The Broken App Store

How a tiny little bird got a puff of success, and how we’re struggling to figure out what to do with it

A friend and I built twindr as a (derpy) joke project, and it somehow blew up. The “Tinder for unfollowing Twitter profiles” hit number 1 on ProductHunt, was featured on Gizmodo, The Daily Dot, LifeHacker, and a bunch of other websites. Despite all of that, the one thing I learned from Twindr’s success is how broken the App Store is. More specifically, I learned how broken the app rating system is.

Lots of people have talked about the app store before. Discovery is impossible, monetization is ugly, and trying to build around the 7+ day review time is rough. But as a small time developer, I now know how difficult it is to make an impact on the app store, even if you have a popular product.

Twindr is doing really well

(for what it is and what we expected)

First, I want to show you a few stats about Twindr (courtesy of Parse Analytics and Fabric.io).

New users (weekly)

This is the number of new users we’ve gotten since launch. Somehow, our new user count is still climbing a week after publicity has died down. We absolutely expected our app to plummet into oblivion by now, especially since we’ve spent a total of $0.00 on marketing Twindr. Despite that, over 120 thousand people have been unfollowed on our app in two weeks.

Based on these numbers, we’ve estimated that almost 1 million cards have been swiped on Twindr.

Our App Ratings

Even with those absurd numbers, we have about 19 app reviews. I would guess that about 50% of these are from our friends, and the other 50% are from the good people over at ProductHunt.

Other than that, I don’t think a single regular user has gone back to rate the app. How do I know? Aside from providing hours of swiping joy, Twindr has 1 other button that provides a menu of extra options:

Clicks (over 2 weeks)

Tweet Your Ratio: 22 clicks

Follow The Devs: 71 clicks

Rate Us: 0 clicks

Contact Us: 28 clicks

Donate: 52 clicks

Logout: 17 clicks

Wait, did we do this right? More people wanted to give us money than rate us on the app store. Then again, when you click “donate”, this is what happens, so people were probably just messing around.

Still, not a single regular user wanted to rate our app.

The Solution

Inspired by this article by Aaron Wojnowski

We didn’t expect success with Twindr, but once we got some, we immediately kicked into learning mode. Why not test a few things while we had the opportunity? So we built a very basic system for trying to improve the number of ratings.

Enjoying Twindr?

The mechanism is very simple. Users have a slim chance of encountering the “enjoying twindr?” card, and then never encounter it again. The initial results were really optimistic.

(larger)

Here are the numbers. We intentionally kept the chance of encountering the card low so that only our heavy users would come across it. About 60% of the people who encountered the card said they enjoyed the app. If only 10% of those actually did rate the app, we’d have 40 additional ratings. So let’s take a look at what happened.

Conversion Rate A: 60% (enjoying Twindr)

Conversion Rate B: 20% (agreed to rate us in the store)

60% of our heavy users said they were enjoying the app. Of those users, 20% agreed to rate us on the app store. Let’s put this into perspective. If we allowed all of our users to see this card, then we would have hundreds of ratings in the store. We would have more ratings than NFL’s official app after the Super Bowl. So let’s pull up the magic statistic that shows how effective this tactic was!

Conversion Rate C: 0% (signed in to complete the rating).

Yup. Even after all of that, not a single person actually signed in to rate the app.

The Result

How this actually makes development worse

After realizing this, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted, but not for the reasons you might think. One of the big features people kept asking for is the ability to see whether someone follows you back or not. Well, we built that feature, but weren’t sure whether to release it, because our current version looks like this:

It’s nice and pretty with its hard-earned 5 stars, and if we left it like that, then even when usership eventually dies, it’ll stay 5 stars on the app store forever. Updating would mean giving users what they wanted, improving our product, and being good developers. But, we would look like this:

And if usership died, then we would forever be a nobody-app. So it’s a fight between doing what’s right and doing what looks good.

Unfortunately for future us, we decided happy users were more important than ratings and published the update. Obscurity, here we come! If you would like to support us and give us a rating, we’re found here (no seriously, that would be so cool of you).

Improving on Apple

The conclusion

On the left you’ll see a potential solution to this problem. Instead of having the user jump through all sorts of hoops, provide a standard rating view or alert that developers are unable to meddle with. Facebook and Twitter already do this with account authentication. This would also prevent developers from constantly asking you for ratings.

Apple also has a tool for providing a full screen email interface without allowing developers to touch it. It should be possible to do the same with a ratings interface.

Of course I realize how much Apple has already done to get its developer environment to where it is now. Dealing with that many people building so many dumb things, and trying to prevent cheaters from taking over the system is an insane job. That being said, I think this is one component of the developer ecosystem that has to be addressed.


Thanks for reading! I’m @cwRichardKim and Jared is @JaredTMoskowitz. If you want to support a dumb free app that has no ads, no push notifications, and no in-app purchases, Twindr can be found here.

A special thanks to Marcella Hastings for editing help. The only reason why this article is remotely readable is because of her. Also, she’s a total boss so you should follow her.

Come say hi! Or read about how experience changes the way people value their ideas: