Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rant: Windows Phone Marketplace Search

Readers of this blog will no doubt know that I am a huge fan of Windows Phone. But there are some pet hates I have with this platform, and one of them is an issue big enough that a blog about has long been way overdue. It is a first world problem, but it is an important one as far as mobile OS goes.

Dear Microsoft, the Marketplace search feature sucks. My beef isn't with the Marketplace itself, nor is it with the quality or number of apps (which I have no issue with - 80k and counting apps is good enough) found there. It is the search algorithm, or more to say, the number of developers who are gaming the keyword/search feature on the Marketplace. Basically, Microsoft you are not doing a good job with policing the Marketplace!

I will give you a great example of how the search feature on the Marketplace is an awful experience for the user. In this example, I will be using Twitter as it seems that there is a huge market in WP7 for a fully functional Twitter client. What would a normal user do when searching for a Twitter client? Well they would type 'Twitter' in the search field and then press enter. After all that makes sense doesn't it? Go ahead, do it now and have a look at what sort of rubbish the Marketplace throws up when you search 'Twitter'. Don't have a WP7 device? Well check out the results of the UK Marketplace below:

1. Twitter
2. Angry Birds Uncovered
3. Basketball
4. Blocked In Free
5. Taptitude
6. Save The Roundy
7. Tangled Birds
8. Toilet Paper
9. Air Hockey
10. Funny Bounce
11. Spider Solitaire
12. Funny Jump
13. Fhotoroom
14. WP Shortcut Tiles
15. Seesmic
16. TvPyx
17. Instant TV
18. Tap The Birds
19. Kinect Star Wars
20. MyTextTwister
21. Slot Machine
22. Archer
23. Birdsong
24. My Famous Friend
25. King Of The Sea
26. Beezz
27. UkSnow
28. bubblegum
29. Metal Detector
30. Solitaire
31. Tweetcaster
32. Darts Arena X01
33. Blackjack
34. Fuse
35. rowi [lite]
36. moTweets
37. Mehdoh
38. Text My Location
39. rowi
40. Carbon
41. Social Mints
42. London Bikes
43. Translator
44. Where am I
45. Blastastic
46. National Zoo
47. Pic-o-Twit
48. Spout
49. Blocked In
50. moTweets Pro

Underlined are the apps that I found to resembles anything like or partly like a functional Twitter client. There are a handful of other apps here that partly uses Twitter (mainly as a 'share to' function) like 'Text My Location', 'Fuse' and 'bubblegum', but Twitter isn't the primary function of said apps, and so should be even further down the list. A grand total of 15 apps listed out of 50 actually features Twitter as its primary function. Even 'rowi', a rather good fully featured Twitter client made by a Microsoft employee, features nearly the bottom of the search result. 'gleek!' and 'Ocell' are no where to be seen.

No wonder legitimate developers are pissed off.

The rest of the result, particularly the top 25 results, are populated by video games made by savvy developers and/or publishers out to game the system. Chief offender is Lucky Games who managed to get seven of their games listed this way, somehow manipulating the result in their favour. Another is AE Mobile. How do they do it? Fuck knows. My guess is they submitted 'Twitter' as a keyword to their app in order to gain favourable results knowing that, more often than not, people would search for such a keyword.

In the early days of the web, webmasters would often insert meta tags as keywords within the body of their website to manipulate search engine results, and Microsoft for reasons unknown thought it would be swell to allow it here. Meta tags became a useful tool for webmasters to spam their way into search engine results. Search engine providers like Yahoo! and Lycos realised this and by 2000, meta tags were no longer considered useful. I doubt any search engine providers in 2012 actually even considered meta tags. Even I eventually dropped meta tags from my GeoCities (RIP) webpage in 1999 when they proved nothing more than a waste of time.

But maybe, just maybe, this was just a one-off case, says you? I hear you. Let's search for another popular social network. Not that one should do so, after all Windows Phone 7 is already a rather brilliant Facebook client by itself - but never mind that. Someone looking for a nice Facebook alternative would instead be presented with this utter gem of a result:

1. Facebook
2. Angry Birds Uncovered
3. Basketball
4. Blocked In Free
5. Fim Chat
6. Optical Illusions Free
7. Taptitude
8. Save The Roundy
9. Toilet Paper
10. IM+
11. Air Hockey
12. Funny Bounce
13. Spider Solitaire
14. Funny Jump
15. PONG7
16. WP Shortcut Tiles
17. facebook
18. Roundy Dash
19. Seesmic
20. Urban Dictionary 7
21. TvPyx
22. Dance*Cam
23. e-LeD Me Free
24. Apict
25. Tap The Birds
26. Kinect Star Wars
27. MyTextTwister
28. Slot Machine
29. Archer
30. Videos FREE
31. Translator Pro Free
32. King Of The Sea
33. Angry Sharks Free
34. Pin To Start 3
35. Facebook For PC
36. eBuddy XMS
37. bubblegum
38. Metal Detector
39. Polaroids
40. Solitaire
41. My Rubber Duck
42. TweetCaster
43. Darts Arena X01
44. 1,000 Amazing Proverbs
45. Blackjack
46. Fuse
47. moTweets
48. App World Marketplace
49. Pin To Start
50. Mehdoh

Looks familiar? Apart from a couple of additional apps and swapped places, the result is almost exactly the same as when you searched for 'Twitter'. Again the chief offenders here are Lucky Games and AE Mobile. But putting both results together you can start to notice which developer are attempting to game the system. The developer of dire 'Angry Birds Uncovered' app, Fisher Developing as well as Sour Green Plums who are behind the equally bad 'Blocked In Free' game.

Then there's 4Bros Studio, the four brothers behind 'Taptitude'. 4Bros Studio claims to have over 300,000 downloads for 'Taptitude' - impressive enough, and despite me finding the game to be rather on the meh side of things, congrats to them. Three of 4Bros Studio actually consists of Microsoftians - yes, employees of Microsoft. I will leave it to you to decide how this info actually relates with 'Taptitude' featuring highly when searching for both 'Twitter' and 'Facebook'...

The situation is so awful I have even downloaded a couple of offending apps so I can leave low ratings voicing my displeasure at any offending developers. Some of these apps shown here are actually rather good, but the behavior of the developers of using keywords to manipulate the result means that I consider them as nothing more than spam. Yes, every single app not underlined above, I consider either their developers or publishers to be spammers. And I have a strict rule about spammers - I don't trust them, nor will I buy apps from them.

So why should Microsoft care? They should because at the end of the day, the one great thing about Windows Phone 7 is the solid UX. But this isn't helping and by allowing this, it takes away all the good positive stuff about Windows Phone. App discovery on Windows Phone 7 has never been its greatest asset and this just makes it worse. Windows Phone power users like me already realise this eons ago, and uses alternative discovery apps like 'AppFlow' and 'AppTastic', but what about newbies?

A newbie or a user from another platform attempting to convert won't. The first thing most new users will do is search the Marketplace for their favourite app. Imagine them searching for something only to find a list of rubbish irrelevant apps, they may be put off forever never to return convinced once and for all that Microsoft is a rubbish search engine company. Microsoft can temporarily relief this problem this by providing us with advanced search feature, allowing us to filter results by categories. But that would be too simple a fix, and at the end of the day would an action equivalent to sweeping the problem under a carpet.

Mind you that would be better than doing nothing, which is exactly what Microsoft is doing now. Despite promising to clean up the Marketplace, Microsoft has yet to do anything to eradicate this sort of manipulation. I sincerely hope someone at Microsoft is listening, because you are only shooting yourself in the foot by pissing off honest developers and users.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice idea.. thanks for posting.