Scientists use the second law of thermodynamics to say that things gain entropy over time, but what it means to me and you is that, without a guiding hand, things fall apart. Kids experience this at the beach when their sand castles get creamed by a rogue wave; companies experience it when they open their doors to the public.
Kids improve their strategic position by moving the castle higher up the beach, away from the waves. Companies improve their positions online by refining their policies.
You can see entropy on the App Store easiest by reading the application reviews, as pointed out this morning by Michael Long:
Is it just me, or are you also getting tired of all of the application “reviews” on the App Store that say nothing more than “first post”, ask “who would want this”, complain about the price, or offer some other in-depth opinion of an application… that they don’t even own.
— Worthless App Store “Reviews”, Michael Long, iSights.org, September 15th, 2008
Apple built a nice system for online comments intended to help viewers decide whether or not to purchase an application, but like a kid’s sand castle, that system is getting pummeled pretty hard by wave after wave of junk and nonsense, rendering it only moderately useful. Perhaps, as Michael Long urges, Apple will institute new rules requiring you to actually buy an application before commenting upon it, but Apple may also decide that these trolls will go away once the novelty of the App Store fades. Amazon’s comments, as an example, remain reasonably high-quality without posting restrictions.
You can see entropy in another form by surveying the quality and nature of applications posted to the App Store. When the App Store opened, some of its applications were partitions of a larger whole broken out into separate applications to maximize exposure and revenue. This remains true today, and is made possible by the low barrier to entry to the App Store, where developers pay a one-time fee to gain the right to post but do not therefter pay a per-application fee. Perhaps Apple will consider such a nuisance fee in the future to combat that particular form of entropy.
Apple has also been criticized for blocking the release of several applications, but it’s been clear so far that it has done so to maintain the quality of its marketplace. Apple blocked a fart joke application to keep the tone of the App Store from degenerating too quickly, and most recently reportedly blocked a podcasting application for “duplicating the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes”, though Apple’s position on this might be more justified that it appears.
In his examination of some the difficulties has Apple faced while maintaining order on the App Store, Daniel Eran Dilger expressed a key point [emphasis mine]:
Deciding where to draw the line between classy and restraint of expression is difficult, and Apple needs to take caution that it does not set up an entirely lifeless monotony of apps burdened by excessive rules. However, it is far easier to decay into a cesspool of junk than it is to accidently become too sophisticated and elite.
— SDK 3.3.3: The iPhone Podcaster Surprise Myth, Daniel Eran Dilger, RoughlyDrafted Magazine, September 15th, 2008
Entropy happens naturally and inevitably—and is usually undesired. When Apple appears to censor or restrict things on the App Store, consider that Apple is merely trying to maintain order in its marketplace. The App Store doors were flung wide, the crowd rushed in—both shoppers and developers—and things got jostled in the rush.
Apple will right things because Apple wants to make money, but it’s probably hard to determine what right means initially in many cases. Certainly, seeing a fart joke application while you’re shopping for a business application is going to color your experience, and Apple is justified in being concerned about that, even if it’s not immediately clear what to do about it. The easiest thing initially is to say you can’t publish that to buy time until it can determine a better solution, and that may be exactly what Apple has done.
Apple is creating a marketplace, not a playground. It’s good that visitors enjoy themselves, but when the nature of the play restricts the workings of the marketplace, expect Apple to step in.