Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Apple rejiggers App Store algorithm to feature its apps less

Apple has changed up the search algorithm for its App Store in order to feature fewer of its own apps–especially unrelated ones. Over at The New York Times, Jack Nicas and Keith Collins have a story about the changes, including a chat with Apple execs Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue:

Over the past several months, Apple engineers said, they began noticing how the algorithm was packing results with Apple apps. First, they stopped the algorithm from doing that for certain searches. In July, they turned it off for all Apple apps.

There’s long been frustration about this algorithm voiced by third-party App Store developers, and with good reason. When your app is buried ten or twenty deep in the search results, it’s often likely that customers won’t even scroll that far–especially when the top results are from Apple.

Schiller and Cue maintain that this wasn’t a case of the system being rigged in favor of Apple’s apps, but more a case of an algorithmic reinforcement loop: Apple’s apps are popular, and the more people click on them, the more they tend to dominate the tops of the listings. This won’t necessarily change, but what will change is unrelated apps from Apple showing up in search results: i.e., the Compass app appearing in search results for “podcasts.”

I never particularly believed that Apple rigged the system in its favor: in the end, it benefits very little from pushing its own apps, most of which are free to users. And it behooves the company to bolster its developers, who help raise the profile of the entire platform, something it’s not shy of pointing out.

That’s not to say that the company doesn’t have fault here, but if anything, this was a case of one of Cupertino’s far more common sins: it just didn’t care, until it did. Rumblings about this had increased over the past year or so, which possibly played a part in prompting the company to act.

Still, if you need a better microcosm of the company’s attitude, you couldn’t do much worse than this exchange:

Still, the executives denied that there had been a problem that needed fixing.

“It’s not corrected,” Mr. Schiller said.

“It’s improved,” said Mr. Cue.

—Linked by Dan Moren

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