How to promote an Android app that no one actually needs – Part 1: Begging for reviews

You reached this moment when you generate a signed APK, upload it to the Play Store, fill all that description and screenshot stuff, and hit ‘Publish’. And then comes that thrilling feeling… How many people will have downloaded it?

Just to get rid of that disappointing zero in the dashboard stats you download it via the Play Store to your own Android device. The next day, there is 1.

You turn on to Twitter in the hope that someone from your tiny followers pool will find the app worth the downloading hassle, or at least do some retweets, like this:

Oh, what’s that? There’s 2 now! You and some other guy! However, now you see another disappointing number, 1/2, which means that this guy has uninstalled it right after first interaction with your app. Too bad. You wait another week or so, but nothing really happens. Your download stats look something like this:

Google Play Store stats after a week

Sad picture…

This was my situation after I uploaded my very first app to Google Play Store (here’s the link, by the way). The app was developed while going through one of the Android Development courses on Udemy, just to refresh my Android skills, and I wasn’t planning to monetize it in any way. However, just to make the numbers look better, I decided that my app needs some promotion. In a month I want to get, let’s just randomly say, 1000 active users. Is it feasible if you don’t plan to spend a penny on promotion? Let’s see!

By the way, in a few days after you submit you app to the store, you will be contacted by several companies offering you to promote your app and get some positive reviews using their services. If you have some spare money to spend on these, you may want to try them.

First thing, asking Google: “how to promote an android app for free”. Besides the ads of the services, which offer you to “reach millions of mobile users”, there will be hundreds of pages written by random people with “XX creative ways to promote your app for free”.

Despite being pessimistic about the specialized services, in terms that they will all probably ask you for money upfront, let’s test what came out on the ads first. I got five of them: Appnext, AppBrain, StartApp, AppLift and Tappx.

Note to myself: Create an app that generates names for app promotion platforms. You just take the dictionary and add ‘App’ to a randomly selected word: AppGiraffe, AppPotato, AppNostril…

So, what do we have here…

1. Appnext

Signed up, added an app. Now on to creating a campaign… and they ask me how much I’d like to spend per day. I do not want to spend anything, so skipping this option.

2. AppBrain

Singing up, then trying to add my app… Wait, what’s that? They have already listed it in their database! Cool! No need to add it manually. Now going to dashboard and creating a campaign… And again, asking me for money.

3. StartApp

Their landing page says that if I deposit $50, I will get another $50 credit. So just skipping them too.

4. Applift

Signed up… And they told me to wait until they contact me. Disappointing. (Edit: there have been 7 days since I signed up, and still nothing from them. Wonderful service!)

5. Tappx

Easy signup and adding of the app. There is an option to promote the app for free using cross-promotion, which means that you have to display a banner promoting some other apps, and the banner of your app will be displayed in exchange. It may be the way for someone who does not object to display banners, but I do not want to do this (ok, I’m missing an opportunity here, but I personally find displaying banners in such a small app quite unfair towards my users).

Alright, specialized services are not an option for me. So moving on to the zillions of creative ways.

Basically, if you compile what these guys are telling you, it comes down to the following things:

  • Post the link to your app wherever your can: your blog, email signature, Facebook groups, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. Done it.
  • Polish you app and its page: make good-looking icons, screenshots, videos (if you can). I’m not even remotely a good designer, so I can’t say my app icon or screenshots look good. Taking a video of a simple app? Not worth the time spent, I think. Come one, who would want to watch a video of how I switch back and forth over my app’s two screens, telling how easy and fun it is to find pattern-matching words? One good advice here was about making a very good app description, which both attracts the user’s attention, and uses the right amount of relevant keywords, so that it is easy to find your app on the store. Did here my best effort, so hopefully, it helps.
  • Reach out to influencers: ping some well-known guys on Twitter, Facebook, whatever asking them to tell their audience about your app. I tweeted the guy, who is the author of the course, and he retweeted my message. But literally nothing happened. Nobody has downloaded it. And this was despite he has almost 15k followers. Anyone knows any other easily-reachable person with a larger audience, who would be so kind to tweet about my app?
  • Submit your app to various app review sites: surely a go-to approach for my case, as it does not require any money investment at all. Below I’ve listed the sources that I’m going to use.
  • And, weirdly, go offline and tell people about your app. Probably, very specific to a limited number of apps, and definitely not my case. I’m not going out to streets and telling random people about a newly released fantastic app for solving word puzzles.

So, to sum up, the feasible thing to do would be to submit my app to as many app review resources, as I can, and wait for the results.

I have found several lists of the websites, where you can submit your app for review. Many of them are free, some require paying for reviewing, some specialize on particular platforms, and some are just abandoned. Therefore I took a 5-day pause and manually complied a list of exactly 100 sites (out of around 300), where you can submit your app. The full list is available on this page. It’s funny that this magic number was just a coincidence, I didn’t plan to make it to look round.

From this list we are selecting only those which accept Android apps, and, because we are poor, those which offer a free review. All of them say that they do not guarantee that the app will be reviewed, because they receive millions of free review requests per day, but we’ll try.

So, we start going through the list and begging for reviews. In total, I’ve submitted the app to 25 app reviewing resources, providing them with the basic info, such as app name, the link to Play Store, app description, etc. Some may feel uncomfortable asking random people to do some unpaid job, but hey, this is what they offered to do themselves.

Note: It is convenient to prepare a spreadsheet with your app’s key details, like the name of the developer, app description, app URL, etc., so you can just copy/paste them into the submission forms. Saved a lot of time for me.

After I’ve completed this job, I found that there are other sites, where you can showcase your app, which fall into several categories:

  • Community review platforms, where you review others’ apps in exchange for your app being reviewed by others – a good option for me;
  • Startup showcasing platforms, where you submit a description of your product (could be anything, not only apps), and the community will try and rate your product – some of them may work for me;
  • Mass app submission services, where for a small fee you are able to submit your app to a number of review websites – I’m not going to do this.

So while I’m waiting for the first reviews to appear (if there will be any), I decided to spend some time submitting my app to these:

  • ProductHunt – will give you some good traction if you manage to get enough upvotes (read: if your app is actually useful and innovative); mine is not useful, nor innovative, but we’ll give it a try;
  • Preapps – a platform for posting info on upcoming apps (before they are released) and new app ideas; haven’t figured out the usefulness for the app that has already been released, but submitted it there anyway;
  • Betalist – a platform for pitching recently launched startups; not sure that I would meet their submission criteria, but in any case worth trying;
  • ReviewsMotion – another community review website with simple idea: you review someone’s app, and get reviewed in exchange; posted there;
  • Reddit – Apps for Android – a large community devoted to Android apps; posted there, and expecting fierce reaction from them for wasting their time with my useless app 🙂

In total, if I exclude the time required for finding these resources, it took me about a day to submit my app to all the websites. I guess, it’s not too much for an app, which you are not planning to monetize. In the next post, which will come in a month, we will analyze the outcome of our experiment, and see, if these efforts have brought us any significant results. Stay tuned!


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Concept of the Week: Let Artificial Intelligence tell you how good is your look

This is a series of articles presenting the ideas (some may be stupid) of apps and products I come up with. Sometimes I will provide the basic source code, and sometimes there will be just description and simple mockups. In any case, you are free to implement these ideas into a complete product, but don’t forget to tell me that you did :).

I am terrible at picking the right clothes. Every time I do shopping on my own, I end up buying idiotic-looking stuff and never wear them again. Or wear them only when I need to pop into the local groceries to make it look like “I just quickly took on the first thing I found in my closet”. There are of course hordes of salespeople who are trying to help me, but, as the help is rarely useful, I guess, they are just trying to sell me whatever is more expensive and less popular.

This is why I always try to have my wife to buy clothing for me. And even though we sometimes argue about whether this shirt is OK to take on when I’m going to a meeting, almost 99% of time she’s right – that patchy shirt will make me look like I’m a geeky student among the million-dollar-making Wall Street lions in gray suits and light blue shirts with shiny red ties.

Many of the people out there don’t have such a person nearby like my wife. So for such style-blind single people, here’s the idea I’m giving away. A mobile app with a neural network in the back-end, that will tell you if your new look is good or bad. There may be just 2 categories (OK / not OK), or a 5- or 10-star rating, or anything else you think the audience will accept.

The basic flow is that you:

  1. Take the picture of yourself
  2. Get the evaluation

Like this:

I don’t know, whether this girl actually looks awesome, because, as I was saying, I’m bad at this.

Probably, this is what would have happened if I were to take the picture of the kind of person like me:

scr2

This is not me, nor my wife. Just random girl from the internet.

Then goes all that usual share-on-instagram-and-get-million-likes stuff, if the user gets the 5. And, probably nothing will be shared, if she scored lower, because no one likes sharing bad pictures on Instagram.

The app itself is straightforward. The screen for signing in with your Instagram account, the camera screen and the results screen. Can be implemented on both iOS and Android in a day.

The back-end would require setting up a simple API server, which would pass the data to the ‘brain’. The ‘brain’ could be a TensorFlow Serving or whatever you are familiar with.

I do believe that something similar is already there. The idea is simple, and there is nothing in it that has not been done before.

There are a couple of obstacles, though.

One thing that might be a problem here is obtaining the training set. If you decide to implement it, you would need thousands or even tens of thousands of examples for the initial training of the neural network. The size of the training data set highly depends on the scale you would use to grade the image. If there are only good/bad categories, then you need less. If you think users would want something more granular, like 5- or 10-grades rating, then the number of training examples should be increased accordingly.

And of course there should be some sort of feedback on how well the model classified the image. One way to do it would be for the model to look after a certain time on the likes-to-users ratio for each picture taken, i.e. how many likes the shared photo got out of total followers number. For example, if the user has 100 followers, and only 1 liked the 4-starred photo, then the algorithm was wrong, and it should have been 1-starred. There are some obvious disadvantages in this approach, but it may be a good starting point.

The second problem is, to teach the neural network one would need to rate pictures yourself initially. That means this should be a developer with an exceptional taste, feeling of style and knowledge of the latest fashions. Not that I’ve ever met such a unique species of human. It would probably be right to find a designer to cooperate with. Which would still be difficult, because she or he would need to have a galactic-sized level of patience, considering the number of pictures he or she has to rate.

And there is the last problem with this app for a person like me. While shopping, whenever I’m in a difficult situation I don’t usually think, “Oh, is there an app for this?” So every time I’m in a shopping centre, I should be able to somehow be reminded that I have this app on my phone. That means I will need another app, which will do exactly that – and this may be the concept of the next week.

Sci-Hub is blocked in Russia; Founder says she’s been bullied by scientists

Just yesterday I was excited to tell you about CyberLeninka, a large open database of scientific papers, which was backed by a local investor. Today I am sorry to state that Sci-Hub, a very popular archive of illegally downloaded scientific papers, has been banned in Russia.

Aleksandra Elbakyan

Aleksandra Elbakyan. Apneet Jolly/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Project founder, Aleksandra Elbakyan, says that she has been bullied by some Russian scientists for the work that she has been doing. One of them even named a recently discovered insect after Alexandra: Idiogramma elbakyanae. She perceived this as another way of harassing her, though one might see this as honor to get her name cemented forever in science. “To consider this as insulting, means to completely miss the actual meaning of this act”, says Andrey Khalaim, the author of the paper.

Russian users now see this long message from Aleksandra:

Starting from today Sci-Hub stops working in Russian Federation. The reason for this is highly inadequate, abusive behavior towards the founder of the service.

For instance, for two years there has been bullying of Aleksandra in the Russian segment of the Internet by the people, who call themselves as ‘liberal opposition’. For example, they spread the information that Aleksandra is brainsick, and her persona is demonized in various ways. Contrary to her, these people receive public favor, some of them even hold high positions in Russian Academy of Science, and not only receive prestigious science awards, such as ‘for devotedness to science’ and ‘Prosvetitel’ (‘Enlighter’), but also sympathy for abusive words towards Aleksandra. It makes one feel like this is somewhat heroic (probably, soon The Hero of Russia shall be awarded to them for this).

Recently, a member of Russian Academy of Science decided to name a parasitic insect after Aleksandra. Which I see as a total unfairness: because if you analyze the situation with scientific publications, then the real parasites are the science publishers, whereas Sci-Hub fights for the equal access to scientific information and does the good thing.

Considering such public love, it will be wise to stop operating in Russian Federation. The scientists who love Sci-Hub can still access it from another countries, using VPN services, proxies or TOR browser. However, these means are going to become illegal soon. In this case, scientists may use Libgen, which keeps an archive of papers, downloaded from Sci-Hub over years, and its mirrors.

I can also recommend CyberLeninka, which received prestigious award from The Government of Russian Federation in April this year, as the best way for accessing scientific information. The diploma has been awarded by the minister himself.

Float in your shit yourself, and I am tired of this, no Russian science – so much better without you. I will put my efforts into my own research.

As it is now common to say in Russia: All the best. Have a good day, and good health, and lots of Orthodoxy to you. The project will somehow continue to operate, but without you.

Best regards,

Aleksandra,

The founder of Sci-Hub.

The situation here is not that straightforward, I think. On the one hand, of course, Sci-Hub was illegal in terms that it provided copyrighted materials for free. It is never OK to steal something, and we’ve been through it with music, movies and software back in early 2000’s.

On the other hand, as some commentators say, science in Russia is funded by the government, so it is public money, and therefore access to scientific advancements should also be public. Secondly, as far as I know, not so many universities in Russia are funded enough to afford all the necessary official subscriptions. Therefore many Russian scientists have been using Sci-Hub as the only way to keep up with the international advancements, and it is now unclear, what they will do without it. One can overcome the blocks of course, but the tools that allow you to do that are going to be illegal in Russia in the nearest future. Many Russian researchers hope that Aleskandra will change her mind and will open the access for the Russian users again.

Lastly, the most notable part here is that out of 200 000 daily downloads on Sci-Hub, the majority of them were from the USA, Europe and China. Maybe that’s why, oddly enough, one of the most expensive scientific journals – Nature – has even included her name in the list of “Ten people who mattered this year“.

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Russian open database of scientific papers get $500k investment

CyberLeninka

Good news this week!  The Russian open database of scientific texts has just received a $500k investment for a 25% stake.

Being a local equivalent to Google Scholar, CyberLeninka offers access to more than a million articles in more than a thousand peer-reviewed journals. Of course, the majority of them are in Russian, but I guess, they do have a plan of somehow internationalizing it, because this round of funding has only been the first one. As the source says, they are actively working with international investors and probably prepare for launching on the international market.

CyberLeninka uses the name of the largest Russian ‘brick-and-mortar’ library named after Vladimir Lenin (people just call it Leninka). It was established in 2012 by Dmitry Semyachkin, Evgeniy Kislyak and Mikhail Sergeyev. On average, it has 3 million monthly visitors, with an annual figure of 22 million.

As the founders say, they don’t plan to introduce paid access, the content will remain free for all. This is because the license of the journals, which are indexed by CyberLeninka, allows free distribution. Instead, they are working on commercial services for publishers, scientists and the government.

So Russia’s contribution to the global science community is going to grow substantially in the nearest future, and that’s not because President Putin said that Russia will do it, but thanks to people like Dmitry, Evgeniy and Mikhail.

What Putin actually said about AI. TL;DR: Nothing meaningful.

President Putin at the meeting with Students

Source: LIFE News Live Stream via YouTube

President Putin’s meeting with students, otherwise quite boring, caused a global tech media fever. And that’s just because some schoolboy from Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatiya region, mentioned the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ while telling the President about his personal side-project (source, word-by-word translation):

[Student]: We chose and are promoting the project ‘Artificial intelligence based on NBICS’. And this robot, I think, is a small step towards artificial intelligence. Together with my friend Dima, for the third year we are assembling this robot. It measures the radiation level in the environment. Umm… NBICS-based Artificial intelligence, I think, is a pretty good project, which needs promotion. It is the future of Russia.

[President]: Artificial intelligence is not only the future of Russia, it is the future of the entire mankind. It brings colossal opportunities, and hardly foreseeable threats. The one who becomes the leader in this area, will be the ruler of the world. And it is not desirable that this monopoly is concentrated in someone’s hands. Therefore, if we become the leader in this area, we will share this technology with the rest of the world in the same way as we do today with nuclear technologies. But in order not to stay behind, we should start working on it today. And of course it is good that we have such nice young people who express interest in these technologies. Good luck.

The scary NBICS word here stands for “Nano-, Bio-, Info-, Cognitive- and Socio-“, and is just an official Russian term for saying “all that trendy tech stuff”.

The President’s answer was short. So short, in fact, that one just can’t say that the President has put much thought or meaning into it.

Moreover, this was just a tiny bit of the 30+ minutes conversation, which actually wasn’t about AI at all. It was about all modern technologies, and was developing like:

[Student]: I am working on [insert hyped technology name here: IoT, Drones, Nuclear tech, AI, Autonomous vehicles, Personalized medicine, whatever].

[President]: A very good technology, yeah. It can be used for military purposes. But it can also be used for the good of the people. And for making Russia more competitive globally.

So the question is why the global media had put so much stress on the AI part. And moreover, why they started the usual AI-will-cause-WW3 stuff. Putin said that Russia is ready to share their technology. Not that they will open-source it on GitHub, apparently, but I guess by publishing the research papers just the same way other guys from the US, Canada and China do. If this thing had been said by, say, the Prime Minister of Iceland, no one would have ever noticed. But this came from the mouth of the Russian President, and everyone now thinks that he is planning to develop a Russian Skynet. Or at least a single Terminator.

And my advice for Elon Musk (who am I to give him advice, but nevertheless): please come to visit Putin and make him join your OpenAI on the governmental level. I think, given your opinion on how strong computer science in Russia is, this will benefit both parties.

Uberization of your car maintenance

Just a quick note. A Russian startup called Alfred offers a fantastic service: you call them, and they take all the headache of repairing your car for you. Definitely will try them this winter, when the next service for my car is due.