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Google lays down the law



One of the philosophical differences between Apple and Google in the smartphone space is where the perception of control lies.

To hijack some terminology from Eric Raymond’s essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Apple represents the centralised cathedral while Google takes the role of the bazaar. While Raymond’s essay used these terms to describe the degree of visibility of software design, they are equally applicable to the kind of software ecology that has developed around their respective application stores.

Apple has from the beginning created guidelines, processes and rules which they have enforced to maintain the level of quality and user experience that they desire. App developers are left with no doubt about who the gatekeeper and arbitrator of rules are. In a sense, Apple started by assuming that there would be malicious, lazy and fraudulent applications and proactively laid down the law.

Google on the other hand has tried to create an ecology where the market would organically develop its own structures and controls, the users would discover and share the good apps and bad apps would be punished through bad reviews and ultimately the app makers would have to wise up if they wanted to be successful.

There are some controls and guidelines, mostly at trying to stop the most egregious infractions but ultimately Google Play has traditionally been much looser around what business models and behaviours it will tolerate. In a sense, Google started with assuming that the goodwill and market forces would be enough.

Sadly, I think that history has shown which attitude has been more successful. 

Last week Google made changes to its app policies to stamp out some of the worst aspects of abuses that have crept in. In particular Google has started to get explicit about trying to stop gaming of app ratings and the spam that usually surrounds this practice, such as constant prompts, system notifications and incentives for ratings. Personally, I have stopped even installing games now since four out of five will be littered with advertising (some hidden until you touch a region of the screen which brings up an ad in a browser), spamming my notification area that dodgy developer has released another dodgy game and only letting me proceed if I rate it a favourable number of stars. These tactics are even appearing in paid apps, which is unforgivable.

Even, as a fan of the Bazaar approach, I have to say that it’s about time that Google stepped in. 

To those developers that have participated in any of these shady spam practices, to creating bogus apps that troll successful apps, that pretend to be something that they are not, I say that you brought this on yourselves. When given the freedom to create apps and innovate business models that have been locked off by other platforms, you have chosen the greedy and lazy route. To those responsible app developers, thank you for resisting the temptation and I hope that these rule changes validate your patience and grow your success and reputation.

I started this piece by deliberately using the words “perception of control” since while Google has taken the gentle approach to control, make no mistake that they are in control and these changes may just be the beginning if developers continue treat their users with such little regard.  If commonsense and respect aren’t enough then there will be further pressure for Google to intervene.

I wonder if Google wanted to try to maintain a market centric approach if it could create an Android quality of user experience association which would create an industry (reputable app development studio) body which would collaborate on a self-regulatory standard which would be peer-reviewed and the developers that joined this standard would be identifiable, and filterable by, in Google Play? Creating an opt-in code of conduct rather than an series explicit “you shall not” style rules.

Developers rightly have the desire to profit from their creations. If Google can continue closing some of the gaps around app piracy, rub out apps that try to fake real ones and other shady practices then leave to the developers to conduct themselves without have to resort to tricks at the user’s expense then Google Play can continue being the interesting bazaar and an evolving application marketplace.

The ball is in the developer's court. Once freedom is taken away, you won’t get it back. A healthy marketplace is in everyone’s best interests. Those app developers making short-term money grabs exploiting the more liberal ecosystems will hopefully consider these rule changes as a wake-up call. For those developers that don’t change and continue with the status quo then good riddance.

You can read more about the Google Play policies here.

This author is on Google+ 

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19 comments so far

  • Only having used Google play for a few months, I must say I am disappointed with the mountains of dross one has to sift through to find the odd decent app. I find it odd that Google, a company that made its name with search technology, doesn't have more sophisticated search options at the Play store. There is no way to conveniently filter the chaff from the wheat. Having said that, these app developers that encourage high ratings to unlock/advance your position in their app/game would distort results anyway.

    Increasingly I find myself relying on review sites to recommend good apps.

    Date and time
    August 06, 2012, 11:08AM
    • Why is the word "troll" being used more and more as an umbrella term for behaviour of which other people (aka. humorless Internet purists) disapprove?? In the above article the writer talks about "bogus apps that troll successful apps". Anyone who understands the English language knows that there is a perfectly good standard English word that covers this sort of behaviour - spoof. The Internet is said by its spruikers to widen our horizons. The writing in this article shows that it's equally capable of "dumbing down".

      Date and time
      August 06, 2012, 11:50AM
      • The definition of troll that I am using is the "to fish for by trailing bait" meaning, not the internet "flame" meaning (of which your message is an example). App makers are deliberately creating definitions of apps that appear in Google Play searches as "bait" in order to try to capture some of the purchases or installations of the original applications. They are using other apps successes and the public ignorance to temporarily create popularity. Trawling is when a wide net is cast and you try to catch anything, trolling is when you trail single baited lines. 

        I dedicate this reply to my father and all those years he dragged me fishing.

        George Wright
        Date and time
        August 06, 2012, 12:12PM
      • Thanks for enlightening us George... I feel I have learned something today. Steve?

        Big Windows
        Date and time
        August 06, 2012, 12:34PM
      • I admit the word 'troll' there confused me as well. I thought we were talking about internet stuff not fishing so I also assumed it was a stand in for 'spoof'.

        Date and time
        August 06, 2012, 1:03PM
      • Holy wow, George. I didn't realise that trolling also means "fish by trailing a baited line along behind a boat". I thought you were trolling us.

        Date and time
        August 06, 2012, 2:35PM
    • Apple is forgetting its lesson learned in the 90s with Microsoft.

      Date and time
      August 06, 2012, 2:10PM
      • Yeah, it's REALLY hurt their bottom line. *snerk*

        Date and time
        August 07, 2012, 6:21AM
    • Of course the other difference being that Google doesn't mandate the use of its "app store" for apps.

      You could set up "Wright's apps" and spend the time to filter only the apps that your readers would appreciate.

      Amazon have already gone down this path, somewhat.

      Date and time
      August 06, 2012, 2:23PM
      • Yes, this is a big advantage of the Android ecosystem, that in the long run many excellent solutions to the current app marketplace may evolve.

        George Wright
        Date and time
        August 06, 2012, 2:30PM

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