The Apple iTunes App Store has been a runaway success, both in terms of the number of applications and sales, but fraught with it's PR disasters too. Of course those mainly hinge around the rejections that developers receive, something quite a few have experienced. But there's another dark side, one that's not often mentioned but hits many a developer, and has to do with the current "social, user-generated, 2.0 everything" culture. Comments and reviews.
Your parents told you not to say anything unless you had a something nice to say, but in the age of the Internet people who forget that can cause quite a bit of havoc. I'm not saying that at times it's not deserved, but only go on a tirade if you've exhausted all other avenues in trying to resolve an issue. Developers are people too and they've taken the time to write applications that they think will be useful to you. They get that warm gooey feeling inside when users connect with the application and find it useful. And guess what? They get a sad feeling when something breaks or does not work for the user - but they want to fix it. They just need to be given the chance, and that's where you come in.
Recently on Twitter two iPhone application developers whom I followed tweeted the following:
Michael McNeela - "iPhone developers: don't read your App Store reviews. 'Tis my conclusion after almost a year."
Vinny Coyne - "Here's a New Year resolution idea: I'll contact the developer for help before posting a one-star rant on the App Store. That'd be nice!"
And I feel exactly the same way. My recently released application, My Oyster, started off with a 5 star rating but has slowly gone down to 3 stars now. I've had my first 2 star review on the comments page with a person complaining that their journey history was not shown. Well how about contacting me, like I state all over the description, so that I can sort it out. All it would have taken was an email and we could have solved it within a few hours. But for whatever reason, no.
I've had about 5 people email me when they've had problems as been able to resolve all of the issues. Even had emails commenting how great the application was and what features they'd like to see in the future. So what's the problem? One issue bringing down the rating is Apple's insistence on asking users for a star rating when they're uninstalling an application. Er if you're removing it there's quite often a problem and it's ever so easy to touch the 1 star and submit that. And boom the rating slowly creeps down with no feedback available to the developer. Not entirely fair and it gets nobody anywhere.
Perhaps one day Apple will allow developers to respond to the comments left by users on the App Store but until then let's make a deal:
- I, as an application user, hereby swear that I'll contact the developer with any issues I experience.
- I, as the developer, promise to make it easy for users to get in touch and will respond to every query I get
and lastly, and probably the most importantly:
- If you like an application then leave a positive comment. It's human nature to complain but we so rarely mention the good things. So make sure everyone out there knows how awesome the game or utility was with your comments pushing the rating up.