iOS Development, Apple App Store

John Gruber Wants to Start a Campaign Against App Developers

In a recent post on Daring Fireball, John Gruber adds his support for the Tumblr titled Eff Your Review. He writes, “I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these ‘Please rate this app’ prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, ‘One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.’”

This is the source of Gruber’s comment: http://effyr.tumblr.com. It is a typical bit of nasty from an anonymous person.

For all that Gruber has done to help app developers in the past, to start a campaign against app developers is the last thing I would expect Gruber to “champion”.

He knows the sad state of the Apple App Store comment system, one that hasn’t changed much in the five years of the App Store. There are two significant problems with the review system, but before I describe them, the value of app reviews for shoppers can’t be understated, and the relevance of reviews to app developers also can’t be understated. 

Reviews for apps that have not gone viral have significant meaning to iOS users. Finding quality apps in the App Store by using Apple’s search is almost impossible. The Apple App Store search is well documented to be pathetic. Do a quick search on “bad app store search results” in Google and see what shows up, page after page, after page.

Some people claim that reviews are used to produce App Store search. If that is true, running a few searches for apps using relevant search keywords doesn’t seems to prove that theory.

When your app is found or if a kind person has recommended your app and that person then goes the the App Store, besides seeing your app icon and screen shots, the app star ratings are readily visible. Nothing wrong with that. The star ratings are the only “impartial” information about the app from the perspective of the potential customer. Therefore, the star ratings and the reviews that produce them are critical for app acceptance.

Many app developers resolve this problem by simply buying reviews from companies in Asia. Many ethical companies would rather have their satisfied clients write reviews on their behalf, and thus the app developers make a simple request for their customers to write a review and then give a link to that app’s page in the App Store to easily write a review. Some review requests are more intrusive then others, but in most cases, to simply say “no thank you” takes a second and the review request is gone. For Gruber and the misfit at Eff Your Review to make this mountain out of a mole hill is silly.

The real problem is with Apple’s App Store review system:

Developers are not able to respond to the reviewer privately and in public. Developers need both options to better communicate with their customers. Some users don’t understand that Apple doesn’t share user data with developers. Developers don’t know who buys their apps unless the app has a signup feature for an account. (This problem is worth it’s own blog post.) Over the past 5 years, I have seen a large number of 1 star reviews where the reviewer’s concern was completely unfounded. Often the case was their misunderstanding of a feature or the purpose of the app that resulted in a 1 star review. In those cases being able to communicate with the reviewer publicly, in the review system, and privately through email, would help the customer and potential customers.

Reviewers real names should be listed on the review. This would put a stop to fake negative  reviews and false positive reviews. It would also help eliminate the spiteful negative reviewer from posting 1 star reviews that do nothing to actually help a developer if a negative review was caused by a product issue.  

Lastly let’s not forget the one truth of a satisfied customer: Satisfied customers are substantially less inclined to write positive reviews without encouragement. 

Why Gruber and the dimwit at Eff Your Review are campaigning against app developers who are spending time, energy, money and lost opportunity to build and improve apps, I simply don’t understand. Both of them combined have likely lost well over 100 seconds of their life over the past 5 years because of all review requests. But really? Punish the app developers?  Yeah, that is the best possible solution to the problem. Maybe next week they will start a campaign against Amazon sending out emails to customers asking for reviews after online purchases.