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GIVE ME FEATURE OR 1★
Written on December 21, 2016

A while ago I came across this post by Francisco Franco. Since the post and many of its comments had some pretty valid points in them, I decided to organize it a bit and publish an article about it.

Everyone gets bad reviews once in a while. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though; they show that there’s room for improvement and give developers ideas on how to improve their product. However, as many of you know, there is a very fine line between constructive criticism and shamelessly pointless feedback that wastes both the publisher’s time and the effort put into the project.

The common solution to this is normally to ignore it. Don’t pay attention to useless feedback and focus on improving your app. This works well for productivity, e.g. if you work at a large company that doesn’t necessarily need a flashy rating in order to do well in the mobile world. For single developer accounts, however, it has a huge impact on the popularity of their products. Since they aren’t advertised by anyone except the users of the app, the only way it can gain users is for it to move up in the search results and get recommended for more users. This only happens with a good rating. Especially for developers just starting to work with Android, a single review could change the outcome of a project or sometimes the developer’s entire career.

I’m more concerned about young and fresh developers that really need this to make some money to survive. I can handle this just fine, but what about the rest? Can a newbie handle this? A single 1-star due to retardedness can be enough to discourage someone, or destroy the ranking in the store. Think about it.

- Francisco

There are a few possible solutions to this, however it should also be noted that user opinions should not be completely hidden. Since there are a ridiculous amount of apps on the play store, there is a possibility that an app with a review saying it’s bad with no contextual information might be completely accurate. Even with ‘bad apps’ that eventually get suspended or removed there is a delay between publishing and removal where without these ratings it would be possible for it show up in a lot more search results than it would otherwise. And even if your app works perfectly, doesn’t have an excessive amount of ads or clickbait, and has a flawless design, chances are there’s still going to be something you haven’t thought of, so any method that ignores or eliminates feedback won’t work.

A user review: Annoying. The app kept overlaying the same status bar over to of the other one. I thought that it was annoying.

Now, there are many categories of bad reviews. Some are just bad, as in they don’t specifically describe what the problem is, like a couple I’ve gotten previously saying “It crashes” or “What is this trash”. Some describe the user’s problem, but don’t really have anything to do with the app itself. Others just purely insult the developer(s).

After sorting through the reviews in some of my apps, I’ve come up with a few ways user experience could be improved in order to reduce the amount of bad reviews.

  • The first is to split the current reviews system in the Play Store into separate ratings and user feedback sections. User feedback is intended for help with setting up the app or reporting bugs, while ratings/reviews only show the quality of the product and how well it completes its purpose.
  • Second, if someone only types one or two words in a low rating, a message with something similar to “The developer might not be able to understand what problem you’re having” could eliminate many reviews that are ignored by most developers. Another message could be “Developers have feelings too!” if any profane language or generally hateful text is entered.
  • Finally, something should be implemented to prevent users from spamming ratings. Currently, the play store allows you to rate the app as soon as it’s started downloading, so it’s possible to write a review without having opened the app at all. Preventing this until the app has actually been opened could eliminate many of the spammy reviews that people have received.

Things apps can do (I’ve tried to do these in mine to the best of my ability) to help are as follows.

  • First, an in-app FAQ section could help explain functions of the app that are often misunderstood or misused.
  • Second, while showcasing an app’s features when it’s first opened is kind of pointless (why advertise the app when the user’s already downloaded it?), a tutorial that walks the user through basic usage of the app could greatly improve a user’s experience and prevent more bad reviews.
  • The third and probably most important is to make the Play Store listing more obvious. Since many users don’t put time into reading the entire app description before installing (or even giving the app a 1-star review, as I’ve annoyingly discovered a few times), it’s best to try and shorten what the app does into a single sentence to show on the front page. This way the user actually knows what the app they’re installing is supposed to do, and aren’t basing their expectations on what they think it does from just the icon and name.

Most of these suggestions (excluding the last one) are intended to decrease the response expected by a user from leaving a bad review. The recurring problem throughout this article seems to be that users don’t completely understand the point of leaving a review. It is not a place to report bugs, that is called an email. It is not a place to start an argument, that is called /r/android. It isn’t a place to ask for help, that is called lmgtfy.com. The point of the reviews section is solely to provide a way to judge how well an app fulfulls its purpose. No more, no less.

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