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App Store chart changes suggest new ranking algorithms

Report suggests that Apple is increasing focus on usage over downloads

Information from mobile marketing data firm Flurry suggests that Apple might have made some changes to the algorithms which govern the chart positions on the iOS App Store.

The changes are thought to have been made fairly recently, and first evidenced themselves with the rise of the Facebook app to the top of the number one position in the free downloads chart, where previously it had sat in the upper teens.

Analysts at several mobile data and ad tracking firms believe that this could be the result of Apple re-weighting the factors which govern position, giving new importance to the amount of use which apps receive once installed.

Website Inside Mobile Apps posited the change when it noticed the sudden rise up the chart of the Facebook app, which sees less downloads than many others in the chart, but is used by millions of people every day. Apple has so far refused to comment on what changes it has made, if any.

"We've been noticing changes in the Top Free rankings for at least three days now," Flurry marketing VP Peter Farago told Inside Mobile Apps. "From our point of view, Apple is absolutely considering more than just downloads, which we believe is the right direction to go in to measure the true popularity of an app."

Up until now, many companies have been paying networks like Flurry for placed downloads within other Apps, giving games high visibility in the download-centric chart and generating further downloads in turn. If Apple's rating algorithms have changed then that may no longer be such an effective strategy.

Whilst that may result in a higher quality of app, as developers attempt to retain chart position through stickiness rather than downloads, it also makes that front page much harder to break into.

If the algorithms do place as much importance on usage as the reports suggest, then the 39.5 million estimated DAU for Facebook's app are going to be hard to shift from that top spot.

Should the rumours of the changes prove to be true, they may be welcomed by many developers, who have called for changes to the current system of promoting the most downloaded titles, which many feel is prioritising throwaway games over higher quality endeavours.

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Dan Pearson