One iPhone developer has found a novel way to increase rankings in the iTunes store: pay people $5 a time to post positive reviews, thus ensuring the general public gets an unbiased view of application quality.
The application concerned, SantaLive, shows animations of Santa Claus going about his daily business in the run-up to Christmas. It costs a couple of dollars, but developer Casual Game Network apparently offered users five dollars to post a 5-star review. The offer was made using the Mechanical Turk, and is preserved on the Wired Blog, which also reports that of the 22 reviews of SantaLive on iTunes six include the "....." tag requested by the offer.
This morning there are 33 reviews on the US iTunes store, 31 of which give the top recommendation though none include the tag to indicate they were successfully bribed, so the six reported by Wired have either disappeared or been edited. Decent customer ratings are vital for iTunes applications - with only one store and no opportunity to buy more shelf space (at least not yet) customer reviews are the way in which users can filter the dross from the gems.
Bribing for publicity is nothing new. Journalists and bloggers alike get offered favourable terms or jollies abroad in the hope of getting decent coverage, but actually paying people cash for good reviews is taking things a step further.
But perhaps in these credit-crunched times it just demonstrates that even the wisdom of the cloud has a price. ®