Friday, August 31, 2012

New Hearst Television election aggregates local television content; Apple App Store reviews appear suspicious

Yet another new app involving the upcoming Presidential election has been released into the Apple App Store and Google Play. Election-2012 comes from Hearst Television and is designed exclusively for mobile rather than the iPad (iPhone link, Google Play link).
The Hearst app aggregates the digital content from the company's portfolio of local TV stations, which brings in lots of content, but at the same time makes the app only really useful for users where a Hearst station exists.

For instance, since Hearst owns no stations in the Chicago area, election coverage would naturally be lacking.

The app does have a section for national politics, however, so users will have to decide for themselves whether the app seems to be useful for them.

As for the apps' design, I think this is attractive, but the fonts seem to me to be chosen for a larger screen – either the computer screen or a tablet. My eyesight is pretty darn good (with reading glasses on) but I know my wife would find some of the fonts impossible to read. I also found the videos slow to load – so slow, in fact, that I gave up trying to watch any, though this may simply be a server issue.

Because this new app would seem to have limited appeal based on the location of the television stations, I wondered what App Store reviewers had to say about the app – would some complain about the lack of local coverage?

What I found disturbed me.

For such a new app Election-2012 seems to have a lot of written reviews already in the store. All the reviews, with the exception of one written today, are five-star reviews.

All those five-star reviews are short one liners like "Great App!" and "This is particularly good for both local and national content," and all but one of these were written on the 29th, the first day the app was available.

OK, so who are these reviewers, what other apps do they like?

Inside the Apple App Store, unlike Google Play, one can click on the reviewer's name to see what other reviews that person has written. So I did just that and what I saw was that in most cases the review was the only one written by that user name. In at least a couple other cases I saw that if the reviewer had written about any other apps those apps were other Hearst Television apps – and all were given five-stars.

I have to say, my jaw dropped.

One can speculate about what is going on here, but I suggest you judge for yourself – as will Apple I assume.

Checking further, I can report that other Hearst Television apps do not seem to share this suspicious pattern of app reviews.
Left: The list of local television stations; Middle: the video menu; Right: video proved very slow to load.