How did an obscure Chinese news aggregator become the top Indian news app?
News Dog, a news aggregator app that collates articles in English and Hindi, is topping charts on Google Play Store. The app, developed by a Hong Kong-based company Hacker Interstellar Inc, is currently the No. 1 app on Google Play Store in the ‘News and Magazines’ category for India, and No. 11 in the overall list of ‘Top Free Apps’ in India. DailyHunt, by comparison, is No. 52 in the top free app chart, while TOI is at No. 106. In the news and magazines category, DailyHunt is No. 3, while Times of India (TOI) is No. 4. (No. 2 is another aggregator, News Republic.)
Not much is known about Hacker Interstellar Inc except that it is a Hong Kong-based company, co-founded by former Baidu Inc investment director Yi Ma (efforts to reach out to Ma failed).
News Dog claims to be the smallest Indian news app. It’s size is 14 MB post installation to Daily Hunt’s 35 MB. The app itself is nothing much to write home about, neither in terms of design or functionality. It has a clean UX without having an outstanding design, and it does its job of aggregating articles from established news sources quite efficiently. Like other similar services, it allows users to specify areas of interest such as entertainment, sports and politics, and delivers stories that fall in these categories, front and centre. One of its more interesting features is the ‘local news’ feature, which allows users to find live local news covered in their cities and localities. Unlike DailyHunt, though, which has multiple language platforms, News Dog offers only two language options — English and Hindi.
Still, none of this explains how this unheard of-app released by a virtually unknown Chinese company in April, 2016, has managed to climb to the top of the charts on Google Play Store. A cursory look will reveal that the number of downloads of News Dog is way lower than that of DailyHunt or TOI. Google Play Store, which measures apps in bands of number of downloads, shows News Dog in the 1 million to 5 million band; DailyHunt is in the 10 million to 50 million category and TOI is also in the 10 million to 50 million band.
Well, the thing is, Google Play Store rankings are determined by a complex algorithm that takes into account not just numbers such as the total number of downloads, but also usage and engagement factors such as frequency of downloads, number of users rating and reviewing the app, number of app crashes, amount of time users are spending on the app, how many times users searched for the app on Google and inside Play Store, how search-friendly its keywords and app description are etc etc. The four top parameters for determining good search results on the Play Store — essentially, making sure that your app shows up in results when users look for a certain type of app — are:
- App Meta Data (App Title & Description)
- App Downloads
- Ranking & Recessions
- +1 & Backlinks
All this goes towards creating a high App Store Optimization (ASO), which also impacts the ranking of the app in the Top Charts.
News Dog seems to have cracked many of these parameters, accounting for its unusual rankings.
New and buzzy apps also have an edge over older apps, which may have more downloads in sheer numbers but are not searched for as much. “A new app is like a new restaurant in a buzzy locality. More people are looking for it and talking about it, but an older, more established restaurant may be doing better business,” explains Abhishek Tiwari, associate product manager at Reverie Language Technologies, a Bengaluru company that provides indic language platforms to businesses. Tiwari has done an informal analysis of News Dog’s ratings and rankings over the past couple of months (see charts below):
(Charts courtesy Abhishek Tiwari)
Update: The post has been updated to reflect that the four parameters mentioned above have a more direct impact on search results within the Google Play Store than on actual rankings. However, the two are inextricably linked, say experts. The update also adds a screenshot of the top free chart as on July 6, 2016, at 4:10 pm.