Editorial: Your Reviews May Be Hurting You

Dave Smith
Dave Smith

Normally I target developers in my posts, but today I had a special message that I wanted to send out to the user community. I've noticed a trend over the past year that troubles me some about the way users are using their reviewing power in places like the App Store or the Android Market.

Users, the power you've been given to review mobile applications carries more weight than I think many of you give it credit for.

The consequences of an application review should not be taken lightly. Believe it or not, other users do look at an app's comments (or at least the top five at the time) and it's current rating. This can be a good thing, but it behooves me to point out that there are certain things that do not belong in reviews as they can prematurely cripple an application's, or its developer's, success. Flagrant user of 1 star ratings for certain reasons will end up hurting the user community if used improperly, because many of the developers will choose not to develop more apps or make updates to those they've already published.

Here is a list of things that I believe low ratings and review comments SHOULD be used for:

  • Lack of developer feedback
    • I 100% agree that if you contact a developer with a question on an application, and get no response within a few days, you have the right to rate low. Active applications need developer support.
  • Poor application quality
    • Try to distinguish poor user experience from a missing feature. Just because an application doesn't have a feature you think would be cool, doesn't mean it is somehow broken.

Which brings me to things low ratings SHOULD NOT be used for:

  • Feature requests
  • Bug reports

A good developer enjoys hearing feedback about their application, and ways that they can improve the user experience in future releases. This is why application markets provide developer contact information, so you may contact them directly with this type of feedback. The salient point here is to give the developer(s) an opportunity to support you first. You're helping them by letting them help you. Often, a missing feature isn't missing...just hidden. By contacting the developer, you've learned where the feature is, and they've learned it needs to be more obvious where to find it next time.

The same goes for bugs. App development is a small-scale business oftentimes, and developers can't be as thorough with software testing as we all would like. So, sometimes the user community ends up becoming beta testers on the first 1-2 releases of an application. Again, direct contact will get these issues solved more quickly. You will most likely be waiting longer if you post a bad review and expect that the developer saw it.

So, I guess the bottom line here is open dialogues with the app developers and, in the long run, you'll be glad you did. If the developer ignores your requests, then use that veto as it was intended. Developers who ignore their users don't have a place in this community anyway, in my humble opinion.