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Just Who Are the Apple App Store Kingmakers?

iTunes App Store

Apple's iTunes App Store is one of the hottest things going right now in the mobile space. Apple in fact just hit one billion downloaded iPhone applications. But there's a mystery behind the scenes here - one that's bigger than "Who is Batman?" Namely, just who exactly at Apple controls the iTunes App Store home screen (depicted above) and what goes into the featured choices they make each week?

On the surface, the App Store appears to be truly democratic and open to any developer. Like clockwork, every Tuesday at midnight PST the deck is reshuffled on both the desktop and iPhone stores. It highlights new and notable applications that Apple's team selects. These apps remain in "heavy rotation" on the home screen for seven days or more.

However, the reality is that the selections are truly anything but democratic. Apple has been known to deny or approve applications randomly and at it's own discretion. One such app was initially denied for featuring the UK's Daily Sun, which often runs objectionable photos. And most weeks Apple appears to highlight applications from marquee names - big media companies, major marketers and game developers - complete with giant graphics and call-outs.

This is not as trivial as it may seem. As mobile applications grow in popularity, the App Store home screen is becoming one of the hottest tickets in marketing. The app selections Apple makes probably have a huge impact on initial downloads and purchases.

I don't have the time or the inclination to investigate this further. It would be great if someone can follow up on this to find out just want goes into the mix. Presumably, Apple's team looks at the schedule for when apps are set to hit the store (which developers can set) and then makes choices just like any editor. I do not believe these spots are paid for although Apple does nothing to keep us from wondering.

However, the iTunes App Store kingmakers are not just ordinary editors. With more and more companies developing apps it's in Apple's best interest as a semi-open platform to provide more guidance and transparency around what goes into the mix - for example, why is one tip calculator highlighted on the home screen over another? Some of this may be forthcoming. Perhaps if we elevate the conversation and shed some light on the process it will encourage Apple to do more. Microsoft ( an Edelman client) appears to be far more transparent here.

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links for 2009-05-04


The End of the Destination Web Era

Photo credit: Décoration du château de Versaille by Djof

For the last 15 years marketers lived like kings online. We built ornate palaces in homage to ourselves in the form of web sites and micro sites. Each acts as a destination that embodies our meticulous choice of aesthetics, content and activities.

We still put a lot of time, effort and money into erecting these palaces, much as Louis XIV did in planning Versailles. And, for the most part we have been rewarded handsomely for our efforts. For years consumers flocked to our sites, reveled in all we had to say, played with our toys and, sometimes, were motivated enough as a result to buy our stuff.

That's what life was like in the good old days. But now we're in the age of online enlightenment. People (rightfully) have reasoned that they too can be creators, not just consumers. Content choices became infinite and peers are trumping pros.

After years of erosion it now it appears the destination web era is drawing to a close. This a trend that digital thinkers like Om Malik have long noted. In fact, the numbers prove it.

In March the average American visited a mere 111 domains and 2,500 web pages, according to Nielsen Online. What's worse, our attention across these pages is highly fragmented. The average time spent per page is a mere 56 seconds. Portals and search engines dominate, capturing approximately 12 of the 75 hours spent online in March. However, people-powered sites like Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube are not far behind, snagging nearly 4.5 hours of our monthly attention.

In the post-destination web era the secret to breaking through won't be advertising. A new study from ARAnet in conjunction with Opinion Research Corporation confirms what PR execs have known for years - we are far more likely to take action when reading online articles that include brand information (51%) compared to search engine advertising (39%) or banner ads (25%).

Unfortunately, digital marketing is still wired for the destination web era. To succeed going forward we have to change our thinking. "Earned media" through direct public engagement in the venues where our consumers spend time will become the only way to truly influence a behavior change. The greatest advantages will go to the first movers who embrace this shift. It's not too late.


The Next Twitter or Facebook is the Open Web

Photo Credit: Open on Flickr by Mag3737 

The following is also my column in this week's issue of Advertising Age.

As Edelman's crystal ball guy I can't go to a meeting without being asked what will succeed Twitter or Facebook as the future king of community. It's unfortunate, but it's just how history has conditioned us to think.

Remember, however, that Second Life was digital marketing's Vietnam.

Communities come and go. Hubs seem to lose their innovation edge just as consumers grow more fickle, new venues emerge and viable monetization options remain scarce. If history repeats itself, Facebook and Twitter will one day be replaced by something else. However, this time it will be the open web.

A group of standardized technologies are emerging that will evolve social networking from destinations we visit into something bigger - a federated address book that makes every single web site that chooses to adopt them entirely social.

Jeremiah Owyang at Forrester Research has been thinking about this deeply. This week Forrester is releasing a paper that outlines a five year vision for how the open web, thanks to connective technologies like OpenID, will become one giant social network. This global brain will follow us everywhere and influence every purchasing decision.

While Forrester doesn't get this tangible, here's a fictional scenario to consider.

Today online shopping means visiting, reading reviews from strangers and conducing a transaction.

Tomorrow, as everything becomes social, you will be able to shop Amazon directly from within your iGoogle page without ever having to visit the site. What's more, Amazon will show you what your Gmail address book friends have publicly said about a product and/or its category in any one of thousands of online communities. Finally, to help you further Amazon will offer an aggregated view of your friends' friends opinions in a way that protects their identity.

So how should marketers prepare? Owyang advises to focus on advocates, evolve models from push to pull and adapt internal cultures. I think, however, it starts with something more fundamental.

Marketers need to really embrace the fact that it's peers and their data, rather than brand, that will become the primary way we make decisions. The greatest rewards will go to those who embrace and participate in as many communities as they possibly can in credible ways.


links for 2009-04-27

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