited about that API graph!”baking your core competency into an open API is an economic imperative”

    2. ShanaC

      Even though we are entering a new era of collaborative consumption, how are we supposed to deal with the onslaught of data?Amazon didn’t kill Barney’s NY yet, is all I am saying.

      1. markslater

        onslaught of data?elaborate please.And Barneys still stands, one of few left in a “detroitesque” retail landscape crushed by the internet. 

        1. ShanaC

          Yes, ’cause tailors on site is a great thing with women’s pants. :)lets pretend I have a huge store of apps to choose from.  I want one about making grocery lists.How do I find the best option when there are going to be multiple different type of list (and grocery list) apps, let alone notepad apps.  Further, they all have pluses and minuses…We’re given too many options.  the goal of marketing is try and breakthrough the abundance.

      2. andyidsinga

        nosql ? 😉

        1. ShanaC


  18. Brad

    Is it apples responsibility or is it the developers to advertise and spread the word?

    1. fredwilson


      1. Brad

        Agreed. I just learned of an awesome app right before I was going to sign up for satellite radio. Tunein. It is awesome, but I could not believe I had not heard of it before.Why can’t some of these apps go out there and advertise on google, etc.? Apple provides the platform, but the developer should drive the traffic.Apple could make it better, but I think the onus to be successful is still on the developer to get the word out.

  19. leigh

    Sounds like someone might need some old fashioned marketing as a bridge strategy 🙂

  20. William Mougayar

    True. It’s very frustrating from a user perspective to find these gems. Most great apps I’ve downloaded have been from a word of mouth referral,- via the proverbial “have you heard of this great app?”. Here are some ideas. a) a real-time ranking system that takes into account the velocity of change, not just the absolute numbers. Imagine a music chart system that looks at all-time sales. Elvis and Celine Dion would remain at the top forever. b) a real search engine for apps. I mean a real one where you can use parameters and narrow down choicesc) a social network type of referral where it tells me what apps my friends are using. That might help in the serendipitous partd) some magical app that knows about me, and recommends apps I should be looking at or considering based on some analysis about me from implicit or explicit signalsSo, we need a better App to help us find a lot of other Apps.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Re d), Apple has a something a little along those lines — its “Genius” feature that gives you recommendations for apps based on ones you already own. Not a big help in my case, since I just got this phone and barely have any apps.What might be interesting would be a site that prompts the people you follow on Twitter to list their 10 favorite apps, and then aggregates that info for you.  

      1. William Mougayar

        Hi Dave. d) Agreed it hasn’t been very useful to me. It was making very dumb and obvious recommendations.Yes, we need that 2nd kind of app. I’m willing to bet there is something like that somewhere. I vaguely remember something related to it. Maybe it will surface on this thread.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Here’s hoping someone mentions that 2nd kind of app here. I tweeted a request for app suggestions the other day, but like most of my tweets it sank like a stone in a pond. But if there were one place where I could see the favorite apps of folks such as you, Arnold, and others in this community that I follow, that would be of interest. 

          1. William Mougayar

            Totally Agreed.

          2. Donna Brewington White

            Surprised that you didn’t get invaded by bots.Maybe app developers don’t bot.

          3. Donna Brewington White

            BTW, I think you are onto something.  Curated app search emerging from this community makes perfect sense.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            Two tweaks:1) I wouldn’t limit it to this community. Instead, aggregate it by your community (populated via the social networks you select — Twitter, Disqus, Facebook, etc.).2) Add a wish list feature: if the app you want doesn’t exist, you describe it and say how much you’d be willing to pay for it. Users across all communities get to weigh in too. Then an app developer can bid on building it for everyone, funded ahead of time by pre-sales, RocketHub- or Kickstarter-style.

          5. Donna Brewington White

            Impressive, Dave.In the comment above, I wasn’t thinking of “community” in terms of audience but rather in terms of the “place” from which the developer of this app would emerge.Wish I was an app developer — this thread is rich with ideas. Hopefully, someone is listening in and taking notes.

    2. Matthäus Krzykowski

      re b) a real search engine for apps. I mean a real one where you can use parameters and narrow down choicesThis is a hard one to crack. Google cracked it – for the web – with its PageRank. This, in a simple view, takes advantage of web sites linking to each other. Apps, in contrast, do not link to each other. An AppRank does not exist.In most cases app search is simple text search. Hence, many developers try to game text search, with some effects. Here’s a recent entry on Quora with a “how to”: http://www.quora.com/Androi…. Mind you, from my observation this is already working much less than it did for the author of the post. Any viable search solution will have to create a rank – an AppRank – that takes advantage of the unique parameters of apps and the unique user behavior in app search. Shameless self-promotional reference: over at http://www.xyologic.com we will disclose some of our learnings on the space in comings weeks.

  21. William Mougayar

    Another thought about this is that there is a fundamental flaw in the model. The App stores were originally designed for Distribution, not Marketing. Then they were stretched via the Leaderboard trick. Marketing and Distribution of an App are 2 different things. An efficient, frictionless Distribution scheme like the App store can help Marketing your app, but it’s not a substitute for it. I think we can improve the search and discovery schemes, but the marketing part will still be needed. 

    1. awaldstein

      Whenever marketing and distribution are separate (which they usually are), the same discussion arises.The goal is to find ways to made discovery part of the distribution process.

      1. William Mougayar

        That reminds of a Costco experience. They are experts at exposing products in a retail environment.But is better Search the only answer?

        1. awaldstein

          So is Amazon. So are a number of fashion retail sites.Search nor social alone is the answer. Somewhere where they intersect.

          1. William Mougayar

            How about BOTH. Each attack a different problem. Social is good for serendipitous and what your friends are doing. A better search is for I need “one of these with 3 of those and 2 of that, and a cherry on top”.

          2. awaldstein

            How about we start to think about marketing early on and incorporate how you find your market into what your product does?

          3. William Mougayar

            Check Blu Trumpet. I’d be interested in your take on it.

          4. Donna Brewington White

            Or how about introducing the app to those communities where the problem you are solving exists?  That’s a part of “social” as well.

          5. William Mougayar

            Yes, Social is definitely part of it. Whoever can nail social + app discovery within a good precision level might be a winner.

          6. Donna Brewington White

            Social is the new “grassroots” level for purposes of marketing.

      2. LE

        Here is what I want you to do.I want you to figure out a way that when I walk into the local wine store I can decide what wine to buy. Whether it be for a gift or the byo that evening.I don’t want to go to a web page and I don’t want to listen to Vaynerchuk and I don’t want to take a wine appreciation class.I want to see something that says “Waldsteins choice” guiding me to a particular wine for a particular purpose. I don’t want to have to think about it either or ask the clerk. And I want it right at the point of sale. I know what a red and a white is but I’ve actually seen people in wine stores looking that don’t even know as little as I know that I have helped (how sad).

        1. awaldstein

          Working on it.Thanks!

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Add me to the list.  I SO want this.

        2. ChuckEats

          exactly – this is the right approach

          1. LE

            Eats? The other thing I’d like to see is “dim sum meets non chinese restaurant”.A rolling cafeteria of high quality ala carte food.They would roll around carts with small portions of tasty food and you can pull off what you want to try. For anyone not familiar with Dim Sum I’ve attached a photo.

      3. Donna Brewington White

        Is marketing apps a different animal than marketing other products?Is part of the problem for the typical app developer limited resources for marketing and/or lack of marketing prowess ?  

        1. awaldstein

          Big questions Donna.Sure there are unique and big issues with the App store. This whole string of comments is about the divorce between distribution and marketing with Apple’s Store. Companies need to own the relationship with their customers. Not the channel. Not the store. Not the platform. Regardless of where the transaction happens.That’s what marketers and great product people figure out how to do. I never buy the resource excuse. We never have enough. The answer is being smart and creative and understanding that connection. That thing, that handshake that makes your product or your community the entity that just works, must be shared and that will break through the noise.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Great point about marketing and distribution.Apple obviously can’t be used as a marketing model for the typical app developer given its iconic status. It’s apples and oranges — no pun intended.  I wonder if there are any replicable examples of successful app marketing?

  22. EmilSt

    At least they need to have smarter semantic search.Really strange approach from them.

    1. William Mougayar

      Semantic is part of it, but not enough. (Trust me, we use semantic technologies inside my company)

  23. William Mougayar

    There is a company that is attacking one angle of this, Blu Trumpet. http://www.blutrumpet.com/It’s a monetization and distribution platform for mobile apps. I’ve invited the CEO Nina Sodhi (a friend) to chime in. 



    1. fredwilson

      YesBut at least you can get some shelf space in a store if you work at it



        1. Jonathan Berkowitz

          This is exactly the advice we give to our companies.  We simply ignore the leader boards and suggest our companies do the same.  Just like “old school web” (where leader boards didn’t govern consumer sentiment), every product needs a marketing plan that takes it through it’s stages of consumer penetration.

        2. LE

           “IN STORE, GIVE BRIBE FOR SHELF SPACE.”What are slotting fees?(I want to compete with FG on business jeopardy..)

        3. PhilipSugar

          Maybe good idea for app store.  Worked for Google in search.

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Who is to say that the virtual ‘High Street’ (aka, ‘Mall’) that killed the physical ‘High Street’ won’t itself soon also become a victim…

      1. RichardF

        until the net can replicate the smell of leather (shoes, handbags) that is never going to happen Carl 😉

    3. ShanaC

      interestingly, this is why the first ad agencies were created.  So maybe we need a new breed of advertising…

  25. andyswan

    Actually, this does sound a lot like #OWS:1.  Small minority have great idea, risk a lot and execute on it.2.  Large number of people benefit greatly, including those who created the wealth.3.  Vast historical success of system leads newcomers to believe they are entitled to future success as well.4.  Newcomers all spend disproportionate amounts of energy and money following old path to success.5.  Frustrated with being a drop in overflowing supply bucket……and instead of creating value on their own, newcomers DEMAND radical change of extremely successful system and distribution of created wealth.6.  (coming soon)… while everyone else is out bitching up the wrong tree….7.  Go to #1.

    1. CliffElam

      Awesome. Wish I could “like” that twice.

    2. William Mougayar

      But the App eco system is a lot more open that Wall Street. It can easily be “disrupted” with creative solutions. 

    3. Luke Chamberlin

      Close but you forgot the step where the government bails out Apple with taxpayer money.The Newton was declared “too big to fail”.

      1. andyswan

        And Apple pays it back, and then we protest Apple and demand more power for the government. GOT IT.

        1. Luke Chamberlin

          Bailouts for everyone (just promise to pay us back)!

          1. andyswan

            Preachin to the anti-bailout choir here. That’s why we’ve been protesting government and affecting serious political change for the past 3 years.

          2. Luke Chamberlin

            I assumed you were. That’s why I was confused with your Apple comment.I feel like payback is irrelevant. They got lucky. It’s still a bad decision in general.

          3. PhilipSugar

            I would not call it payback.  Payback only happened because the Fed essentially stole money from savers and gave it to the banks. (by keeping interest rates artificially low) 

    4. PhilipSugar

      I agree but think the problem is instead of proposing solutions the message is: I’m not winning its not fair.Frankly I think this is the result of “everybody is winner”, everybody gets a trophy. Now when you find out you are a loser instead of doing something productive you whine about it, because you’ve never been taught anything different.My daughters Principal told me she was surprised my kindergartener told her teacher that there was one winner, then the first loser. I told here its much better to learn about losing now when there are no real consequences then when there are.  I think the first generation of everybody is a winner is learning a Mike Tyson truism: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”I know I sound like an old man, but there really were some lessons learned when I played youth soccer and winners went to Swanson’s Ice Cream for an hour and losers ran laps for an hour.  I know today our coach would probably get locked up for betting on peewee soccer, but we always had the winningest team and I remember his name.If OWS said look Wall Street is not serving shareholders well and there should be a way that they get a vote on executive compensation and there is some cost to flash trading I could understand.  Instead I hear waaah.

      1. LE

         I agree with you. Human psychology is not subject to disruption. Human behavior is essentially the same as it has always been.Throw the loss of a good spanking into the mix. It worked for 1000’s of years. All the sudden the psychologists have determined it isn’t a good idea.

      2. andyswan

        I like sounding like an old man.  I tell my wife all the time….I’m ready for suspenders and velcro shoes.  I guess it’s the influence of THE old man in my life.  If we asked “I’m getting hungry, are you?” he would say “I haven’t been hungry since nineteen-hundred and thirty-two.”God I’d love to hear Grandpa Rock’s take on OWS.  

        1. karen_e

          My Dad (born ’33) still slathers his butter on his bread about a quarter inch thick, making up for when rations were in place during WWII. Watching him reminds me of deprivation every time.

          1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

            rations are still ON in many parts of the world.

          2. Tom Labus

            People hurting here too.  Many to scared to say anything.

          3. Cemil Turun

            50M people in United States are on food stamps.

          4. Anne Libby

            My mom, too.   A family story often told as I grew up:  as a child, my mom loved butter so much that people would bring it as a gift when they came to visit.

      3. ShanaC

        unless you are a game (or maybe microsoft office), this isn’t really about winners and losers.  The ranking system makes it so.It is like best cereal in a supermarket.  I happen to like kashi go lean crunch, that doesn’t make cheerios bad.

    5. raycote would dispute that anything in the world of political economy is that linear.You leave out all the organic fractal complications that are afoot in the real world.Still very humorous !

      1. Tom Labus

        and all financial history

    6. andyidsinga

      ah, dude, gotos are sooo passe 😉 😉 😉

    7. Dave Pinsen

      The ironic thing about #OWS is that, while the bulk of the protesters may be at 5), there is some capitalist talent on the periphery. For example,the chef in that story you tweeted, the one who is taking donated food from local farms and producing a thousand gourmet dinners per night with it, with the help of a dozen amateur volunteers.In the interview clip, the chef seemed to think of the protesters as front line heroes, and himself as a REMF supporting them. But to me, the chef is the hero. The questions that have been bubbling in my mind are: 1) When are guys like the chef going to realize that?2) And what happens when they do?Mario Batali started his first restaurant in NYC with $22k in 1993. Maybe it costs 50% more today, I have no idea. But if OWS has already raised $300k+, then raising $30k+ seems well within the range of the possible.How long until the doers keeping the protesters fed, clothed, etc., decide that they can apply those same skills to building their own businesses (businesses they can run in accordance with their own values, whatever they may be)?

      1. andyswan

        Excellent point!!!

        1. Dave Pinsen

          In answer to my question about “how soon”, “Occupy Wall Street kitchen staff protesting fixing food for freeloaders”.

  26. Steven Kane

    Everyone in silicon valley hates a walled garden… until they own one.;)

    1. ShanaC

      Truer than most people realize, though then you also spend a lot of time defending your garden.  I wonder if it is better to grow the digital equivalent of wildflowers instead.

      1. Sean Saulsbury

        It might be.  But then you have to start worrying about weeds a lot more :).

        1. ShanaC

          nah weeds are supposed to be there.  4even though we hate computer viruses, they teach us about security.

    2. kidmercury


    3. fredwilson


    4. JamesHRH

      I’m skipping the hating…..

  27. falicon

    There are a bunch of problems to solve here…the biggest initial hurdle is integration with the device…the app stores are the most popular option because they are pre-installed with each OS and so they offer the path of least resistance to users getting apps.All the other options like appsfire require the user to first know about it, then do some setup, and eventually get (maybe) a slightly better way to discover new apps…that’s a tough sell.I actually built a prototype at the first NYC Techcrunch hackathon (the one Groupme won) called appsIgot.com (no longer live) which would show you what apps your friends had installed on their iPhones…but it required you to create an account and install an Adobe Air app…and then your friends also had to do the same…and only then would you be able to see/compare apps…it was interesting (and a fun 24 hour hack) but there was way too much friction in it for it to really *work* (btw – I believe this is the same basic thing appsfire now does).Oh and since we’re on a mobile topic, I’ll take the opp. to dump yet another *shameless plug* and mention my latest little hack -> http://www.santahelp.me (a mobile app to ‘report your kids to Santa’ — available for Android already, iPhone is awaiting apple approval). 🙂

    1. RichardF

      Timely Kevin, I’ve downloaded it and it’s ready for use this evening with number 1 son, who is behaving like a little monster at the moment. 

      1. falicon

        Ha! Thanks…I have two sons myself…and getting them to behave was the inspiration and motivation behind the project 😉  (btw, I will probably do a sim. ‘report to teacher’ app as that’s the one we use when it’s not Christmas time):-D

    2. kidmercury

      ever since kevin made the downcase chrome extension that downcases disqus comments, i’ve been a strong supporter of his work. if you got kids and celebrate christmas, be sure to check out the santahelp.me app!

      1. falicon

        Thanks! I love building quick little hacks that people, hopefully, find a little useful. 😉

  28. William Gadea

    I go to the Apple app store, and I see the leaderboards you speak of (TOP CHARTS,) but I also see sections like New and Noteworthy and What’s Hot, which I imagine must weigh in other data like newness or a recent increase in sales. There’s a seasonal category (Ghouls and Ghosts) and a category that I imagine must be wholly editorial (Staff Favorites). I’m sure there’s other things Apple could do… I’ve seen some suggestions in this thread already, but Apple is already providing multiple channels.It will never be easy to crack a crowded market like this. I don’t think app makers should expect Apple to do their marketing work for them.

  29. AVCoholic

    Apple and Google look at it as an issue for the developer and not the consumer. They see it as the app devs with the issue and the consumers are fairly content. To them, that doesn’t warrant enough of a reason to change things up. It’s going to take enough consumers complaining to get them to switch. Their focus is on building for consumers, the developers they simply accomodate for so that only goes so far.

    1. fredwilson


    2. JamesHRH

      turns out that consumers are the core customer……so that’s about right.

      1. AVCoholic

        But the consumers are in essence losing out. They just don’t all realize it yet. But eventually more consumers will start getting frustrated with how hard it is to see through the noise and then we’ll start seeing change. Since this isn’t going to make Apple/Google lose any of their core customers, they don’t see it as a need for change yet.

        1. andyidsinga

          I kind of see what you’re saying …but i find more and better and cheaper software today then i did 10 and 20 years ago.So it seems consumers are winning… no?

    3. Donna Brewington White

      Love the irony of your name “AVCoholic” and the “welcome back stranger” badge.  Ha!Great name, btw.

  30. Luke Chamberlin

    How many people go to the front page of WordPress.com to find new blogs to read?Apps have to be viral and not rely on the leaderboards.

    1. ShanaC

      Same with Technorati.It isn’t as much viral as knowing your audience and getting them to do your marketing for you, as well as doing some old fashioned marketing by itself.

      1. Jan Schultink

        I like the comparison with Technorati. It worked when there were still 3 blogs out there

      2. Luke Chamberlin

        Getting your customers to do marketing for you is the heart of viral. Not a “tweet this” button as some people think.

        1. Aaron Klein

          This is so hard to do in practice, and so incredibly valuable when you get it right.

          1. awaldstein

            This is the definition of what used to be called ‘market pull’ rather than ‘company push’. Viral and social interaction are just what happens to make this a reality.Yes, super hard to get this and community working. But really, can you build a company to success where your customers don’t love you enough to refer you on?Sure, there are degrees of this but I just don’t think so. That’s why my mantra is constantly to think about your market when you think about designing your product.

          2. Aaron Klein

            I think you’re right, but there’s a great distinction here.Bare minimum…build a company and product that people love so much that they refer you to others. Holy grail…the product gets more useful the more friends you bring onboard, and the user flow makes it a natural action to take.

          3. Luke Chamberlin

            Instagram is a great example of this.

          4. awaldstein

            To your comment below Aaron.You are right of course but I shy away from simplifying this too much.Certainly there are examples where Commerce is an offshoot of Community. The ideal in abstract usually.And there are infinite variations of this as Commerce and Community intersect and interrelate in various ways.But I believe that each instance is different.Media sites. Sites where we shop for definitive objects (books, fashion, discrete facts). Sites where we aggregate to find direction for ideas that are not cut and dry in the answer (avc.com). All have or could have different commerce iterations.Different aspects of social design is how I think about it.We should grab some time and talk next time you are in NYC.

          5. Aaron Klein

            Right on the money, Arnold. Totally agree.Can’t wait to meet you in person when Cheers becomes reality for the evening of 11/9. 🙂

          6. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          7. Aaron Klein

            Yes, not hard as a matter of tactics.But really hard to find the moment where it’s right to insert it into the user flow. It’s got to be after you’ve wowed the user, but also after they see that getting their own friends in the mix would make the experience better for them. I think that’s the “know how” of which you speak, and it’s different for each product.

    2. MarkUry

      Completely agree. App stores are where you get the app. Everywhere else is where you learn you want the app.

    3. William Mougayar

      That would be ideal. Still, we need a better Search mechanism, and something social to hook up to.

      1. Luke Chamberlin

        I agree. I hear people talk about “Google for apps” but I think it’s the wrong model.Apps are immersive in nature. You can’t quickly scan through summaries. App discovery is more akin to something like movies or music.The other problem is that app recommendation sites are often corrupted by the number of developers willing to pay money to be promoted or reviewed.

        1. William Mougayar

          Yes, and some Apps are like fashion. Some of them come and go or become less useful. Great ones stick, but not all.

        2. OurielOhayon

          Luke i totally agree and Fred i think Luke has a point. Even if everything was HTML5 Google as built today would not be helpful in discovery apps because they are not based on links but on what they do. In addition because there would be no barrier to entry there would be a lot more apps and it would be a lot more difficult to sort apps by quality (vs popularity).Google is not designed for app discovery but for information searchLuke agree with the fact that too many would be app discovery services include natively paid apps in their system which totally corrupt the nature of their service

    4. Aaron Klein

      Yes, but our tools aren’t very good at helping us with this.With Twitter, I have a single choice. Do I want to broadcast a new app I’m trying out to all my followers, or not?As a contributor, I’d love to have the ability to create “activity tweets” that don’t get broadcasted to my followers, but allow me to share cool apps I find, great music I’m listening to, and places I go.As a consumer, I’d enjoy having this third layer of information. I already have two: email (I’ve aggressively unsubscribed to make email “must see” for me) and Twitter (which I curate to make it stuff I really want to see).The third layer would be “dip into it when you don’t know what song to play next, what restaurant to try, or what app is great at doing X.”Twitter could be in the catbird seat on this if they wanted to be.

      1. Aaron Klein

        I should add…the real question is, should this be a central place like Twitter where I can see what my friends are doing and using across the categories of music, location, apps, etc?Or do you build this “look over the shoulder” into each vertical individually?It’s definitely the latter, but it might also be both.

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. Aaron Klein

            True, as long as a tweet that says “#Listening to ColdPlay” doesn’t make my wife’s phone chirp or show up in my followers’ timelines unless they want them. I tweet 4-5 times a day and some friends rib me for tweeting too much as it is. 🙂

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          3. andyidsinga

            naaa – shortened url + hashtag is still plenty of chars

          4. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    5. fredwilson

      unfortunately apps are not the webif everything were html5 in a browser on mobile, then this would be a non issue

      1. Luke Chamberlin

        Hmmm. I guess I see things differently. In the end you have to download the app from the app store, but apps are all over the web. Recommendations from friends, reviews, complimentary web apps (twitter, tumblr).I wonder what % of purchasers use the app store for discovery vs. just a place to download an app they’ve already heard of? I assumed it was a small % but maybe I’m wrong.iTunes still sells millions of songs but most people don’t find those songs in iTunes.

      2. JamesHRH

        How far away is that? not very……

      3. francoislaberge

        Perhaps a standardized send to Phone to download would help. Would be cool if with MobileMe logged in on a website you could click a standardized App Store ‘Install/Buy’ icon and it would send it to a queue on all your devices so that you could then continue walking through buying them from there.Otherwise the ergonomics of purchasing things right now after reading a review isn’t nearly as smooth as it could be. Having to search again really leads to lost  leads, same goes for buying it through itunes and then having to sync.Basically ‘cloud'(Let’s just be sane and call it web) based installs would do wonders to create a rich discovery eco system.The question is though: “Doesn’t the current situation give Apple much control as a King Maker? Would encouraging external basically store fronts make them lose control? Doesn’t seem like their style.

      4. andyidsinga

        Apps in the appstore can be directly linked to via web – which means twitter and pretty much any social media can help users get to apps.If we removed the leader board today how would people find apps? …cant do user ratings.. those get gamed in no time….sifting through categories is time consuming and gets boring real quick.Social media (aka the new “word of mouth”) seem most effective form an end user perspective to find great apps.I think the answer lies somewhere in social media or something like a stackoverflow for app curation.

      5. Ashwin, Founder - ContractIQ

        In other words, the days of  “developing” & “downloading” apps based on proprietary technologies have to end and will end.We dont download apps for our PCs. Why should we do that with Mobile? I guess the answer for this would be a HTML5 based app consumption model wherein a cloud based aggregator hosts the apps which are accessed by a browser.Unfortunately iCloud can steal that conversation too 🙁

  31. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    It’s pretty interesting that I see this right after getting off the phone with a company that (to my surprise, because I agree with you about the store model) loves the app store model. It helps that they’re one of the top grossing apps, and so they get exposure that way. It’s good to see all the data points.

    1. fredwilson

      and lloyd blankfein loves the wall street system too

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        Zing! Fair point.

  32. Jim Rudnick

    Just this past weekend, up here in Hamilton Ontario, CA, we had our first ever StartUpWeekendHamilton – and it was won by a small team of entrepreneurs who pitched a way to use social media to aggregate what the best apps are….to show you who liked what and why….so that a buyer can make an informed decision….I cant’ explain it all in this small space but it sure sounds like this is somewhat near what you’re talking about here, Fred! I did blog about it here tho – http://www.canuckseo.com/in…And they launch Dec 13th!

  33. OurielOhayon

    FredGreat post. Thanks for mentioning appsfire!Apple indeed hit strong on incentivized downloads because they were artificially gaming the rankings (And as you suggest, we were creating lot of fake users and low usage anyway)It is correct that most smartphone users still use the native app store as a way of discovery. but this is changing fast. This has happened already for music years ago. Although itunes is a great download music service it is poor for music discovery (i am sure you know that) and it saw along the lines the growth of music discovery services like Last.fm, pandora, soundcloud,…Same with movies (IMDB, flixster, …)The same is starting to happen with apps. Not because of the leaderboards. But because of something deeper. Because the lack of personalization impersonated by one-way editorial blogs like rankings. The same app store for every one. which frustrates users and push them out of the app store to find new apps: talking to friends, reading app blogs, using services like oursThe discovery process for apps is starting to take place outside the app store and in a significant manner. And there are many elegant technics, most developer are not aware of to be popular in the app store. Assuming you have a good app. Tip: start worrying about discovery way before your app is live (a post in itself). Apps are like music, tease. It is a very hard game: but this is not just apple s fault. it is also by lack of dedication from app developers on working on their discovery process.Fred, for reference we have a 3.5 million user base. We re right now #19 most popular app in the US and have been in the top rankings of over 25 countries without marketing and without apple featuring us. i will be in NYC in a few days if you wish to discuss more

    1. fredwilson

      i’d love to meet and chat about what are you doing

    2. Raul Moreno

      Sorry Ouriel but Appsfire does pay for marketing — I have seen your ads in bunch of places including http://theymakeapps.com/…. just to clarify.

      1. OurielOhayon

        Raul, we did not buy any banner on this site. Sometimes we do barter and run limited ad experiments to understand how the mobile space works. This is a complex game that can be only understood when you actually participate fully in it.also would be great you disclose to readers of this blog, you run a competitor of our service – Just to clarify.

  34. Tereza

    Sizzle sizzle….84 comments by 10:22?!That’s what happens when you mash up two-super current memes that many many people love AND hate.Well-played! Like throwing a packet of Pop Rocks into a warm 2-liter bottle of Coke and shaking it. How cool is that?!

    1. fredwilson

      cool and messyi loved your american gothic tumbl terezastill chuckling over that one

      1. Tereza

        Needless to say they’d forgotten about me 5 minutes after I drove off!

  35. ShanaC

    So, question:isn’t this long term irrelevant as web apps and mobile search take over?  You’ll be able to do an adwords type model and use seo to make your app work for phones.Maybe we should start using search as a discovery tool already, instead of relying on the app store(s)

    1. fredwilson

      sure hope so

    2. Todd Werelius

      I am surprised that Google has not already done AdWords for the market, yet another revenue stream to tap so you would think they would be all over that.  Maybe they figure no one has the budget to make it worth their while when the average developer makes less and $100 on there offering per year?  I think you are right though in general, depending on Google and Apple to do the hard work of channeling interest towards your application is the wrong approach, even in an optimized non-leader board system it amounts to playing the lottery in my opinion.   

    3. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      Absolutely … puter and phones are same in future.



      1. ShanaC

        you’d figure that can change though.  web is a bit more freeform.  app stores aren’t

  36. Semil Shah

    One of the most confusing and painful aspects of developing applications for Apple’s iOS platform is that, once the application is submitted and under-review, the real hard part begins. I’ve been tweeting about this for a few days. I also realize that many developers aren’t thrilled about the app submission and review process, but as a user, I have put my trust into Apple’s rules and have plenty of apps that do cool things, so I don’t really have sympathy in these instances. Once the app is OK’d by Apple and released in the App Store, however, this is where things get sticky. Currently, there are only a handful of app categories which are pretty broadly defined. Because iPhone users on the hunt for apps typically only search the top 25 or so of a category, apps that are not ranked as high start to collect dust on the shelf as they move to the back of the store. Some apps are not even categorized, therefore only reachable by entering a keyword search for that app. Unless you’re a big brand and/or bringing a large web audience to your iOS app, it’s difficult for apps to get discovered.For instance, here’s sample list of apps that started on iOS first without much of a real web presence: Foursquare, Square, Shazam, Instagram, Bump, Instagram, and Angry Birds. (If you can think of others, let me know and I’ll update this list.) So, if you’re not in one of these two categories, folks resort to other means, some of which are frowned upon by Apple: Developers and companies leverage connections within Apple and lobby for the editorial team of the iOS store to get apps featured or listed as “hot” apps, etc. This puts smaller developers and those not located close to Silicon Valley at a disadvantage, to a degree. Certain apps that are extremely well-designed and/or that leverage iOS capabilities in novel ways also stand out from the crowd.App makers will do little things to “game” the ranking system, which is measured by the number and speed of downloads within categories. This entails soliciting positive reviews (and voting up those reviews) and paying companies (some shady) for paid installs, which largely produces non-ideal users and is frowned upon in Cupertino. Some apps will also create Twitter bots, for instance, to increase (the appearance) of distribution.If developers are lucky, they can engage in various types of content marketing and/or hire public relations folks to help with getting general and targeted press for their app, but this is generally expensive and/or time-consuming and often doesn’t lead to great or sticky users.Some of iOS app distribution may change this week with the release of Facebook’s revamped iOS apps (which let users see their Facebook apps and redirect to the device App store) and Apple’s iOS5 integration with Twitter (which I don’t have yet, but I’m sure will offer some new angle into app discovery, perhaps socially-driven).Apple knows this is an issue, too. A friend of mine there has commented they are well aware of the problem and that it is ripe for a trusted third-party to come in and editorially review and curate the entire app store, creating more categories, deemphasizing elements that are gamed, and other controls in place.

    1. Tony Wright

      What you’re describing sounds like marketing/PR.Web services buy links, deploy big ad spends, use backchannel connections to get featured in interesting places, use relationships to get press coverage, beg for blog posts, sockpuppet reviews on directory sites, etc., etc., etc.There’s obviously a spectrum with ethical on one side and seriously-shady on the other…  But in any heavily saturated market you have to deploy hustle, cash, and connections to win (hopefully on a solid foundation of “our product is worth talking about”).Gateways like the App Store and Google search obviously have a vested interest to make sure their users find good stuff, but don’t really have that much of an interest in making sure their users find NEW good stuff– which makes it harder for the new kids.  Isn’t that how it has always been?

      1. Douglas Crets

        I would like to add to your comment. People like Eric Ries and Fred Wilson (whom I respect) always talk about how if the product is rock solid then the community does the work, but I disagree. I think it’s always about hustle. It’s always about doing the real muscle work to get noticed and to get people talking. I’ve been a teacher before, and I look at the consumer markets much like I look at a classroom. I don’t see people who are ignorant and who need to be taught. I see people who just need encouragement to tell us what they already know, which is oftentimes brilliant. It’s never going to be about letting people do the work for you. People are generally not incentivized to do this, even when you actively promote strategies that seem like incentives. I think you are always going to need (read as hire) cheerleaders, marketing people, and consumer researchers. Most people cannot, will not, don’t want to, or don’t know how to tell you on their own why a product or an app, or whatever works for them. You need to hustle. 

        1. Tony Wright

          Totally agree (mostly).I think hustle is a multiplier with your product/community/message being the other side of the equation.My last company had piles of inbound PR interest and landed on the front page of the New York Times at a time where we were downright tiny.  That’s because we had a surprising product that people loved talking about.  So the formula for visibility might be:great product X product worth talking about X hustle = winHustle can overcome shortcomings on the other fronts or amplify products that have nailed it.The “worth talking about” bit deserves it’s own blog post.  You either need a community that benefits somehow by spreading the word or you need something that makes a writer say, “Holy crap– if I write about that, I’ll be buried in links, retweets, and comments” (the currencies they care about).

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          2. fredwilson

            MVP, right?

  37. daryn

    How is “We can’t figure out how to get on the leaderboards. The app stores aren’t working for us as a distribution channel.” different from “We can’t figure out how to get on the top of Google. The search engines aren’t working for us as a distribution channel.”? 

    1. fredwilson

      google is only 1/3 of most web app’s trafficthose where it is >70-80% have a big problemthey are google bitchesall apps are apple and google bitches

      1. daryn

        1. We’re all someone’s bitch2. You’re getting a real @davemcclure:twitter  mouth3. The appstores may be 100% of an app’s download traffic, but appstore browsing shouldn’t be 100% of the traffic to the app’s appstore page. The same rules for marketing, advertising, social media, in-app virality, etc, apply to mobile apps as they do to web apps.  I find most of my mobile apps via the web, where people directly link to the app’s install page.

        1. JamesHRH

          Frank – I’m going with this until GRIM issues a Cease & Desist – the Startup Chicken is nobody’s Biatch pardner!Attitude is the difference.All of life is a choice – even customers can be fired if it is required!

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


      2. Todd Werelius

        I prefer the term gBiatch, and iBiatch. It’s much hipper and makes me feel better about myself. While I am in your camp about the promotional feedback loop that leader boards create I don’t see decentralization as even a remote possibility.What reason would Apple or Google (from their perspective) have to give up that kind of control?Other than continuing to make the argument that the too-long-tail is unprofitable for everyone (and I am not sure that’s even true) I can’t see any way to force the issue. I would of course be extremely happy if someone were to prove me wrong. 

      3. JamesHRH

        But it is not like you signed up without knowing the type of relationship you were getting into……..

      4. andyidsinga

        i lost you … why are *all apps* google and apple bitches??

  38. Tony Wright

    This reminds me a lot of SEO.  Say you wanted to a build a better TripAdvisor or Weather.com.  It’s not hard to imagine, right?  You manage to pull it off in your v1.0 effort and release it to the world.  But it turns out that a better mousetrap is just a ticket to the real contest– getting people talking about (and linking to!) your site.  Get ready for a multi-year slog shooting lead bullets ( http://techcrunch.com/2011/… ), trying to climb the SEO wall that the incumbents built (and are waging an ongoing campaign to build higher).Apps are the same way.  Being 10% better isn’t good enough.  Just like the web, you need a distribution hack (and/or an ongoing distribution campaign) to battle your way up the critical SERPs.Admittedly, though, SEO feels more approachable/actionable than the leaderboard hegemony.I think we’ll see Apple/Android emphasize search more as the marketplace grows.  Remember the days when the web was small and being in Yahoo Directory was king?

    1. kidmercury

      i like hte analogoy and agree SEO is way easier

    2. Jed Wood

      “Remember the days when the web was small..”A good point, but I’m also thinking that unless the App Store starts displaying ads alongside the search results, they’re likely to benefit more from immediately showing leaderboard results. The faster they get somebody to purchase an app, the faster they get their 30% cut. Emphasizing longer browsing and searching “research-y” behaviors might not be in their best interest. 

      1. Tony Wright

        Hrm– that’s a REALLY interesting point, though I think they have the bigger game to consider.  Would search benefit the users?  If it would meaningfully do so, they’d about have to do it for fear that their rival (Android) would.I guess THAT is what this actually comes down to.  Are users truly missing out with the leaderboard model?  They get great/proven apps to noodle with.One thing that might be interesting– what if the leaderboards included a usage component?  Facebook moved in this direction with apps– away from number of downloads/installs and towards rewarding apps with active users.

  39. PhilipSugar

    I’d view it as what’s in it for Apple or Google.Otherwise it just seems like whining.  We’re not on the leaderboard, waaah.I know why they like leaderboards. Its stupid easy.  Yes the word stupid is in that phrase, but remember a truism I believe in: “A confused mind never buys”  KISS applies here.Make the case for something different.

    1. ErikSchwartz

      Apple really doesn’t care. It’s a loss leader. App store profits are in the noise. As for Google, I frankly don’t think they have spent any time worrying about app discovery yet.

      1. PhilipSugar

        They don’t care for the money.They do care if the apps are good because that pushes the sale of the device.That is proven by how they operate.  Review system, etc.

        1. ErikSchwartz

          True. But as long as there are enough good apps moving through the system they don’t get any benefit in promoting “economic mobility” in the app universe. edit to clarifyApple is very motivated to go from 0 good apps to 25,000 good apps. Apple has much less motivation to go from 75,000 good apps to 100,000 good apps.

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          2. Dave Pinsen

            That’s a variation of the old saying, “build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”. In reality, though, if you invent a better mousetrap and no one knows about it, you’re not going to sell many of them. You have to find your potential customers and let them know why your mousetrap is better.

          3. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

            A tree got burnt in the northern Himalayas … do you know about that? Did that really burn? 

    2. fredwilson

      i did

  40. Douglas Crets

    You guys need to look into the relationship model for app recommendations. I like Kinetik. I interviewed this company a while back, they are partly based in Argentina. I have it on my phone, and almost daily I am linked to new people who like me because of my apps, and those people suggest apps. The cool thing about it is that over time, you can collect apps the way you would indie music — “I heard this from a friend of a friend, who was listening to it while making out with Gary’s sister’s cousin’s aunt.” 

  41. ErikSchwartz

    I was at a mobile dev conference earlier this year and a large percentage of the talks were on how to game the leaderboard systems. In app ad networks for popular apps where the end user got virtual currency for downloading other apps in order to get their leaderboard numbers up. I am not surprised that it seems that system was not sustainable.

  42. Pete Griffiths

    “Search is a horrible experience. Discovery is worse. “Never a truer word.

  43. kidmercury

    127 comments at the time of this writing, 11:35 EST/5:35 GMT. too many. anyway, the solution isn’t to rise up against leaderboards or centralized distribution, if you’re playing in apple’s game you deserve what’s coming if you ignore the risk. as for android apps you need to find your way on the tablet so the user gets it pre-installed. as for occupy, it’s only good if the problems are focused on: 9/11 was an inside job, and the only economic problem is debt (fix debt and you fix everything else). the people in congress aren’t going to fix that and there are too many ignorant citizens, so revolutionaries should start planning their non-violent revolutions in small groups and acting accordingly. i know i am!

    1. raycote

      @kidmercury:disqus “the only economic problem is debt (fix debt and you fix everything else)true but !debt represents a very non-trivial causality chain!

      1. kidmercury

        agreed, and that is why the rise in the price of gold is such a high probability event, from the gold bug perspective…..because the only way to avoid a non-cataclysmic causality chain (or at least as manageable as possible) arising from the debt crisis is through the re-monetization of gold, which serves to re-balance the economy. the price is a function of the magnitude of the debt problem. US public debt: $14 trillion and rising……other countries are not much better.

  44. Elia Freedman

    As someone who has made his living (or often times not made a living) in various app stores dating back to 1997, I can tell you that the fundamental problem is that we treat app stores as promotion channels when they are not. They are distribution channels. And expecting it be anything else is a waste of time.Yes, some get promotion out of it (and we have a single app that ranks high in the finance category and drives most of our sales) but this is akin to having shelf space at eye level in the grocery store.

    1. Thomas Ilk

      Absolutely, the problem is that most developers can’t come up with creative ways to market their apps and, since the don’t have the money to buy ads or downloads, they end up with no marketing at all.To get 2 blogs to write about your app isn’t enough.

      1. andyidsinga

        smaller and creative developers need to read more Seth Godin and Kevin Kelly and market to a few before the masses.see : Kevin Kelly on 1000 true fans http://www.kk.org/thetechni…see : Seth Godin on consumers and creators : http://sethgodin.typepad.co

    2. JamesHRH

      DUCK!!!!! – about to use the ‘M’ word.Totally agree Elia: App Store distributes; App publishers market.If a lot of people knew about an app and had a compelling need for it, it would be at the top of rankings (stating the obvious I realize).App stores are not the first place where good things that had a limited market languished in obscurity. Not the last either, I would bet.

      1. Elia Freedman

        I used the “M” word in my post, too, but changed it to distribution. Marketing, technically, includes promotion and place (and product and price) and didn’t want to confuse the issue.I have a couple of apps that languish in obscurity, as you put it. We get a couple of unit sales each day. Those apps would have 0 units sold every day if we were selling off our web site like the old days. No one would ever find them!

    3. fredwilson

      leaderboards are promotion channelsif they got rid of the leaderboards, it would be better

  45. Magnus Söderberg

    Oh, didn’t know you had Flurry in your portfolio. I talk to those guys every week, and soon iOS clips is coming to a game near you! ;)And btw, the small guys can still make it, you just have to have something really good. Just look at Wordfeud for example.

    1. fredwilson

      i agree. this post was not saying they can’t. but more that it doesn’t need to be as hard.

  46. Thomas Ilk

    Sorry Fred but there are so many creative ways to market your app and to get in into the top lists that cost nearly nothing (unlike stupid download buying). It’s not that hard to think outside the box and to come up with something or to work with somebody who is good at coming up with viral and guerilla marketing ideas.Blaming the system doesn’t help anybody. Good entrepreneurs make it happen even if the system is bad. Bad entrepreneurs blame the system.P.S.: I agree that the system isn’t perfect and needs a lot of improvement.

    1. Zoe Adamovicz

      Thomas, on Android only about 6000 apps gets more than 10K downloads, while the remaining 450 000 apps never get above the 10k downloads threshold.Similar situation is on iPhone.The long tail in app stores is massive! And I’m not sure it’s because most developers can’t market their apps properly.



        1. Thomas Ilk

          I love you Grimlock.Of these 450.000 apps how many have a good design?how many do what they promise to do?how many of them add real value?how many have good marketing?how many really use the full potential of the mobile experience?You can’t expect success if you only have a good design or your app adds real value but has an awful design.Everything has to be in place to make an app successful.

        2. Aviah Laor


        3. andyidsinga

          yup – and app stores have unlimited shelf space so it aint getting better anytime soon. Think of the amount of crap at Target and Wallmart – and they filter !

    2. fredwilson

      and i agree that good entrepreneurs make it happen

      1. Thomas Ilk

        from a user perspective changes to the app store model would be awesome.Since that probably won’t happen, developers need to build brands.At my current company we are working with developers from all around Europe and unlike most startups we even have to turn down great developers, because with our small team and resources we can’t scale that quickly.Why does it work?Because we offer them to work on apps that -have awesome designs-are marketed by people who have lots of experience in areas like guerilla marketing and people who believe that marketing has to be an experience for the consumer not an ugly ad that users hate-aren’t copies of apps that you could build for a computer too, but apps that really use the potential of the mobile experience-and are part of a company that tries to become the first real brand in the mobile spaceIf you buy running shoes you have your favorite brand and most of the times you simply go to a shop where you are sure to get your Nikes or Adidas or whatever.In the app space there isn’t a single publisher that normal consumers know.Consumers want their lives to be easy. They want a brand they can trust. A brand with a huge amount of simply awesome apps. 

  47. COinTO

    I once thought that this was the benefit of software startups over the previous generation (hardware startups – designing silicon in my cases) where marketing to customers requires heavy travel and triangulation. Customers often provide data that is misleading or they buy competing solutions that don’t meet the criteria they originally provided.Be glad that most any solution will still be cheaper than traditional pre- and post-product marketing in most other startup fields. Be glad that you have direct access to your customers through your apps and that you have a distributed marketing team in your customers!

  48. Nick Baum

    To help mitigate this issue in the Chrome Web Store, we chose to show a random subset of popular apps, rather than the absolute most popular ones. So instead of showing the top 25 most installed apps, we would show a random 25 of the top 1000 apps each time the front page was loaded.This doesn’t solve the problem (you still have to get into the top 1000), but it does greatly increase the number of developers who benefit from the leaderboard distribution. It’s also good for users, as they get exposed to a wider variety of apps.

    1. Tom Labus

      That’s pretty good.Is there any ‘analysis’ of apps like stocks?

    2. fredwilson

      i love it

    3. Steven Kane

      thank you

  49. Eunice Apia

    My friend gave me her old Mac which is not really that old, ’08 I believe. I tried to download the appstore and was told I not only have to upgrade to the new server (Lion or something like that), but I also have to pay $30 bucks. *bangs head against wall* I can all ready tell that owning an Apple product is going to be expensive and frustrating.

    1. raycote

      A bit off topic but if you’re serious ?Lion is Apple’s latest Operating System and it cost $30. It has an App Store built into the OS.You don’t need to upgrade to Lion and even if you do?You don’t need to get Apps via that built in App store.You can find Apps via a simple web search or via dedicated App download sites such as http://www.macupdate.com/http://download.cnet.com/ma…http://osx.iusethis.com/http://www.pure-mac.com/http://mac.softpedia.com/

      1. Eunice Apia

        Thank You for the information.

    2. JamesHRH

      Upgrade and enjoy.

  50. Dan

    This is analogous to problems with web portals in the mid-late 90s. Would love to see someone come up with a LinkExchange type advertising network that democratizes the app discovery process.

  51. Jay Parkhill

    Rovio/Angry Birds did a good job with this. They looked at the App Store/leaderboard system and figured out the US market was too crowded so they set a goal to get in the top ten in the Finnish App store first then the rest of Scandanavia and grew from there. There’s a lot more to their success than that of course, but they are a good example of how to find entry points into the leaderboard.  (see In depth: How Rovio made Angry Birds a winner (and what’s next) (Wired UK) http://bit.ly/sgEJ3l)At the same time “we plan to go viral” isn’t a great marketing strategy no matter what the distribution network.

    1. JamesHRH

      In marketing speak this is called flanking. Long standing tactic: hard to be #1 in big market, so pick a market where you can be #1. Then try and use that market to overtake the big market (from an angle or the side, hence, flanking).

    2. Guest

      Thanks for the link. Bookmarked.

  52. Joe H

    What about working out a cross promotional deal with someone that has an app that is already on the leaderboads? This could be a good way to get your app started. It doesn’t have to be expensive if you can convince the owner of the existing app that your app has the potential to be popular. Once your app is popular you can drive more downloads back to the existing app and both sides can benefit. This would probably work best if you picked a relatively small company to partner with.

  53. Stephen Albright

    I’ve never enjoyed apps much.  A year from now, I don’t want to have 200 applications on my phone that I need to constantly scroll through or re-organize.  I’d rather just talk to Siri for what I need, and let her use whatever app she deems appropriate.  

    1. Tom Labus

      One time app.

  54. Francis Pedraza

    Fred, you realize that discovery on the web, though decentralized, is no easier than on the app store? The top 1% of sites get 99% of the traffic and the top 10 sites get 75% of the traffic! I remember those figures from the time I spent working for the Google DoubleClick AdX in NYC – the most premium properties dominate the web, and the long tail is almost insignificant in comparison, even though it occupies hundreds of millions of pages…The WEB NEEDS AN APP STORE. Think about it. You open up your browser. It drops you onto Google – with a big fat search bar waiting to take you anywhere you want to go. That’s great, but most people don’t know where they want to go! Let’s say I discover a cool new web app, like MetaLab’s productivity app Flow (getflowapp.com) – I have to make a BOOKMARK in order to have easy and quick access. And bookmarks are such a pain – they require organization, and until iCloud’s recent release, they didn’t sync. It’s a not scalable solution. Do you think less savvy users – my mom or grandma – are going to be active bookmarkers? Not a chance… As a result of this dynamic, most people feel overwhelmed by the web. When you tell them about some new web app, they hold their head in their hands and they say – “I can’t take it anymore! Not another web app! There’s too many for me to use or keep track of!” But you seldom get that response with iOS. Why? Because the iPhone and iPad have this beautiful deck experience, where apps have these beautiful tiny square icons, and each one sits on its own little slot on a page, and you swipe till you find the one you want. And for power-users they even have folders! It’s impossible to be disorganized. I’ve noticed that users develop almost an emotional relationship with their app icons, because they know that each one is designed to serve a distinct purpose in their life – the movie apps help them with movies, the food apps help them with food, the travel apps help them w/ travel, etc. In other words, the deck experience has created WHITE SPACE and MENTAL SPACE for users; it has opened up the mental carrying capacity of the average user from 5-10 websites (the limit of most web users) to 15-30 apps (the average of most iOS users) – and that is progress! I would argue that precisely this aspect of the “deck experience” on iOS makes the operating system powering apple devices an even more significant innovation than the devices themselves…Imagine if browsers could duplicate the same experience? Google has utterly failed with the Chrome App store because, well, they suck. But if Apple did it with Safari, kind of like they’ve done with the Mac Store, but with a slightly different business model, it would be revolutionary. Can the app store do a better job of enabling discovery? Yes.Is it better than any other alternative? Yes. Should we be hating on it? No.



      1. Francis Pedraza

        I love you Grimlock!

    2. fredwilson

      that is not my experience watching startups build user basesthe web is easymobile isn’t

      1. Prakash

        Building users bases on the Mobile wasn’t easy until now. But it will get easier. Mobile apps discovery is getting better now. Two things have happened recently. First, Facebook released the feature of allowing you to launch third party mobile apps from within Facebook mobile app. If the app is not installed on the phone then the user is navigated to the app store download page. This would lead to more app discovery and it originates from your social circle. Two, Google created a new mobile ad format that allows you to link to pages within a mobile app. On clicking the ad, once again the user is lead to the app store to download the app. App discovery – although this is through a contextual ad. I have hardly paid any attention to the leaderboard to download an app. Most of my app downloads come from me reading about it somewhere (relevant) and through friends.

        1. fredwilson

          these are much needed stepsthanks for mentioning them

    3. andyidsinga

      disagree with the notion that people have too many apps or websites/webapps to keep track of. When folks recieve an app/site through word of mouth from their trusted network they check it out …if it doesnt meet their needs/interests ( i.e. they dont need to hire the app to do something for them ) they drop it.otherwise the idea of webstores is great … hell, humanity has been shopping in stores / markets for ever 🙂

    4. Dave Pinsen

      The web needs a Long Tail Journal. 

    5. JamesHRH

      I have to admit that I find navigating the deck of my iPhone more intuitive than the desktop of my iMac.Touchscreen iMac coming?

  55. Andrew Thornborrow

    Folks should try Chomp, one of our portfolio companies.  It is a great app discovery engine.    

  56. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    As simple as”Web was created by scientists”.”puter was created by entrepreneurs””economy was created by bankers”There is a lot of difference between a man, gentleman and a bas…..

    1. Douglas Crets

      The economy was created by consumers. 

      1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

        Demand was created by consumers.Economy is different.

    2. andyidsinga

      Ian Malcolm: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.Ellie Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man … woman inherits the earth.from http://en.wikiquote.org/wik

      1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

        What i meant was…Net is open.puter is tied (so are the phones)Economy is …

        1. andyidsinga

          sorry i was just being a jackass 😉 your comment reminded me of those lines from Jurassic Park

          1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

            No issues.When i read Fred’s post and the line read “It makes me angry” … that reminded me of …You are making me angryYou won’t like me when i am angry-Hulk.

  57. Nalin Mittal

    Fred, agree with a lot of this. App discovery is completely broken in Apple’s and Google’s appstores.At Appstores.com, we’re building tools that let publishers curate appstores specifically for their audiences. We think that consumers will find the best apps where they already consume content and we are helping the content creators surface the best apps for their verticals.I’ll be in NYC in a few weeks and would love to discuss in more detail how we are solving this problem.

    1. Douglas Crets

      Is it your local Ford dealership’s job to  help you find fuel for your car? No. It’s not Google or Apple’s jobs to help you find apps. We have, ironically, apps that do that for you.  If you can find them. 🙂

      1. Nalin Mittal

        I agree 100% – Google and Apple shouldn’t be surfacing the best apps for you or me. I’m also not sure if other apps are the best place either. I want the sites and people I trust for specific types of content to show me the best apps.I want ESPN to show me what the best apps are for an NFL fan. I want Lonely Planet to tell me what the best apps are for my upcoming trip to Poland. Just as I don’t trust any one source for all of my news, I am not going to trust any one destination to find all the apps that are relevant to me.The challenge and the key is to enable content creators to recommend and organize a library of apps that their audiences can reference instead of hunting through blog posts and articles.

  58. Brennan Knotts

    At KinderTown we’ve built an app discovery tool – or an app store on top of the app store – to help parents find educational apps for kids 3-6 years old.Our goal is to imbue parents with the mindset that mobile devices are learning tools that can be used to teach their kids almost anything. (to steal a line from the mission of Khan Academy)We have an approval process for the apps we include, so in a sense, we’re a walled garden within a walled garden, but at least it’s targeted and apps can more easily be found by people who want to find them.If you want to find out when we launch, signup on our homepage: http://www.kindertown.com

    1. Tom Labus

      That’s great.The 60 Minutes segment on Autism and how the iPad has helped people with it communicate.

  59. hypermark

    Part of me wonders if you are attacking the tail of the problem, instead of the dog. By that, I mean, the app store is indexed, searchable and discoverable via the web. So, in theory, all of the goodness of the web could piggyback on top of the app stores, and embrace/extend new app discovery.The fact that users default to the app store as the trusted bucket is perhaps more indicative of the failure of any web services to pop up that materially enhance the process of discovering new apps.Or, maybe the real issue is that the app store model creates so many “good enough” alternatives in most categories (and few game-changing breakout ones) that it’s not that hard to find “good enough.”For app developers, I see this as the pink elephant in the room – how to differentiate, how to build a breakout business around this model, something that I blogged on here:The iPhone, the Angry Bird and the Pink Elephant(Will Post-PC battles lead to a war of attrition for developers?)http://oreil.ly/t9WEr5Would love your take if you agree or not.Cheers,Mark

  60. robert reich

    I completely agree and have been working on a modern app store that has social at its core. The app is not finished yet, but would love the audience on this blog and especially anyone interested in this topic to try it. The web version is available at https://openspacestore.com..The app is built from the ground up using the latest in HTML5 technologies. So it should work on all modern browsers. We plan on releasing an iPad/Android Tablet versions within the month.General Concept:  Openspace organizes apps by ‘Channels’, think of them as TV Channels for Apps. You can browse by ‘Interests’ (Sport, Food or etc) and if you want to be a little more specific or even create your own channel, like Gluten Free Living, we have a ‘Community’ section in which anybody can create a channel for other people to browse. If a channel looks interesting, Follow it. Openspace will highlight when new apps get added and when existing apps go on sale.Currently it has the complete IOS catalog and we are adding Android, OSX and Windows before launch, plus many other social features.

  61. Jeff Giesea

    We at BestVendor are building a resource to find “work apps” through social discovery and recommendations. While our focus is on apps you use for work, we see a screaming need for distribution channels for web-based apps in particular. We also see wide open space for a bottom-up, social approach to finding apps of all varieties. Business people tell us all the time that the first thing they want to know when making a purchase is: what are others like me using and what do they recommend? We’re beta launching in a couple weeks – stay tuned.

  62. Alan Warms

    Fred,Great post.  We’ve actually begun to open up our services to the outside world via APIs.  Our thought is get as many people as possible developing against the app discovery problem.  We’ve exposed our search, recommendations, and other functions for both iOS and Android.  Check it out live at http://apps.bestbuy.com …other partnerships announcing soon.Anybody interested in learning more about working together, shoot me a note at my initials at appolicious.com… 

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Just sent you an email.

  63. laurie kalmanson

    sounds like a startup opportunity

  64. jameyjeff

    Fred, I think this falls in the category of “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”  Apple and Google have created viable app marketplaces where non previously existed.  They’ve created beautiful devices upon which to run these apps.  We can’t expect or protest to force them to fill every whole in the value chain.  Just as it’s not Walmart’s fault if consumers aren’t aware of a product on their shelves, it’s incumbent upon app developers to develop the marketing and promotion methods to drive awareness and consumption.  That said, there’s certainly a void that could be filled by a third party / platform to help with Search and Discovery.  They remain a big nut that has yet to be cracked.

  65. cglode

    There are proven ways to beat the leaderboard system.  Not cheating at all, just ways to help you help yourself, and climb the ranks.  They all require hard work, but by knowing the top 5 things you need to do, you boost your chances infinitely.  It’s sort of like a broader SEO concept for app store discovery.Unfortunately, nobody, including me, will ever divulge this information because it is so extremely valuable. 😉 

  66. Brenda J. Walker

    “There have been multiple attempts to build alternative app marketplaces but none of them have developed much traction.”Perhaps this is true because it is simply too soon.  And maybe it’s too soon for the average app user to even think that there is a problem with app discovery, because they have been using apps for a much shorter time than most of us interested in this topic and have no problem finding what they want.The App Store is just over three years old.  The leaderboards were necessary to get people rolling.  But, since there have been numerous references to the music industry here, wouldn’t it be better for app publishers to diminish their relevance (like the once-powerful Billboard charts), than to encourage the owners of those charts (Apple and Google) to become more powerful marketing forces?  I like them better simply as points of distribution.  It’s challenging enough that Apple’s App Store was designed to be hit-driven, in a way that’s even worse than the old music industry paradigm.  Instead of four companies controlling distribution, there are just two.  Likewise, in music, ask an indie record label vet whether it was easier to break a band before or after the decimation of indie retailers, who helped to establish a base of sales before you could find the music in Target or Walmart.  By all means, fight your way past Cerberus and make the cry at the gates of the App Store and the Market.  However, let’s also spend time truly supporting independent and alternative marketplaces and services so that they can actually grow to the point of collectively rivaling the value from app store features and leaderboards.  Publishers have to be there if they want the users to come.As an industry, let’s also recognize that discovery, search, recommendation and curation are all different forms of app marketing; we need them all; and they don’t all have to be rolled up into one product, site or service.  They probably can’t be and do each thing effectively.  Forget the magic bullet; there’s more power in an armory.On a personal (related) note, recommendation services that want to know who my Facebook friends are seem assume that because we know each other, we’re one big dumb tribe that likes all the same stuff, be it apps and movies or shoes and furniture.  I’d rather get app recommendations from Scoble or Chris Brogan than some of my self-determined lagger friends.  (Where is that Google+ API?)

  67. Mark Gannon

    Great post!I think the app stores are broken on purpose in order to hide how difficult it is to make money building these apps.  In the book Coopetition they talk about creating and clearing fog.  By this they mean your competition’s understanding of the game.  For Google and Apple, they want high numbers of developers, even if those developers never make much money.  That’s why you never see them produce case studies showing overall results for developers.

  68. Dudu Mimran

    We need RSS for apps. Apps as binary objects are not self descriptive by nature (web pages are self descriptive) and thus prevent building and experimenting new ways for discovering and distributing apps. 

    1. fredwilson

      That sounds right to me

  69. Ken Galpin

    Leader boards that tell me the number of times an app has been downloaded are next to useless. I want to know usability stats for a subject app. I would like to see someone like Neilsen’s rating service ranking apps as to how many user activity in past 30, 90, and 180 days. We do this internally for our app and the results drive the majority of our product upgrade cycle decisions. Obviously, an app that has high utilization in the past 30 days is likely to be satisfying users more than one that shows a more diverse usage pattern. I realize that this is another form of leader board, however, it would be an independent rating mechanism and provide deeper insight with less opportunity for gaming the system perhaps.

  70. Jevon

    I wrote about this re: Facebook in 2007. You have to own your own customers, period. http://startupnorth.ca/2007…http://startupnorth.ca/2008

    1. Dave Pinsen

      My plan is to entice some iOS app customers to become customers of the web version, when new features are added to the web version. . 

  71. Sebastian Wain

    The same lemma can be extended to “Occupy a Search Engine” and “Occupy an Advertising Platform” every ranking algorithm is also politics.I call it “the long tail myth”, many products in the tail have an excellent theoretical potential but the distribution methods are part of the problem.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      You get a like for using “lemma”. Haven’t seen that word since Spinoza’s Ethics (from which I borrowed a quote in that post on paid apps I linked to elsewhere in this thread).

      1. Sebastian Wain

        Don’t know if that is positive or not because I used lemma over its Latin meaning that is “motto” in English.Spinoza uses lemma in the logic context.

  72. William Mougayar

    So, Google profits from open chaos Apple profits from controlled chaos Facebook profits from closed chaosTwitter hasn’t profited yet, is watching the chaos 

    1. fredwilson

      How do you know that?

      1. William Mougayar

        About Twitter?I meant at the scale of Apple, Google & FB.

  73. Darren Herman

    You’ve certainly outlined an issue us marketers have.  Walled Gardens are terrible.

  74. teegee

    Once again GRIM has nailed it: “NO NEED HELP DISCOVER MORE CRAP” & “YOUR APP BETTER THAN GREAT? FIND USERS NOT GOING TO BE PROBLEM”I’m not sure the current status quo is a problem for consumers.  Let’s face it, you hear about the really great apps at some point.  And if there’s an app that you need to do something specific for you (i.e. access to hardware / software / service you own), a quick google search normally suffices.

  75. RV

    I wholeheartedly agree.  Decentralized is superior.  I am going to start using one of those alternatives you mentioned from now on.

  76. Khuram

    @fredwilson:disqus You should check out Appgrooves, it is a discovery and recommendation service trying to overcome many flaws of the app store that you describe. I think many of the approaches of the web don’t apply to Mobile. E.g. Lean Startup, launch early web – ok but  Mobile – No way, one star reviews are going to haunt you for life.

  77. Ben Apple

    I want app searching to be like window shopping.  I enjoy the browsing, there is just a need for better options.  I like the idea of taking a random sample of the top 1,000 apps, or trending lists, or basically any other method that allows me to look at solid apps that aren’t necessarily sitting on top of the charts.  With that being said, what if the best apps are at the top of charts?  “Cream rises to the top” right?

  78. Herbert Chapman

    This is symptomatic of the web ecosystem, and maybe of all marketplaces. On Google it is impossible to outrank on key terms against incumbents. Google’s algo update earlier in the year further reinforced this.

  79. James Barnes

    Right on!So, the most effective form of protest? If you find a great app: tell someone about it. Blog it, Tweet it, Like it, G+ it, heck, you could even give it a positive review in the app store.Recommendation is the remedy.

  80. WA

    Would it be that the “Master Switch” has been thrown on in app world as well?

  81. esqmarty

    But the you see this article: “Bike Baron Tops App Store Charts, In Less Than A Week.”http://www.arcticstartup.co…so some can beat the Leaderboard barrier.

  82. Adam Levin

    Interesting that you chose to write about this setup because I think it’s only people like you who can break it — when you mention up and comers in your post or apps you like, I think you chip away at the established system. I’m a huge fan of your referrals.

  83. Bob

    hey, wait a minute…remember the “m” word…marketing?  the “p” word…promotion? the “v” word for viral?  just because i build this cool app and put it up on the app store, why does that mean i’m done as an entrepreneur? Don’t I have to build demand for my product, promote it to my target audience, get people promoting it to their friends?  Just because having an idea is relatively easy and building a mobile app is easier, who says that makes it a business?  Maybe I’m just “old school,” but what happened to advertising, marketing, promotion, and plain ol hustle?  Yup. It takes sweat, brains, money and luck, sometimes inthe opposite order.  But some folks have gotten downright lucky with e-bola-scale virality. That doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee…What, you say, marketing costs money? Yup.  If you can’t sell your app for more than the CAQ and the appstore fee, you probably have a clever app but not a business.  That’s one man’s opinion, and I’m stickin to it.  Maybe I’m biased from my 20 years in the agency business way back in the dark ages, but even the most forward-thinking entrepreneur still needs some old-fashioned hustle!

    1. LE

      I thought about this issue as well yesterday when reading this post.For example a traditional direct response marketing of card decks and direct mail (which I’ve done and was very cost effective in generating leads and sales) wouldn’t work for most apps. There isn’t enough margin in most apps to cover the marketing.Banners on targeted website maybe for certain apps.Direct mail would work if the target market was niche enough and the audience didn’t know enough to try and seek out a cheaper app. They would just respond to the postcard they got and make a decision if the particular app was worth the, say, $75 to $250 cost. (Offer a money back guarantee)”If you can’t sell your app for more than the CAQ and the appstore fee, you probably have a clever app but not a business”I think the business is selling the app based on near zero marketing costs.If we assume many apps are written by people choosing the low hanging fruit that they know about then this is the only thing they can do. If someone writes an app for a particular niche and charges a good price they would be able to build in the marketing cost. Epocrates deluxe (medical app) is $199 per year and it’s covered by many non self-employed physicians flexible spending accounts.There is a bias in what investors will fund as well. A typical investor isn’t looking for smaller grind it out type businesses to fund. They can’t visualize a large enough payout.Here’s the bottom line: There’s a ton of apps to be written that could use traditional marketing and make money. But the people who are writing the apps don’t necessarily have the seat of the pants feel for the industries that need the apps. And the people who have the seat of the pants industry experience don’t walk the walk that the angels and VC’s expect to hear.



    2. fredwilson

      marketing is hard when you can’t get shelf space

  84. deepeshbanerji

    Isnt the main problem here thata. searchb. social recommendationsshould be brought into the app store as primary ways to navigate?currently search is buriedsocial doesnt existso you’re left to browse “by aisle”.

  85. Donna Brewington White

    By “occupy” you mean “disrupt” — right?

  86. JamesPM

    I am one of the co-founders of http://www.apptown.com. these are exactly the types of things we want to hear about from the user/developer community.  The site was build by suggestions from the community. We are a smaller company which means we can be nimble and make changes quickly without all the red tape.I will mention one of the reasons alternative app store are not flourishing is that the developers have told us, it is difficult to manage their products in multiple venues. I find this difficult to get past. If I created a product I would want it to be offered in as many stores as possible.

  87. Chris Phenner

    Two disclosures:1.  I worked for Download.com (the original, large app store), which has benefited greatly from the ‘Leaderboard Model,’ and I’ve heard it remains among the largest (if not the largest) property within CBSi — someone with comScore or similar access could verify that.  And I think it benefited greatly that way because (aside from the URL) it was a repository of popular opinion, and a place where a large data set of user choice could be observed to inform decisions.2.  I help app developers ‘find discovery’ through non-App Store-based means as an indie consultant, and I am reminded (in the best, nostalgic way) of the hundreds of conversations I had with PC-based apps when I worked at Download.com eight years ago.And I’m not sure the call-to-arms against ‘Centralized Control’ is helpful to consumers.  It may be timely or fashionable against the OWS backdrop, but I’m not sure it’s helpful.I can understand that it’s in an early-stage investor’s interest to see diversification of app discovery and why the ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ bias will help an investor’s portfolio, but what makes me squint is the (implied) expectation that it’s worth checking five or more third-party sources to find the *right* app for the job — nobody has time for that.That said:  I am working with two clients who I think are doing terrific and promising work to bring social and mobile-to-web re-targeting into app discover (or re-discovery) efforts, and I generally agree there’s more than one way to deliver discovery.But I’m not convinced it’s a ‘black glove in the air’ war cry 🙂

  88. Dave McKinney

    Disclosure: We make Discovr Apps – an app which aims to ease the app discovery problem.I’d like to share all of the tips and tricks that we learned about breaking into the app leaderboards. These tips got us to Number 1 in 25 countries without spending any money. I hope they are useful for everyone here too: http://discovr.info/2011/07…The quick summary is this: Build a good product. Then hustle. You don’t need to spend any money. You don’t even need to know anyone famous or cool. Just build something that people want. Once you’ve done that, you get to use one of the most incredible distribution channels in the world to reach a huge market. Have fun!

  89. William Mougayar

    There is also the contrarian view that when a company becomes well known, the user will automatically try the App stores to see if it exists there. So, focus on marketing & the App store is just a distribution channel. Being on the leaderboards is a consequence of good market success, not a right

  90. Dennis Chu

    Exactly. If appstore or android market are still the primary sources of apps, the situation will never be changed. Good news, we are working on a tool that people can review and share apps phone2phone, they don’t need any app stores. Dennis Chu

  91. trashbat

    The same has always applied to the book and music charts – and they were relatively open markets, especially since Amazon levelled the distribution playing field.Relatively few people read the literary reviews or the music press or the computer games press – although those things had value as they were able to set an agenda that would percolate down to the mainstream.There’s never been a time when it’s been easy for small and independent creators of anything have been able to gain attention from the lazy.Because the lazy aren’t really looking, so you need to get in front of their noses. 

  92. Rob Cawte

    Rather than “Occupy the AppStore” … I think the call should be to “Occupy the AppSpace” … focus on creating standards based apps, and building out the infrastructure to support them.  HTML5/JS is not perfect for all apps, but is perfectly adequate for the “99%” who don’t require native functionality.  Apple have skilfully created an ecosystem where thousands upon thousands of hopeful developers provide them with a service.  It’s a very profitable business for Apple, and more power to them, but clearly it isn’t the best option – or even a good option – for a lot of devs.Join the web app revolution, and hey, it can’t be a bad thing if – in the process – you get access users whose phones or tablets run Android, Symbian, Windows (even!), etc.  Apparently Opera Mini did 1 billion page views last month… who knew!?

    1. fredwilson

      i like that

  93. Emmanuel Carraud

    We found a solution to this problem: Free App Magic http://www.freeappmagic.com/We help developers getting visibility every day on the App Store and reach TOP 25 http://www.magicsolver.com/…We help iOS users saving money (over $5 million in the last few months) and discover great apps for free every dayEmmanuel MagicSolver

  94. Nina Sodhi

    A comment below mentioned Blu Trumpet as a potential solution to this problem, so I’d like to chime in.  I’m the CEO of Blu Trumpet and the distribution problem Fred explains is the exact problem we’re tying to solve.  I agree that we need to rise up and give everyone a fair share of voice, not just the top 25’ers.  Nice article, Fred.  (PS – Blu Trumpet is a syndicated app discovery tool.)  

    1. Douglas Crets

      I’m building a newsletter about this topic and others. It would be great to interview you about this, Nina.  You can find my contact info here: http://about.me/douglascrets#

  95. Philip Chung

    Agreed that this is a terrible model for developers and consumers, unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be much reason for Apple or Google to change this. I wrote down some suggestions on how to make apps more discoverable here: http://www.philterdesign.co….

  96. Jordan Elpern-Waxman

    Apple has clearly made a decision to restrict search and discovery in their app store, consistent with their longstanding strategy of directly controlling their ecosystem. Google on the other hand surprises me. I would have thought Google would try to make app search as good as web search (snicker if you will but for all its warts web search is still leagues ahead of app search). If apps are the new web pages, app search should be the new intent-based ad targeting.

  97. Keenan

    A start-ups marketing strategy shouldn’t rely on the AppStore leaderboard. The leaderboard should be seen as gravy and affirmation for making it not as an avenue to make it. If I were in that boardroom and heard that I would dig into the marketing and promotion strategy. I’d want to know why they weren’t getting people’s attention.I agree, the current system is broken. However, I don’t see it as the reason start-ups can’t move their apps, that is a sales and a market problem at best and a product problem at worse.

  98. Columbia finance guy

    Note that decentralization won’t necessarily make *consumers* better off. Included in the utility app purchasers get from buying apps is the ease of finding apps, and if users aren’t sophisticated, even if app store centralization hinders app discovery, it’s not hard to see how app consumers could still end up better off than with decentralization and better app discovery but perhaps worse ease of app store use. Bottom line: your assumptions about app store dynamics are not sufficient for the conclusions you make; they’re more dogmatic than anything.