Prompted by a post by John Gruber at Daring Fireball, there have been a number of discussions of late regarding the App Store rating system. The conversation started with increasing displeasure with pop-ups that occur within an app, nagging users to leave a review. Gruber suggested that perhaps if users followed the prompt, leaving a single star with a review “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app“, developers would stop the practice. An idea loved by Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, who sees both sides of the story. It’s led to a thought provoking dialog on Twitter regarding the App Store rating system, how it’s flawed, why ratings are incredibly important and what can be done to improve the situation.
From the developer’s perspective, ratings can certainly influence app purchases. When a prospective buyer is looking for an app, the number of ratings and overall cumulative score no doubt has an impact on a purchase decision. Sales lead to improved rankings, which often leads to more sales. As Tapbots Paul Haddod adds, “…pretty sure neither updates nor ratings matter for ranking, it’s a pure sales thing.”
If sales matter, than whatever developers can do to impact sales seems like a wise marketing move. The obvious drawback is the customer dissatisfaction generated by the intrusive pop-up, but they’ve already bought or downloaded the app. They don’t need to court your business, you’re already a customer. The practice would likely go away if people start leaving negative feedback as a result, but that’s likely not to going to happen on a large scale. It also seems a bit harsh. There are plenty of apps that I absolutely love which employ this tactic and if anything I owe them a good review. Most will continue to dismiss the prompt, grumble a bit and move on. A good number of users will follow the prompt and rate the app. If it didn’t work, most developers would have already moved on to a different method.
David Barnard, the man behind Perfect Weather, has found success including a link to review in the settings section of his app next to the support link. That’s a smart strategy. It doesn’t negatively impact his customers and will likely ward off any users who don’t invest a significant amount of time in the app and would consider leaving an ill-informed review. If they are having issues, the support link could be a quick problem solve in lieu of leaving a poor review.
As Rene Ritchie of iMore suggests, we can all do a better job of rating apps. Have a list of your top five apps? If so, have you taken the time to hit the App Store and leave a 5-star review? Some might be thinking, I’ve paid for the app and help up my end of the bargain. What happens if a year down the road, sales fall off and the developer decides it’s not worth his time? In this scenario, we all lose. Rating apps takes little in the way of time, but it can go a long way towards making sure developers keep developing apps that we love.
Intrusive pop-ops are only one symptom of what is a flawed ratings system. Every year when Apple releases a major update, developers often get hit with poor reviews based on it not working properly – on a beta release of operating system that they probably have no business installing. I’m all for users who magically become developers during beta season, but there are entirely too many who don’t properly understand the risks. This same group will conveniently find time to leave a one-star review.
These are all interesting perspectives, but I’m afraid will do little to quell the tide of review prompt nagging or unfair 1-star reviews as a result of beta software. Sales sustain businesses and ratings impact sales. While the two remain intertwined, we’re left with an App Store ratings system that remains badly broken.