Hello, Android

We're pleased to announce that we've officially launched support for Android apps! Google Play app support is now out of Beta, and you can now use the full suite of AppRecs features.

Highlights:

To switch to Android mode, simply select Android from the dropdown menu at the top of any page.

Get started with Android.
Travis Walter, One Busy App Reviewer

Travis Walter is a dynamo. Travis Walter is very busy. Travis Walter is quite possibly a prodigy. Who is Travis Walter? Travis Walter — or "TravisWalter" — really likes to review apps.

TravisWalter has submitted 429 reviews to the iOS App Store™, all of them positive. Here are a few:

travis walter or traviswalter, app reviewer

When you're busy writing reviews for all those wallpaper, emoji, casino, and Flappy Bird clone apps it can be tricky to keep everything straight.

The Least Trustworthy Reviews
the least trustworthy reviews

One of AppRecs' most important features is its ability to detect app review manipulation in the iOS App Store™ and Google Play™. As we reported earlier this year, we look for reviews that are driven by coercion to those acquired via shady review exchange networks to those that are outright paid for.

Despite being against app store rules, many of these practices are commonplace. Out of 24 million iOS reviews, for example, we've flagged nearly 2 million as untrustworthy, and there are likely many more.

We've often wondered, "How far do some of these apps go? What are the most extreme examples of review manipulation they're getting away with?" To find out, we added a new search mode to the AppRecs search engine that lists apps with the most flagrant examples of review manipulation first. You can try it out via the "Least Trustworthy" menu option or this button:

There are two big reasons why we care so much about detecting fake and otherwise untrustworthy reviews. First, when looking at apps we would like to be able to trust their ratings and take them at face value. It's a pain to try to decipher whether an app is truly good or not, and many illegitimate reviews are quite convincing until you examine the reviewer's overall behavior. Second, having accurate, meaningful app ratings enables us to develop features on top of them, such as our app recommendations engine. We can say with conviction, for example, that you'll probably like Carcassonne -- a genuinely 4-star game -- if you like Ticket to Ride.

A lot of the practices that are against app store policy, e.g., the promise of in-app rewards for reviews, are quite common and blatant. Why is this allowed to happen in the official app stores? We're not sure, but we'll continue to pick up the slack.

New Feature: Price Drops
new feature: price drops

I try to wait until an app goes on sale -- or better yet, goes free for a while -- before buying it.

So, AppRecs now has a Price Drops feature. On the home page, you can the most popular apps that have dropped in price in the last day or two. For iOS, you'll see ones that have dropped in price as well as ones that have gone free. For Android, you'll see just the price drops -- Google Play reportedly doesn't allow apps to temporarily go free.

Want to know when an app you're interested in goes on sale? Add it to your watchlist, and we'll send you an email notification.

There's also a dedicated Price Drops page where you can see the complete list.

Along with the Price Drops page comes another useful feature. On the detail page for any given app, you can now see if the app's price has dropped recently. If it has, consider adding it to your watchlist so that you'll be notified the next time it happens. If it hasn't, maybe just get it now since there's might not be much sense in holding out for a lower price.

Cool Tool: Page Scanner
new feature: user app lists


I'll occasionally come across an article or discussion thread where several apps are strewn throughout, and I find myself wishing there were a simple, short list of those apps. Well, the new Page Scanner feature does just that — it searches any given page for apps and puts them all together into a nice little list. Not only that, but it recommends alternatives that might have been overlooked in the original post/article.

For example, here’s what happens if you plug in the URL of a Reddit thread (Best of iPad Apps - Fall 2016):

A link to the scanner is in the "More" menu at the top of every page. To use it, simply paste the URL of a page mentioning iOS or Android apps, and it'll generate a nicely formatted list of the apps found on that page. You can then browse the apps on AppRecs or save them to a list of your own.

How does it work? The most reliable approach the scanner uses is to look for app links These links can be direct links to the app store or simply links containing app IDs. On some websites, it also has the ability to identify app names from the text if it has enough confidence that the names are fairly unique.

Our Newest Feature: App Lists
new feature: user app lists

Why can't you bookmark apps in the App Store? You should be able to say, "No, I don't want to download this right now, but I want to come back and take another look later." The price might drop later. Or maybe you want to get it when you're back on wifi.

We've decided to fix this and are pleased to introduce our latest apprecs.com feature, Lists.

Here's how it works. By default, you have a Favorites list as well as a Watchlist. Favorites is intended for apps you like and might already have, and the Watchlist is intended for apps you might like to download later, such as after a price drop. The lists are yours, though, so use them however you like.

An equally cool feature is that you also can create your own, custom lists. Take a look at one I've created:

What would you put in a custom list?

We're working on features that will make Lists even more useful. Soon, you'll be able to be alerted of price drops for apps in your Watchlist and get automated recommendations based on your favorites. We think these will be pretty great.

Lists are available now. Give them a try -- just tap the "Save" button on any app's details page.

Democratic vs. Republican Names
democratic vs. republican names

We process a large volume of data, including campaign contribution records from the Federal Election Commission, for apprecs.com and our apps. Since we already have this FEC data, we figured we'd get sidetracked a bit and see what other uses it might have. Turns out to be pretty interesting.

Donalds, for example, have tended to be Republicans (3981 Democrats vs. 6419 Republicans). Jessicas have tended to be Democrats (1241 vs. 574).

We looked at all 20 million campaign contributions since 1996 and broke them out by name and whether they were for the Democratic or Republican party. We flagged individuals who primarily made Republican contributions as Republicans, and likewise for Democrats. Then, we made a list of the ratios of individuals with each name who appeared to be Democrats vs. Republicans.

A quick search reveals those who donate as "Ted" tend to be in Republican territory (53.4%). What about Rafael, as in Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz? Democrat (63.1%).

We went a bit further and looked at names vs. individual candidates for the 2016 presidential election. Who tends to contribute to Hillary vs. Bernie? Trump vs. Cruz? Finally, we looked at how much people contribute at a time, possibly an indicator of wealth. Who spends the most? Who spends the least?

One caveat here, much like in our previous Democratic vs. Republican Occupations chart, is that campaign contributors might not represent a perfect cross section of society. What if, say, Democrats are more likely to make campaign contributions than Republicans? That would skew all the names a bit more toward the left. That said, it seems unlikely that such behavior varies at a per-name level, so all names skewed a bit left or right shouldn't be an issue when comparing names to each other (e.g., Donald is further to the right than Jessica).

Pretty fascinating stuff. Now, back to our regular programming.

UPDATE (4/20/2016) - I just ran the data against the current members of the US Congress, and 65.5% of members of the House of Representatives and Senate have party affiliations that match their name leanings. So their names, or at least what they choose to go by, predict their affiliations about two thirds of the time. Interesting!

Positivity by Name
positivity by name

Do people with some names tend to give apps higher ratings than people with other names? Through some fairly straightforward analysis on over two million iOS app reviews, we've concluded that the answer is yes.

Carmelas, for example, tend to give ratings nearly a full star higher (4.49 stars on average) than Randals (3.61 stars).

For the analysis, we first broke out reviewers by their user names and averaged each reviewer's app ratings. We then parsed out their first names from their user names and averaged the user averages together by first name. Not all user names for the 18.7 million reviews in our database have easily identifiable first names in them, but we were able to find 2.1 million that do -- a nice big data set.

We're all pretty happy, on average. That said, some are measurably more satisfied than others, at least when using apps. The rating differences, while not huge, are measurable and significant, so we made a visualization where you can see names ranked by relative review positivity. Here's the main takeaway: Though a Randal isn't likely, on average, to leave a negative rating, there is a higher chance that a Randal will bring down the average rating for an app than a Carmela, who will most likely bring it up.

Can we use this sentiment data as a proxy for people's general demeanors? Are people with certain names generally more content than others? This data by itself doesn't say. Perhaps there's a connection between names and age or socioeconomic factors, which are in turn tied to other things such as the kinds of apps people use or how easily they're satisfied by their apps.

The causes for the sentiment differences aren't clear, but it's an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

Emoji art supplied by Emoji One.

The App Gender Gap

A gap has closed — there reportedly are now as many female gamers as male gamers. Our own analysis confirms this, but we've discovered something possibly more surprising: The rift between what games males and females play has been widening.

APP USERS (2012)
MALE VS. FEMALE
APP USERS (2016)
MALE VS. FEMALE

To build apprecs.com's latest feature (search for apps by user gender), we joined the names of 2.1 million app reviewers in the iOS App Store™ with SSA name data. The results reveal gender divisions within the App Store, app genres, and even individual apps.

In 2016, 50% of iOS app users are female, up from 45% in 2012. Women/girls now also make up 50% of iOS game players, up from 49% in 2012. What genres do they dominate? Puzzle and word games, apparently.

MALE VS. FEMALE GAMERS BY GENRE

Here's what surprised us: In most genres, the gender-based segregation is becoming more prominent, not less. Relatively fewer females are playing games in male-dominated genres (strategy, action, racing, sports), and relatively fewer males are playing games in female-dominated genres such as word, trivia, and puzzle.

To illustrate, here's a look at gender distributions back in 2012 vs. today and popular apps most heavily divided along gender lines.

What's going on here? Why are games becoming more gendered? We suspect this is primarily due to changes in app production and marketing.

App producers are stepping up their targeting in the highly competitive games marketplace, perhaps a "pink Lego phenomenon" of catering to conventional gender expectations to draw in more of a particular audience. Encouragingly, women are gaining prominence in the game development industry, and developers are starting to recognize audience diversity.

A shift in the audience might be another factor. Could smartphone expansion from early adopters out to the mainstream have brought more conventional behaviors to the app audience?

There are outliers. Arcade game players have headed closer to a 50/50 gender distribution since 2012. Could Temple Run — a game co-created by a woman and featuring female characters — have helped make the genre more appealing? Role-playing has seen an even greater boost, with the help of High School Story, Dear Diary, and other fashion, society, and romance apps.

About the author: Mark Edmond is the founder of apprecs.com, the app search engine that filters out fake reviews. His other data visualizations include Democratic vs. Republican Occupations and Disproportionately Common Names by Profession.

Awesome New App Search Tools
app search and filter improvements

We've been slogging away here at apprecs.com and are proud to announce some cool new features.

Got comments on the new features? Want something else? We'd love to hear from you!

The 7 Levels of App Review Trustworthiness
app review: fake reviews should be outlawed

We usually skim reviews before buying or downloading apps from the App Store™, but getting an accurate story is difficult to impossible. Many app makers manipulate their reviews and ratings in one way or another — they bribe users, purchase positive reviews, or use subtler tactics. How do you really know which reviews are genuine vs. ones you should ignore?

In our efforts to offload this labor to apprecs.com, we've analyzed millions of reviews and developed a classification scheme.

Most to Least Trustworthy Reviews by Origin

ORGANIC

GENTLY REQUESTED

AGGRESSIVELY REQUESTED

FILTERED / CHERRY-PICKED

NETWORK-SOURCED

REWARD-DRIVEN

PAID

At the top tier are the most trustworthy, and at the bottom are the least. Let's start with the ones we consider to be generally untrustworthy, pictured in red.

Aggressively Requested. These are reviews that result from the app excessively nagging the user for positive reviews. Users will often post a review to get the app to stop hounding them and leave them alone. Such a practice becomes obvious when the reviewer points it out, though a high frequency of very short reviews can also be a clue.

aggressively requested app review

Filtered / Cherry-Picked. At the next level are filtered reviews. For such reviews, the app asks for users' opinions and then asks only those users that responded positively to post reviews. The other users — those who expressed negative opinions — are not asked for reviews. This system serves to cherry-pick reviews and skew the app's overall rating in a positive direction.

filtered app review

Network-Sourced. Below that level dwell the reviews from a network of some sort. This could be the app developer's personal network of friends and family. It could be an online community where the developer has requested reviews to boost the app's ranking. Or it could be a review exchange network, providing tit-for-tat reviews ("I'll rate yours if you rate mine"). On the surface, such reviews can be virtually indistinguishable from organic reviews, but many can be detected by looking for similar review patterns across multiple reviewers.

Reward-Driven. One level down lie the incentivized reviews. These are the ones where the app users expect to receive rewards of some sort for posting their reviews. Apps may promise to unlock a feature, dole out free coins or gems, or give some other bonus. You're not exactly given cash to post a review, but you're given something else of value, and you might have otherwise have had to spend money to get it.

app review for reward

Paid. Way down at the bottom, in the bowels of review purgatory, are the paid reviews. Be they from a review mill in China or from, say, a fiverr freelancer, they're driven by a pure cash motive, most certainly not a selfless desire to spread truth.

paid app review via fiverr

Apple's policy dictates that developers not attempt to manipulate reviews, but it's clear that that's often not the case.

App Store Review Guidelines

3.10
Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program

The most trustworthy reviews are the ones that users write spontaneously, without any incentive ("organic" reviews). Unfortunately, they can be very hard for apps to acquire, and reviews or the lack thereof can make or break an app.

To cope with this, apps often employ an occasional request for an objective review. Though reviews triggered that way might not be quite as unbiased as spontaneous ones, this practice appears to be allowed within the App store, and it can serve to counteract the phenomenon where users with negative feelings are more vocal than others.

Reviews are vital to an app's success, and it's very difficult for honest app developers to gain a foothold in the app market when they must compete with other app developers that violate that 3.10 guideline. Furthermore, biased reviews make it difficult for users to discover the absolute best apps.

Earlier, we mentioned the technology we developed to filter out untrustworthy reviews. To try it out, go to apprecs.com/search. We'd love to hear what you think on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere.

Introducing apprecs.com

Have you ever been suspicious of an app with too many glowing reviews? Ever wondered if some of those reviews might not be entirely trustworthy?

We have, and it got us thinking. What if there were a way to identify and filter out those reviews? If we could somehow do that, how would the overall rating for each app change? Would some apps drop from, say, 4 stars to 2 stars?

And... if we could get more accurate ratings, could we use that information for other things?

How about improving the app search engine? We'd want a search feature to filter apps by the more accurate rating. While we're at it, let's filter by other useful things such as whether it's been a really long time since the app's been updated. Let's also use it to make really good app recommendations.

You guessed it -- we built all of this. It's called apprecs.com. Think of it as an upgraded interface to the App Store®.

introducing apprecs.com

The website's fast and simple, but powerful. Here's why we think it's awesome:

AppRecs is completely free, and we strive to be as transparent and straightforward as possible. We don't sell favorable placements, we don't sell data, and we don't even show ads. We receive income solely from Apple's affiliate program, which sends us a small percentage of their revenue if you end up buying any apps via referral.

We're just getting started. Android support is next on the roadmap, as are enhancements to review classification and search result ordering. If you have any comments or questions, we'd love to hear from you.

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