Finding Paper

App Store Disappearances

Pick your favorite antonym.

"App Store discovery sucks." Common complaint, still a big problem. It is way too hard for users to find apps. Good products meet or serve user intent. We all want to build engaging discovery experiences that users are surprised and delighted by, but, first and foremost, software programs are tools. Step zero is accomplishing the task the user picked up the tool to do.

Google became the front door of the web and grew into a conglomerate by solving this with search. The end user benefitted: the web became more navigable. More importantly, the network benefitted: accurate indexing led to more transparency, taking the power of discovery out of the hands of media portals and distributing it back through the nodes.

In mobile, discovery sucks. The user has two worlds: what exists on their device, and whatever they can see through the tiny, obscured keyhole of the App Store, Play Store and a handful of Asian Android app stores. These are the present-day versions of 90's web portals. The Play Store is incredibly vast and poorly organized, with little delivery so far on Google's promise of indexing in-app content. The App Store is notoriously opaque, with no clear standards for their "editorial" promotion channels.

Where's Paper?

Today, Facebook released a new iOS application, Paper. Or, I should say, "Paper - stories from Facebook." It's featured in the App Store.

I'd imagine that placement is driving a lot of downloads. What if Paper wasn't featured? Maybe a user heard about it from a friend, and wanted to give it a go. Let's try a search for "Paper."

Not in the top 10 results! That's odd. Maybe "Facebook Paper" ?

That's almost laughably off, although I do see one app made by Facebook in there. Because I know Paper is a Facebook product, let's just try a search for "Facebook."

I can find Facebook's top 3 apps, some Instagram tools, and some emoji apps (everyone loves emojis!). No Facebook Paper, though, and, in fact, the final result is arguably Paper's top competitor, Flipboard.

I had equally bad results searching for "Paper Stories," "Paper - Stories," "Facebook Paper Stories," and "fb Stories." How did I find the app? I clicked through to Facebook's developer account page, and scrolled to the bottom.


Users shouldn't even need to know what a developer account is to discover an application. It was difficult for me to find "Paper - stories from Facebook," and I had very high intent. What about users with more casual intentions or browsing plans? 

I should note, these queries were conducted around 11am PST the day "Paper - stories" was released. Still, newness should not be an excuse for a lack of indexing or bad search results. These errors were likely caused by the fact that Apple only refreshes indexing for the App Store ~once every 24 hours. Still, to the end-user, it's all the same: disappearance. I "discovered" Facebook's Paper on social platforms, and when I went to find it in the app store, it disappeared.

I haven't even touched on the lack of clarity around what is and is not allowed in the App Store. But an ecosystem where some mature apps are suddenly banned without much explanation, while some new entrants that seem to clearly infringe on the brand or discoverability of existing properties are allowed, is clearly not a great environment for developers.

Just like the web portals of the 90s, the App and Play Stores are halfway solutions waiting for a better technology to kill them.