Mobile App Search is So Bad AltaVista Could Have Done It. Chomp Is Biting Off the Problem

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a big screen shot. From the card, you can pull up the app’s official description, read reviews left by other users, and browse more screen shots.

If you decide you like the app, you can click the big green “Get it!” button, and you’ll be taken to the app’s page inside the iTunes App Store or the Android Market, where you can buy and download it. If you decide you don’t like it, you can easily scroll on to the next card.

Chomp could collect an affiliate fee from Apple for every sale that it sends their way, but Keighran says it’s not worth the trouble. “Most of the apps on Chomp are free, so speed is the most important thing,” he says. “Anything that could get in the way, like API calls, we are not interested in.”

What Chomp is interested in—and what it started testing with selected partners in September—is advertising. Developers and publishers will soon be able to pay Chomp to show paid cards for their apps in the flow of “organic” cards for a given appword. Smule, for example, might pay to have its Leaf Trombone app show up as the first card in a search for music apps. Zaarly and Milk, maker of the Oink social ratings app, are already trying out Chomp’s search ads program as beta testers.

As on Google, sponsored results are clearly marked as ads. Keighran thinks that if Chomp does its job right and shows ad cards that are relevant to the user’s original search terms, users will be happy to look at them and to click through to buy the apps. “When someone is searching for something, they are really telling you, ‘Give me something new, please’—they are in that mindset,” he says. “So when you’re joining a user and an app is the perfect time to bring in an ad. That’s why I am really excited about Chomp’s business model.”

Chomp had 25 people on staff when I visited this summer, and was on its way to 50, according to Keighran. If the startup plays its cards right (pun intended), it could get a lot bigger than that. In 2010 publishers spent something like $830 million to advertise their mobile apps, and all the estimates are that this figure will grow into the many billions by the middle of this decade.

Of course, Chomp has some competition. Just yesterday, San Francisco-based Tapjoy, formerly known as a provider of banner ads and special offers to help publishers monetize their free apps, shifted gears and went direct-to-consumer by introducing its own “personal app marketplace.” The company says it can show users personalized app recommendations based on the other apps they or their friends are using. (That’s an approach Chomp tried and abandoned in 2010, by the way—Keighran says users seemed more interested in exploring granular app categories.)

“I think that we are going to see a lot of new market places emerge in 2012,” Keighran told me via e-mail after the Tapjoy news came out yesterday. “Currently we have carrier, OEM, and white-label marketplaces, and soon we will have many new app marketplaces like GetJar, Amazon, and even Facebook’s new HTML5 app discovery marketplace. Chomp is aiming to help improve search both within these marketplaces, as well as [to] provide users with the ability to search across each of these marketplaces.”

Alas, even if Chomp, Tapjoy, GetJar, Amazon, and others manage to pry app-search traffic away from Apple and Google, you’ll still have to make a stop at the iTunes App Store or the Android Market to buy and download your apps. But with any luck, Apple and Google will wake up and buy (or copy) one of the up-and-coming app search providers, thus making life easier for smartphone and tablet users everywhere. It’ll be like 1998 all over again.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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15 responses to “Mobile App Search is So Bad AltaVista Could Have Done It. Chomp Is Biting Off the Problem”

  1. honkj says:

    almost that many smartphone and tablet apps in Google’s Android Market

    no there is not… there are about 1/2 that 500,000, and a bunch of those are so poorly done that they are unusagle, and that is before counting the malware on the android market place… the Research report that said Android had 300,000 was the same researchers who last year said Android had about 300,000 apps, then google two months later, corrected them and said it was 200,000, they were off by 100,000…

  2. Good stuff, Wade. I think Ben is great too, but no 3rd-party discovery platform has made a meaningful dent in the discovery problem, and the “official” stores have zero incentive to send traffic anywhere else.

    As I pointed out earlier this week ), expecting the app stores to do your marketing for you is a little like expecting DMOZ (yes, I’m that old) to drive your web traffic. App publishers need to take responsibility for their own discovery problem and “alternative search engines” are going to matter as much as Blekko when it comes to driving demand at scale.

  3. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    Chris — Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that developers can’t count on the official app stores to help them do their marketing. But I guess I disagree with your prediction that search, including alternative search engines, won’t be a meaningful part of the solution. I think there are basically three ways people discover apps: 1) unpaid research/reading/word of mouth, 2) paid advertising and in-app promotions, 3) search and serendipity while actively “app shopping.” Publishers can have some influence over the first two, and thanks to startups like Chomp they can now have some influence over the third. Also, I expect that Apple and Google will learn something by watching challengers like Chomp and will eventually make search within the official app stores less painfully bad.

  4. Rory says:

    There are some decent app search engines available, such as or (one I created). Smaller app developers are going down the line of paid advertising campaigns & getting their apps reviewed by the growing number of app review sites.

  5. Jian says:

    I think Chomp is a nice try, but like Chris DeVore mentioned above, I am not sure if Chomp’s business model is solid enough.

    It seems to me the best they could do is to build it up and sell it to either Google, Amazon or Apple. Since those big guys combined control pretty much all of the app markets.

    Also, I am not that convinced about natural language based analysis of app reviews. I think something like a curated semi-automatic review system is the way to go.

  6. Temujink says:

    I have found the best out of the lot. They support both android and iOS, with a lot of controls to discover.

  7. Ganeshan Nadarajan says:

    It’s what the iTunes App Store and the Android Market should be—a fact that Verizon recognized by announcing that it would build Chomp into the Verizon app store that ships with all Verizon Android phones.