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Serendipity, Not Search, Finds Top Apps

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Much has been written about the explosive growth of smartphones and tablets, but apps are what make them useful and are driving their adoption. IDC estimates mobile app downloads will reach nearly 182.7 billion in 2015. There are now nearly one million apps, mostly for Apple and Android devices, and Gartner projected app revenue from app stores alone will reach $58 billion by 2014. Apps are big business.

But this sheer volume of apps creates real complexities for app developers and consumers alike. As a developer, how does your app stand apart from the pack? As a consumer, finding the right app is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Conventional wisdom suggests that search is the answer. Chomp, Quixey and even Yahoo! let you discover apps through search. Others are trying to help you search for apps with various algorithms, through social networks and games.

I disagree with this this entire approach.

Search is not the answer for app discovery - finding the top apps is serendipitous.

We find our best apps today by talking to our friends at a restaurant, by reading about them in a blog or an article, or by stumbling upon them on a recommended or top ten list.

Not a month goes by when an entrepreneur I meet, developing a smartphone app, can't quite answer a simple question: How will you market your app to your customers? All too often the answer lies somewhere between "Apple is going to feature my app," and "I'm going to advertise it in other apps." Neither is a compelling answer, nor likely to help developers build a big business.

We're placing a big bet, alongside VC media giant, Syncom, that serendipity will drive the app discovery process. That's why we invested in Apptap. Similar to what an ad network does today, serving you ads based on the content of the web page you are viewing, AppTap serves you apps to consider, based on that same content.

A USA Today online reader, browsing an article in the sports section, is likely interested in seeing sports-related apps. A visitor to TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) is likely to be intrigued by cutting edge Apple iPhone or iPad apps, but not by an advertisement on basket weaving. A Pandora iPhone listener, on the other hand, is likely not interested in clicking out of Pandora to check out a flashing app advertisement.

So if you are a developer, quit trying to trick customers into downloading your app via incented downloads. Don't run random app ads, it is too reminiscent of early run-of-site banner ads. And don't think that hoping to be featured in someone else's app store is a good strategy.

Instead, put your app where your customers are likely to discover it, and you will be well on your way to growing your audience with users actually interested in your app.