My 100th Post: Balefire Labs and #EdApps

Balefire LabsI’ve been a bit off the grid this past week, so my apologies for not writing. That said, this is my 100th blog post! Wow! Thinking back to my first blog post, it’s been a really fun ride.

For my 100th blog post I wanted to write about something that is special to me: my new educational app review business, Balefire Labs, that is launching to the public in July. It’s getting close enough now, with our beta test complete, that it is palpable. As we count down to the launch the excitement and anxiety is growing for me! My 100th blog post seemed to be an appropriate time to talk more about Balefire Labs than I have done so far…this post marks the occasion of one achievement and describes the next achievement that is pending!

I’ve written in other posts about what brought me to starting up my own business: frustration with what is out there and my belief that parents and teachers don’t have a reliable, unbiased resource to help them find educational apps that really teach their kids. Educational apps that have strong instructional design and usability design.

I know that there are other educational app review sites out there that take advertising to support what they’re doing. We don’t do that. We don’t feel that we can be credible giving a review to a product if, right beside our review, is an ad from the company that built that product. That seems obvious to me. But what I only recently learned (and this tells you a lot about my naiveté) is that there are many ed app review sites out there that charge app companies a fee in order to publish a review of their app! Straight pay-to-play, which, clearly, advantages bigger companies that can afford to “buy” a review. I was shocked (again, my naiveté) and, frankly, pretty appalled. Then there are review sites that only publish reviews of apps that they recommend. No negative reviews.

So let me tell you about what we are doing at Balefire Labs:

  • Clear and operationally defined review criteria focusing on instructional and usability design
  • Apps are compared and contrasted directly with one another, which is allowed by the standard review criteria
  • Reviews completed by trained evaluators on staff, not volunteers
  • 20% of apps are reviewed by two evaluators to ensure that we all are applying review criteria in the same way (known as interrater reliablity or agreement)
  • We publish positive and negative reviews so that you know which apps to buy and which to steer clear of
  • We accept NO advertising
  • We do NOT accept payment for reviews
  • We purchase all of the apps that we review; we do NOT accept promotional codes from app developers
  • Each app is assigned a letter grade from A through F
  • We’re starting with iOS apps and will be adding Android apps next year

We’re big fans of the approach that Consumer Reports takes and our goal is to emulate them. Now, here are some of the interesting things that we’ve found so far:

  • Only between 20-25% of all apps that we’ve reviewed get an A, B or C grade. The other 75-80% of apps are pretty junky. (That said, many apps could be greatly improved with small changes…we hope to help developers make those changes!)
  • The relation between price and quality isn’t as strong as most people assume. We still need to run the statistics on this to get the precise correlation, but, overall, the folk wisdom of “You get what you pay for” doesn’t seem to be holding true.
  • Some of the well-known brands make some of the worse apps. (Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the launch to find out who!)

So, you know, I’ve said before that this business is a labor of love for me. And I’ve talked to a lot of parents and teachers who are excited about what we are doing at Balefire Labs. So now we’re getting ready to pretty much do what Consumer Reports does: ask people to pay a subscription fee to get clean, unbiased, objective and credible information about products…in this case, products that help kids learn. We hope that people will be willing to pay a modest fee to get that kind of information. And we think that many parents and teachers care enough and are frustrated enough by the status quo that they will. We’re on a mission to improve the experience of kids, parents and teachers. And we hope you’re not only join us on this adventure, but spread the word!

Come visit the Balefire Labs site, learn more about us and sign up to be notified when we launch!


About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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1 Response to My 100th Post: Balefire Labs and #EdApps

  1. Pingback: Ed App Reviews: Will My Kid Like It? | disrupt learning!

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