That's the closest thing I can find to a "confirmation" that AppGratis was accepting cash in exchange for a higher rank in their app. They didn't confirm or deny that in their "Here's the Full Story" blog post, nor does it say anything about their business model on their website.
In any case, that supposedly has nothing to do with the two official reasons for which they were most recently banned. First is 2.25:
> Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.
But they had encountered that problem before and cleared it with Apple. So the only new one is 5.6:
> Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.
Seems a little odd to remove an app with 12 million users over such a minor detail when it could be resolved in a few seconds -- just remove push notifications. Does Apple ever give official responses on these issues?
"That's the closest thing I can find to a "confirmation" that AppGratis was accepting cash in exchange for a higher rank in their app."
This is the core of their business model. I think a better way to explain is more like Groupon for Apps. You get access to their 12M members, but in exchange, you agree to 1) set your app to free for a day or discount heavily for a day and 2) pay AppGratis for the promotion opportunity.
In terms of whether this is "black hat" or not, I think it's not really black hat. It obviously has the same effect as buying a bunch of paid installs via CPI networks, you just get a lot more velocity given the large audience that AppGratis has access to.
In terms of business model justification, you can defend them on the basis that they do the work of finding app developers who make quality apps (note that most of the apps they promote have high ratings) that may not currently be marketed well and they convince them to make it free for one day only. Users love free stuff and obviously based on their downloads and growth, people found a lot of value in the service. The fact that the side benefit of being featured is that you skyrocket in the app store rankings is not AppGratis's fault, that's something Apple can account for in the app store ranking algorithms if they want to (it's their garden after all). This would be no different than an Amazon Gold Box offer that discounts something heavily and that product rises to the top of the "Bestsellers" list for a limited time.
> Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.
They do a very poor job of enforcing this. Around Christmas about every app I have sent me a "I'm still here!" push notification around that time advertising itself. And every zynga game I've purchased (a habit I've discontinued) does this both for itself and for other zynga games a few times a month.
To use one Zynga game as an example, it's great to get notifications from Words With Friends when it's my turn to play. The "you haven't played with <Facebook friend>! Start a game?" notifications, not so much.
Definitely makes sense for multi-player games. I had Draw Something sending me notifications for a brief time now that I think about it, until I got bored with it.
I guess that shows the importance of the policy in question, to provide an disincentive for companies to abuse the privilege. I'm not sure if that applies in this case however, when marketing-driven notifications are actually desired by the users.
Some games benefit from push notifications as reminders to do something like "feed my dragon or else it will die" or "your free spins are available now". These are integral to the core mechanics of the gameplay vs. a marketing message like "buy some coins for $1.99, on sale now!" or something to that effect.
Waiting by not playing a game is never a "core mechanic" of a game. It's either an excuse for the app to grab your attention (play now to get a bonus) or a way to drive IAP (pay so you don't have to wait).
One of my friends in the mobile space told me about some app doing this, but I don't know if AppGratis. At least one mobile app was offering a free app of the day and charging thousands of dollars for the placement.
Not my strong area, but I will point out that the rest of the blogger's post is fantasy. If you are correct, then nothing he wrote is right.
- Paid links is not blackhat SEO. Blackhat SEO involves building links though browser exploits and spam & getting referrals from hijacked pages that rank well. Major newspaper brands sell paid links. No one would call them or their customers blackhat. In fact, buying links is considered whitehat SEO.
- Paid results absolutely do not take in to account a user's satisfaction. Google has a list of prohibited types of ad customers some of which is strictly enforced (things that are illegal under federal law) and other parts that are not enforced at all.
- Studies have shown a large % of Google users do not even understand that the top ads are ads. Take a look at it some tip on an older LCD screen with a poor viewing angle and you will notice the pink background color is imperceptible. This is intentional.
I'm not sure who the original author is, but it is a bit disturbing to me that there are people in this industry that have swallowed Google's propaganda in its entirety, and then are applying those concepts to the world at large. Assuming he is not a Google employee, I think he may be in for a shock on how brutal, inconsistent, and cut throat this business is.
That you happen to rely on links for your rankings and that you can't distinguish between paid links and non-paid links does not make every paid link blackhat SEO. Blackhat implies malice. You'd have to distinguish between a paid link that is an ad versus a paid link that is there just to improve search engine rank.
Good luck with that.
I can see why google has a problem with this but let's face it: short of looking at the books and being present during meetings you'll never know whether a link is:
(b) not paid
(c) just an ad
(d) an attempt at increasing search engine rank
It's not the same as ads - the guidelines only refers to paid links which pass PageRank (ie. Without nofollow on them).
Doing something to achieve an SEO benefit that is in contravention of the guidelines of the search engine you are optimising for, because you assume you can't or won't be caught (for example because they can't look at your books and weren't present during the meeting where you sold the link) is the definition of black hat SEO.
It may well be the case that Google lacks the ability to enforce certain aspects of their guidelines at some points in time, but as we have seen in the past couple of years when they do figure it out it can be a business closing event for some.
Much better to just follow the guidelines don't you think?
Paid links are black hat SEO. If you sell links you should be putting rel="nofollow" on them.
Also Google does do a pretty rigorous job of combatting paid ad spam. They have many ad text and landing page policies designed to weed out sneaky affiliate deals and the like. They also reward advertisers that provide more popular user experiences through their quality score mechanism which is a direct (and very significant) factor in cost per click.
It could be AppGratis was just as rigorous in their evaluation of offers - I also don't think its a very valid analogy nor do I disagree with you generally save for those 2 points.
> - Paid results absolutely do not take in to account a user's satisfaction.
I think he was referring to how the clicks on your ads are tracked and you have to pay more to get an ad in if it doesn't attract many clicks (and it doesn't place as high, and you may not even be eligible). This is a feature of AdWords advertisements.
E.g. You can say that if someone searches for cheese, then sees your ad you setup for that keyword, then doesn't click, then that ad was not good for them.
Google's write up is here:
> Having a high Quality Score means that our systems think your ad, keyword, and landing page are all relevant and useful to someone looking at your ad.
> Higher Quality Scores lead to lower CPCs. That means you pay less per click when your keyword has a higher Quality Score.
> Higher Quality Scores lead to higher ad positions. That means your ad can show up higher on the page when your keyword has a higher Quality Score.
Wow, that's quite a fortune they'd be raking in if people are actually paying $100,000 per day for promotion.
I agree with most people that paid app promotions are almost universally bad, but the selective enforcement of trivial guidelines by Apple is still disturbing.
There's no better way to enact complete control over a population than to make sure they're all in violation of at least one of your obscure rules at any given time. Then you can ruin any of them just for looking at you funny, all while hiding behind the guise of "regulations".
The sad part is it's worth it. The app gratis users are crap, but charting gets you lots of highly qualified users, and if your app is decent you will make that money back. This is no different than botting was last year, except the people are presumably real.
Sounds like AppGratis showed apps in a way that was completely different from the App Store. The App Store provides an immense pile of crap, which is in front of another immense pile of crap, and...repeat. You get the idea.
AppGratis shows a small number of apps each day and says here -- look at these -- I think they are good.
Some subset gets there because the developer pays, but my impression is that most do not.
Users wouldn't keep looking at AppGratis if everything was crap. There's a balance to be had.
On 5.6 -- if AppGratis sends ONE notification each day that says "new things to look at", is that advertising, promotion, or direct marketing? How is that different from any other news item push?
I think Apple was disturbed by the effect AppGratis could have on their charting system.
> That's the closest thing I can find to a "confirmation" that AppGratis was accepting cash in exchange for a higher rank in their app.
AppGratis is doing a CPI (cost-per-install) business. They make an arrangement with developers where they reduce the price of their app to 0 for a day and in return AppGratis will deliver a certain number of installs for an agreed-upon price.
App developers like this because it is a form of promotion for their app, it increases their chart ranking, and the next day they put the price back on their app and continue to get lots of installs via an increased ranking. There are also numerous opportunities to monetize those free users from in-app payments.
This whole thing differs from normal advertising in that apps like AppGratis drive a ton of installs in a very short amount of time. TapJoy ran afoul of Apple awhile back for similar types of practices.
What makes you think AppGratis offered to remove the push feature? It would drastically cut down their marketing power from everyone who has the app installed and accepted push to only people who happen to open the app each day.
I personally don't care what AppGratis does, whether it's good or bad, because, as far as I understand it, that's not what any of the "outrage" was all about.
It's the fact that a popular app, downloaded millions of times, existing for years, can suddenly be yanked by Apple, without any kind of reasonable "due process", or even reasonable warning. At a whim.
It's the arbitrariness of it, and the fact that it could happen to any developer, that's scary. Talking about whether or not AppGratis is a good/bad company is a complete distraction from the part that actually matters.
I still find it strange at times to wrap my head around the fact that for decades we championed a distributed and an open world-scale system - The Internet.
And now, we are going back to policies controlled by 'guidelines' and rules and terms and conditions of large corporations -- Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Blackberry. Either we as a developer community got lost somewhere; or this was a careful, well thought-out move by the said corporations. And it is only getting stronger as people are replacing laptops with tablets and so on.
I'm not commenting on the AppGratis fiasco, I couldn't care less about it. Sorry for ranting.
I'm not sure how much things have really become worse here, as opposed to just shuffling things around.
20 years ago, a lot of people would have owned a Nintendo system or similar, which had all the things you discussed and more. 10 years ago, most cell phones could run third-party apps, but the requirements were so strict that almost none of any interest were available. The PC was theoretically an open system, but Microsoft was doing their best to close it up with business measures that were about as effective as these technological measures are today.
I'm not trying to defend in any way what Apple and friends get up to here. But I think things are not as bad as you say, or perhaps were always as bad as you say. The fight for openness is ongoing.
> 20 years ago, a lot of people would have owned a Nintendo system or similar, which had all the things you discussed and more.
This is still the case for consoles nowadays. But as much as I find it regrettable, there is a big difference between a single-purpose device like a game console and a general-purpose computing device like a smartphone.
> The PC was theoretically an open system, but Microsoft was doing their best to close it up with business measures that were about as effective as these technological measures are today.
Microsoft's famous abuses of its position have been sanctioned (not that it did poor Netscape any good, obviously...). It's a valid comparison with the AppGratis situation, where the corporation does not tolerate competition, but there never was the kind of full-spectrum filtering and mandatory corporate approval you see from all players in the smartphone space.
It's also cognitive load. Facing infinite options with no guide isn't great. You don't read the entire internet, and likewise you're not looking for all options when looking for an application. Apple hosts all iOS apps, they have to sell the prospect of an open platform, so AppGratis acted as a filter.
Much of the paid-blogosphere is acting as a similar filter to this end. BoingBoing, waxy, and other early-web popular aggregators are known for reliably pointing at new-and-cool, not for being cool. Now blogspam aggregators are a business with margins.
Well said. An ecosystem where paid promotion is the only path to reach the top of the charts incentivizes (even requires) the developers to become as aggressive as possible in terms of monetization, which often sucks for users and user experience.
Well, the problem is that reaching the top of the charts matters, because being at the top of the charts is where sales come from.
If there were something about the app market that really led itself to a winner-take-all tournament-style compensation, then I could shrug and think that AppGratis is merely the manifestation of another problem, and if it weren't them it would be someone else.
I'm not sure the app market really needs to be that way. Rate people based on average rankings, for example, giving new entrants a grace period before competitors can bomb them into 0-star region. Quality will eventually out.
But what about SEO and SEM? Don't you think that to grow ecommerce players, SaaS vendors, etc... or directories need to be aggressive there? It's true for every platform where there is mostly one path to entry.
Now with the open web at least, there are multiple paths...with social media, etc...
I am the developer of Store News ( http://store-news-app.com ) a iOS/OS X app that shows the best deals in the Mac/iOS app store. Several ad companies contacted me and offered money for a good position in my app. I always declined because thinking about it made me feel bad.
When this whole AppGratis thing came up a few days ago I had an interesting discussion about that with a friend of mine who is a lawyer. He told me that according to German law it would have been illegal to what the ad companies wanted me to do: To falsify the apps my own app is displaying for taking money.
I don't want to judge AppGratis for what they are doing but to me it feels not right. They may not break any US/... law but still… I think it also depends on how exactly they promote apps inside their own app. If they clearly mark it as a promotion/ad then I think it is fine. The comparison the author of the blog post makes only holds water if they did mark their promotions as ads because Google is clearly highlighting/declaring paid links as such…
Whether or not AppGratis was "rightfully" banned from the App Store is besides the point, IMO.
The problem here is that Apple is creating a confusing, inconsistent, and highly luck-based environment. This is in many ways similar to why entrepreneurship is often highly lacking in poorly governed countries.
Whether or not the rules are justifiable is a secondary concern to whether or not the rules are evenly and consistently applied. Apple wants a walled garden, fine, but we cannot have a walled garden where the majority of apps breaking the rules get away with it, and it's a random draw as to who gets the enforcement hammer.
If there's one thing that's poisonous to a healthy market it's uncertainty.
I am ashamed by some of the reactions here (appart from jacquesm which offers a balanced one)
AppGratis is a media, and like all media, it runs on advertising. The quality of apps promoted is shown in the fact that many apps stayed high in the ranking after the promotion and most apps (95%+) never paid to be featured by AppGratis. There was a cost - the cost of giving away an app with in App purchase credits or what have you.
Do you know many black hat marketing Companies with 20,000 - 5 stars ratings from consumers all over the world? I doubt eHow would have 5 star ratings...
Maybe AppGratis became too big for its own good, but still. But we are not talking about scams like offer walls and shady newsfeed hacks.
What I see is a bunch of jealous people that are now coming out of the hood to kick the CEO on the floor - and he is obviously hurting.
Wait, "Deal" means paid placement and "Discovery" does not? Or is it the opposite? How exactly is it you think this is clear?
It is true that there is certainly plenty of 'old school' media that intentionally confuses the difference between paid-placement advertisements and editorial content too. And venues that do that are disrespected and considered deceitful too, even if there are plenty of them.
Sorry- my mistake.
In the US, the Sponsored apps were marked as sponsored. They could have been more clear about it, but you can see that. The others were just regular content for consumers to discover.
It's odd that the author singles out AppGratis for so much ire. There are many, many channels for paid app promotion, and rankings in Apple's app store have been heavily influenced by advertising dollars since the fall of 2008 - long before AppGratis was founded.
The advertising-free 'meritocracy' the author wants has never existed - even before the influx of paid app promotion, Apple could arbitrarily send an app to the top of the paid or free charts simply by featuring it.
Not only for apps, but for anything in the world. If you spend a lot of money on advertising, your "thing" will sell more copies. True for electronics, cell phones, movies, TV shows, shoes, clothes... you name it.
The author of the original blog post thinks good apps should be decided by Apple and not influenced by advertising. What world does he live in?
I completely agree that the app store environment would be better without paid promotion from companies like AppGratis. However, I would also agree with the CEO of AppGratis in his post when he said that the app discovery process through the app store is broken.
There have been numerous times when I've been searching for a good app in a particular category and the app store search results are very bad. For example try searching for "panoramic photo app". You'll get numerous results but all of the top ones are complete crap.
I'd like to see Apple allow at least one service which actually filters out all the garbage apps to show only the decent ones. Or at least improve their own service to manually ban the crapware apps to the bottom. Also the "one free app a day" model is a nice and effective way to spotlight interesting apps compared to Apple's staff picks, which aren't updated frequently enough.
Calling it a "paid app promotion app" isn't factually correct. Most of the app developers who participated in AppGratis deals didn't have to pay anything. AppGratis' major revenue source was through commissions from the Affiliate program.
The only justification for the removal of this app is that it was against Apple's AppStore Guidelines & policies.
It is a strange side effect that people will value something much more if its on 'sale'.
IANAY (I am not a yank) but didn't JC Penny backtrack on their idea to stop having promotions, but constant low price?
websites like hotukdeals constantly show how people will buy pointless things they never wanted, because they are 'cheap', then moan when their order isn't fulfilled, about not been able to get the thing they didn't want 6 hours ago.
tapping into that, to prime the pot for downloads is surely a useful feature. The fact these apps exist are just natural competition in the app store, against the app store.
It is that last bit that makes me doubt the validity of it as a business model.
This is the most biased article that I ever read on HN.
Did someone forced the millions of users to use appgratis?
It's not like you create a recommendation app that promotes shitty apps and 10 million users suddenly use it. No, that app has to bring some value. I'd never use such an app, but there are many more others who are. Let the economy speak for itself and as long as the app is not doing illegal things let it be supported or killed by the market.
It is like saying that google should be closed because it shows shitty pages for some searches.
AppGratis simply served a need, both on the consumer side (App discovery) as well as on the corporate side (app promotion). What ratio paid apps to free apps they were running is guesswork but I'd imagine if they would fail at the mix they would fail in the marketplace. The bigger problem is that they were simply too good at what they were doing and were competing with Apple on Apple's turf. Apple would like to control how you discover Apps and any kind of curation that is successful will sooner or later be hit like this.
Whether or not AppGratis could have seen this coming is debatable, but the product was solid and seemed to have served a genuine need. If the app store would not be broken in many respects then AppGratis would have never been able to carve out the niche that it had.
App curation at the level that AppGratis was doing is really hard work, and you can't blame them for wanting to be compensated for that hard work. So a certain percentage of paid promotion is a fairly obvious step to make the model viable imo.
Their biggest mistake - if you can call it that - was probably to be too good at what they were doing.
In the AppStore no threat to Apple is too big to fail. Better remember that if you are successful with an app you wrote and you are possibly in competition with some portion of the Apple empire.
> where users receive everyday a push for the app that paid the highest bid to AppGratis ?
From what I understand of it only a fraction of the placements was paid for, you have to pay your bills somehow. If AG would only push paid ads they would have never ever been so popular with their users.
I never used AppGratis, so I need some help understanding here.
Were 100% of the app recommendations "sponsored"? Were those that were "sponsored" marked as such?
The comparison is made to black-hat SEO, but having a list of apps as well as some sponsored apps is fine if they are marked as such. The article makes the comparison to black-hat links, but including "sponsored" links is what Google does with AdWords/PPC and is completely legitimate. So what did it look like with AppGratis? It's all about organization and transparency.
This blog post makes a ridiculous argument to defend its point.
To paraphrase the author, "Apple should control the rankings of an app in the app store, and it should not be influenced by illicit methods".
Now, suddenly, paying a third-party to advertise your app inside their app is an "illicit method" of getting it discovered.
It's called advertising. Developers can choose (or choose not) to pay money to promote there app in dozens of places and the app will increase in ranking in the App Store because advertising works.
It's like saying you want people to discover movies by going to the theater and choosing them by only by name, and NOT by watching trailers, TV commercials or viewing the posters. It's just a ridiculous argument that all advertising is by definition bad.
Meritocracy in search results? Are you kidding? I'm sorry but search results are not a meritocracy and to think otherwise is just plain foolish.
First of all, if results can be hand ordered is it a meritocracy? No. Because it's a select individuals opinion. Can their opinion be bought? Yep.
Second, can you buy popularity? Yep. Then is it a meritocracy? Nope. If EA or Zynga puts out a game and spends $10 million promoting it and uses their other apps to make it popular, is that a meritocracy when it shows up at the top of a search result? No. It isn't.
Search engines aren't a meritocracy. The best results don't win. The most relevant thing isn't always given. They are an attempt to return relevant information, but how that relevance is determined is not necessarily merit related at all. It just has to solve the user problem. It can be done in any order that the search engine provider deems fit.
For example, Google shows ads alongside the search results. The top ads aren't merit related. They are profit related. Google puts paid results above real results. Google puts money above relevance.
When you are talking about millions of dollars being thrown around, it is no longer about merit, it's about influence and those are not the same thing.
It's true that you pay them and they send out a push message advertising your app as their daily deal to their users. I'm not sure if that's black hat, though. It's pretty standard marketing. You can pay amazon similarly to be on the front page of the amazon app store. I do think it is against app store guidelines all the same. Those are pretty clear you can't use push messages to promote other apps.
It would probably be more ethical to charge users for installing AppGratis. Then the incentive would be to provide the user with useful information everyday, or risk being uninstalled / canceled / refunded / whatever. Consumer Reports works this way and they seem to be pretty successful.
Since the app discovery process in the Apple's own App Store (or on an iDevice) is far away from acceptable user experience, it is not a big surprise that companies like AppGratis are trying to fill this niche.
Apple's ban does not help in improving users' [that's us] experience. A better response from Apple would be fixing core of the matter.
I recall that couple of years ago Apple purchased app search&discovery start-up for circa $50M. Looks like reverse integration took place... unfortunately.
I discovered more high quality apps on HN than in App Store.
>Google’s job is to make sure the top results are the best results possible.
So all that AppGratis had to do was make sure the apps they promoted were not crappy. Review the submitted apps and factor in (genuine) votes by end-users. This way they would have added value to the ecosystem.
If Apple/Google banned such an app from their appstore, I would have been pissed.
But I understand. It is their marketplace. They make the rules. There is no free market and no democracy. Those were just ideals, long forgotten and never to be seen again.
I would continue typing and go into a rant on how the Appstore is a monopoly. But I know it isn't. And even an oligopoly doesn't make me happy.
Small app developers were a bigger beneficiary of AppGratis than paid app developers ever were if I understand the ratio of free apps to paid placements mentioned elsewhere in this thread correctly. By a factor of 7:1 or so.
> And I want Apple to decide that — not another company that takes (large) kickbacks from app developers [...] I want Apple to be ultimately responsible for my app marketplace experience.
Yes, that line bugged me as well. Forgetting about AppGratis (because I don't know enough about their business) how do you as a consumer just know that the store owner must be better at curating/rating items for you than a third party who's job that is?
Everytime there's a discussion about the walled garden, people say that it's to prevent malware, but Apple is going way beyond that by forcing a cut of in-app purchases, banning application prototyping apps, rejecting an Android magazine app, and crap like this.
I somehow feel that if AppGratis was paying the 30% cut to Apple, it wouldn't have been banned from the store.
So they promoted applications that users (that liked what they saw) downloaded. And that impacted numbers of downloads in the application store.
That's his whole beef and the reason for calling them a 'black hat' marketing company?
Using that logic, if application is featured on a popular web site where company paid PR to advertise makes the company in question a black hat marketing company who is fucking everything up for everybody else?