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Summary:

It’s time to clean up the Android Market before the poor experience and questionable apps get out of hand. There are already 65,000 apps to be found there, so the time is right for Google to follow these simple steps and neaten the store.

As far as shopping experiences go, Google’s Android Market is akin to a farmers market, with different wares around every corner and in no particular order. And it’s not much better for developers — Jon Lech Johansen, aka DVD Jon, rightly suggests, “[I]t’s time for Google to clean up the house.” But without exercising a control process around application approval like Apple does — a practice that Apple has been criticized for in the past — Google has to proceed carefully, lest it lose what many feel is a key advantage over Apple: openness.

Johansen shares a sad but accurate example of what I call “apps gone wild”: A number of free ringtone app screenshots are reportedly monetized by Google Ad revenues, but while the ringtones don’t appear to be legally licensed, without an approval process, Google allows them to exist, thereby making it appear that it’s acceptable to take and resell someone else’s property. I’m not insinuating that Google actively condones such actions — I personally don’t think it does — but the company has no mechanism in place to prevent them. Or does it?

Google could exercise the remote kill switch, just as it did last week to remove two potentially malicious apps from Android devices. But if the free ringtone applications pointed out by Johansen are any indication of what shouldn’t be in the Android Market, there’s probably too many apps to remotely pull out. Still, a full review of the 65,000 applications available in the Market and some subsequent spring cleaning is in order.

After that, it’s all about maintenance. While there will always be spammy apps, fart titles and other time-wasters that add little to no value, at the bare minimum, Google needs to make sure that no software titles infringe upon the rights of content creators. The software review process needn’t go as far as Apple’s, which has rejected applications that replicate core functionality of iOS4.

One method to improve the customer experience without completely controlling the Market is for Google to better manage application permissions. Today, every potential download shows a detailed list of what phone features the software title has access to, which is confusing to many consumers. I see the need for the permission warnings, but only because there’s no centralized review process — essentially, Google has moved the process down to the user level, and most users don’t want to be bothered with it.

I know that I’m not reading all of the permissions these days and I suspect many others are skipping them, too. A review for malicious intent at the store level is worth considering if Google wants to improve the Market experience. Perhaps devs should be asked why a music app requires access to the phone’s contact database, for example? The answer is likely that it’s to share information on what tunes you’re listening to, but it’s worth asking the question all the same.

After the store shelves are winnowed down and polished up, it’s time to adjust the aisles. It boggles my mind that the leader in search offers a poor search experience for Google’s Android Market. When I spell a search term incorrectly or I’m unsure of the proper search term to use, the Market either returns terrible results or none at all. When was the last time that you did a web search on Google and came up empty? Granted, my misspelling of “Slingbox” is my own fault, but at least on the web, Google is kind enough to say “Did you mean Slingbox?” when I fat finger my search. With Android 2.2, I’m just now seeing the same “smarts” that Google’s web search offers, which should get pushed down to all Android devices, regardless of version.

I shouldn’t overlook Google’s recent efforts to improve the Market — Android 2.2 now supports application auto-upgrading and at last month’s Google I/O event, Vic Gundotra previewed Google’s upcoming web-based Market, which should address some of the on-device shortcomings. Users can buy apps from the web store, and if they’re signed in to Google, purchased apps will be pushed directly over the air to their Android handsets.

From a customer service and usability standpoint, these are positive steps forward, but if the store is still a mess, the benefits will be muted. And when you’re gaining 160,000 new customers to your storefront daily, you don’t want a sloppy store.

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  1. I do agree that app stores in general need some clean up. I have a evo and do agree that google needs to do something but I would also say that apples app store could use some work. All in all there is no way we need 100′s of fart apps.

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  2. Aristophrenia Monday, June 28, 2010

    Um – do you think we should clean up the web ?
    Oh no – its hard for me to find apps – do you know what an app is ? Its an application. I can search for millions of applications using google – and do so every day. If the WEB a.k.a GOOGLE is a bit too much for you to handle then of course a store front is going to be waaaay to hard.

    Get life – seriously. Why is the web being dragged so forcefully backwards from an open play ground of wonder – to a closed shop of commodified, homogenized, censored boredom because people are so desperately incapable of understanding things they want it dumbed down – like everything else – to the lowest common denominator.

    Seriously – use your brain.

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    1. You miss the point -
      Their store needs to at least make it possible to check and pull copyrighted material from the store or they will end up replaying the Viacom vs. Youtube lawsuit again, and this time they can not plead ignorance.

      Google needs to be proactive.

      Also a certification that it is virus free, malicious software free, and will not screw up your phone would be nice.

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      1. The YouTube example is an apt one: Google doesn’t need to be proactive, copyright holders need to be proactive. Google just needs to respond appropriately to takedown requests.

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  3. Android Market is not that well organised it doesn’t seem finished, a work in progress. They need to have the most downloaded apps for your country. The apple store is far better, I have managed to get the apps that I want but you have to look through lists of apps. If say you look up London you only get a handful of apps, there must be more in relation to London. They need to spend some money on making it a better user experience.

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  4. Jakob Damkjær Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    Wow thats a lot of webrage.

    slight diffrence between google add financed violation of recording artists work and rights to fart apps…

    Same thing with copyright and trademark infringing apps that you pay for… I smell a big fat lawsuit coming on if this not a fluke,,,

    well just my 10 cents…

    have fun

    i

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  5. I don’t know how we can give Google a pass on being complicit with the copyright infringement that is rampant on the Android Market. They have the tools available and no one is asking them to do it overnight. But have they even removed one of these infringing apps? It might be culture thing as well. I previously thought book authors and Rupert Murdoch were complaining about nothing when it comes to Google’s disregard to content ownership. Maybe they weren’t so crazy after all. Do you think requests to investigate an app that contained Google’s search algorithm be ignored?

    Also on the point of the detailed list of access when downloading an app, this is way too confusing for “normal” users. If you are reading this article, you are not a normal user. A friend of mine, professional, can use tech for work, has almost no apps on his 4 month old Droid. When I asked why, he said the detailed list of access scared him actually installing any app. For normal users, you are going to get two camps. One that scared of the list and will not install hardly anything. One camp that will completely ignore the list and download the app anyway.

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    1. “A friend of mine, professional, can use tech for work, has almost no apps on his 4 month old Droid. When I asked why, he said the detailed list of access scared him actually installing any app.”

      Good, because that’s what it is intended to do: if you don’t understand the permissions don’t install the app.

      On iPhone, the situation is far worse since there are no permissions you can see and you’re completely at the mercy of Apple’s review process; and Apple’s review cannot reliably detect malicious applications.

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  6. [...] Market Improvements — Android finally uses the same web “smarts” that Google’s browser search has when it comes to misspellings. Prior to Froyo, searching for an app in the Market required users to know the proper spelling or keywords. Now you can spell an app name incorrectly and Froyo will make a “Did you mean this?” suggestion. Google also added app storage on SD cards, although developers must enable it at the application level, removing internal storage constraints. These are small steps to make the Market better, but more are needed. [...]

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  7. [...] may be selling millions of iPhones but there’s no denying Android is a hot platform with 160,000 phones activated every day. Every U.S. carrier is bringing a high-end Android smartphone to the market, and this comparison of [...]

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  8. I recently posted this suggestion on Hacker News:

    Have a filter option in the Market app a little bit like safesearch. You’d have a single slider. 3 or 5 positions (low moderate high etc).

    Filtering would work in a metascore comprised of several metrics. The metrics would be opaque and Google would tune them regularly like it does with it’s search ranking.

    Example metrics might be:

    1. ‘Spam’ score based on app description.

    2. ‘Spammy Developer’ score based quite simply on the number of apps released by this developer (this would immediately clean up most dross but people would quickly find ways to game it)

    3. User ratings (weighted by the rating given to that user by other users)

    4. Ratings derived from Google’s web rankings of the app’s web presence

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  9. One area in the Market where I would love for Google to fix is comment spam.

    There are some notorious users who consistently post spam comments to app pages. I seemingly can’t keep up with reporting these comments. Google needs to automatically ban users whose number of reported spam comments exceed a certain threshold.

    Google has done an excellent job in keeping spam out of its web search and Gmail, it’s now time to get its act together with a Market overhaul.

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  10. I’m a huge google fanboy; I own a nexus one, I play around with app development in my spare time – and I violently defend my platform of choice against blind apple fanboys.

    With all that said, I have a serious love-hate relationship with the Android market. On the one hand I believe in freedom, and I love the fact that anyone can post to the Market without dealing with some draconian approval process, on the other hand I hate wading through the junk soundboards and wallpaper apps just as much as anyone else.

    My proposal would be for Google to do a few things:
    a) Improve filtering and search
    b) convert currency so that I don’t have to work out yen -> $
    c) Two-tier merket: keep the free market, and add a “Gold” market which is protected by an approval process.

    If you like my suggestion then please post a comment here: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Android+Market/thread?fid=7fe6ff9019c5be7300048a21e9bc20b3&hl=en

    If enough people speak up, maybe Google will think about implementing it

    Panda

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