This app developer's 'manifesto' should simply become industry best practices


It's not the kind of question that gets debated by industry analysts or discussed at tech conferences, but it's worth putting it out there: Has the app economy finally come up against its Lars Von Trier?

Some may not be familiar with Von Trier, the director of Dancer in The Dark, Antichrist and, more recently, the two-part Nymphomaniac. Beyond the provocative nature of his films, however, Von Trier initially attracted attention for being among those who wrote and signed the famous "Dogme 95," a manifesto where he and his peers pledged to pursue a more honest, visceral brand of moviemaking. Graham Bower may be his heir apparent, at least in the mobile developer space.

Bower made the comparison himself in "10 Rules For Classy Apps," which is not the usual listicle but a call to arms for developers to take their role in defining mobile experiences more seriously. Key excerpt:

"I don't believe that app developers should ever make trade-off decisions between the user's best interests and commercial considerations. The user experience should come first every time. That may be a bit much coming from someone like me, who has never made a profit from my own app. But I still believe that our best chance of success will come from focusing on our product, rather than our profits."

This might sound near-heretical to a number of vendors who are offering ever-more sophisticated ways to insert payment requirements within mobile games, to use analytics to monitor and influence consumer behavior or make mobile ads that don't look quite like mobile ads. In that sense, Bower's manifesto is no mere top 10, but rather an attempt to raise the bar on transparency and value that developers should include as part of the process of creating apps.

The list of rules is worth a full read, but they certainly don't contain anything to which the average indie developer should object. Requesting permission before using personal information, avoiding confusing language and making pricing obvious and comprehensible--these should be principles applied to almost any sector, not just the app sector.

In fact, I see Bower's manifesto as a welcome sign of the app industry's maturity, where the professionals behind the core product try to strike a more acceptable balance between creative and commercial interests. The only thing that worries me, if anything, is that manifestos tend to expire. Often associated with revolutionary activity, manifestos often call for radical change, even though revolutionaries through history have sometimes ended up acting exactly like (or worse than) those they were attempting to overthrow.

Bower's rules deserve a longer and more sustainable shelf life than a manifesto, and I hope his efforts to put them out there bring him the recognition he deserves. It might not be enough to inspire Lars Von Trier's next (probably dark) film, but it could be a story with a decidedly happier ending. --Shane

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