Since June of this year I’ve been working on a personalized sports news aggregation app for the iPhone & iPod Touch called FanFeedr (it’s free, check it out). It’s my first iPhone OS application and my first foray into the world of Objective C development, having primarily a front-end and back-end Java development background. It took quite a bit of effort to develop FanFeedr app into what it is today. It’s far from perfect I’ll be the first to admit, but since the beginning I’ve strived to deliver a positive and powerful experience to sports fans and I think the app achieves that. FanFeedr itself serves a wonderful niche in the sports news world, delivering real-time personalization of content from literally thousands of sources around the web and all for the very reasonable cost of free.
After putting so much development effort into a product the most important thing is getting it in the hands of users. We tried buying ad’s on Ad Mob, but our customer acquisition cost for our free app was way too high to justify. We ran house ad’s on our own site FanFeedr.com, which helped, but wasn’t a magic bullet, which leads me to the App Store. Apple allows you to define search keywords, up to 100 characters worth, to help your application show up in their search results. I surveyed several people to identify the words people would use if they were looking for an application like ours. This process helped a little, but we were still only getting a few new users every day. Adoption was still way too slow for a category as popular as sports.
What I came to realize, was that marketing iPhone apps is not easy, especially when your advertising budget is near zero. I realized that if this problem was going to be truly fixed, it would have to come from Apple itself.
The screenshot above represents my iTunes App Store window after doing a search for “soccer news”. It shows 40 applications from a single developer Brighthouse Labs, who has developed a creative albeit obnoxious method for getting their apps noticed. They release literally thousands of the same app with only minor modifications. This one developer currently has 4,570 applications under their name and it literally buries the competition in noise. This single search returned many more apps by the same developer, but I think the screenshot above illustrates the issue well. Apple is allowing their store to be taken over by app spammers at the expense of other developers and their customers.
So how can our single free sports news aggregation application compete with this? Well we could adopt the Brighthouse Labs strategy and create a single app for each of the some odd 36,000 players and teams our single application covers, not to mention the 7,000 individual news sources we aggregate. Heck we could even charge a dollar for each application and start bringing in some revenue, but that would be shady wouldn’t it?
I’m not saying Brighthouse Labs shouldn’t have the right to create as many flavors of the same app as they like, in fact more power to them. My problem is with Apple’s current method of app discovery which rewards them for this practice. A simple iTunes App Store change like collapsing results by developer would be enough to solve this particular problem. As long as Apple remains the gatekeeper to their marketplace, it is in their best interest to reward the developers that work to bring value to the platform and discourage the developer practices that bring clutter.