Antonis Tsagaris


A one-star review is born

So you have worked for days — no! months — no! what are you talking about? Years. Years! Years of your life on that app that you just know is going to change the world, reverse climate change and perhaps even interface with alien spaceships bent on destroying the world and destroy them by sending and executing virus.exe in their Windows 95 installation.

And so the day has come.

Everything’s going great so far: the birds are chirping outside, most of the bugs have been ironed out, Eclipse hasn’t crashed in minutes and you’ve opened your Google Play Developer Console, ready to upload the .apk and set your benign world domination plan in motion.

Five minutes later, you’re done. An hour later, the app is available to the masses. You and your three remaining friends (remember, you’ve distanced yourself from everyone to work on your masterpiece) give the app five-star ratings and you sit tightly waiting for the world to recognize your Monapp Lisa.

By “sit tightly”, of course, I mean you hit Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, several blogs and your local press harder than a meteorite hits the earth in a late-90s / early-noughties disaster movie.

Pretty soon, you get a couple of downloads. I won’t go into the whole promotional aspect of how you can get more than two downloads because that’s not the point here. Maybe your three remaining friends still have their own friends around and they get them to download the app. Maybe.

The point is that pretty soon you’ll start getting some reviews. After your ten initial 5-star reviews titled “Awesomesauce” and subtitled “I always knew you were special. Love, Mom.”, you will probably get the bane of every Play Store developer’s life: the wordless one-star reviews (WOSR from now on).

The WOSR is the most infuriating thing that can happen to a small startup / lone app developer. How is that? Well, let me explain. In the Play Store, the developer can only respond to ratings that actually contain a review, ie. some text to go along with the rating. If someone gives you a 1-star rating but writes nothing, you are essentially powerless. You won’t know what their problem is, you won’t be able to fix it and, even worse, you won’t be able to respond to their review with a satisfying “suck a dick” and a middle finger emoticon.

Does a WOSR matter? You’re damn right it matters. When you’ve spent a significant amount of time perfecting the app, applying all the Material goodness you can, saving the freakin’ instance state everywhere and handling rotation gracefully (yes, I have a beef with saving the instance state. So what? Sue me) the last thing you need is two 1-star reviews you can’t even respond to to start seeing your app’s average score plummet, especially in the early days. Then someone searches for your app, sees a below-4 score and decides to download something else.

It doesn’t even matter if the user has a legitimate problem with your app. They went to the trouble of going back to the Play Store, searching for your app and giving it a 1-star rating. The least they could do was write a couple of sentences about what their actual problem was. There is simply no way to deal with crap like that and that’s why I’ve always believed that Google shouldn’t allow 1-star reviews on the Play Store that don’t actually contain some text.

I’m looking at our app, Karkoona, right now. At the time of writing, it has two WOSRs. Yes, we also have five more 1-star reviews, but those actually contained some info that helped us troubleshoot and solve a nasty bug fast (even though I’d appreciate it if people went back and revised their score when we solved their problem). Thing is, we have 56 ratings/reviews in total. Two WOSRs are a hit. It builds ill will. It’s simply nasty.

I know what you’re going to say. “Make your app better”. “Criticism helps”. “Grow a pair”. “Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!”. I get it — but none of these is what this post is about. Yes, criticism helps. Yes, you should have a thick skin if you’re releasing stuff for people to use. And yes, awakening submerged tentacled monsters from outer space is neat.

The WOSR offers nothing, though: it’s not criticism (since it offers no feedback) and it is definitely not constructive. It follows that it does not help in making your app any better. In fact, it takes away any incentive for the developer to make the app better.

Is destructive criticism a thing? It should be.

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