Why App Stores SUCK Segregation

I was recently going through the Blackberry developer forums and stumbled across a thread that is all too common. A developer had an app on the market and was doing well until a negative comment was posted and sales stopped.

It’s possible that the app in question wasn’t any good and the loss of sales had nothing to do with the comment. . . but, for the sake of this article, I am siding with the developer because when it comes right down to it, app stores kind of suck.

Get the Tide out because it’s time to air some dirty laundry.

The scenario I described above was on the Blackberry App World, but it highlights something that is wrong with ALL app markets in existence.  This includes Apple, Google, HP and Amazon.

Developers are segregated from the customer and then punished

Imagine that you’ve spent the last 6 months writing software in the copious amounts of free time between your real job and family life.  You wrap it up, put it in a flashy box listing all the features you worked so hard on and then you throw it into a room full of sharpies and lunatics.  Wait, what? Yes, welcome to the app store.

Now you get to stare through the 1-way sound-proof mirror as you watch customers write a bunch of untrue crap on the front of your software for all the other customers in the world to see.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get away with just a couple 1-star uninstall! comments but often-times things can get far worse.

Customers can post things that have no basis in reality with deliberate malicious intent.  For instance, you may be surprised to one day wake up and discover that you have written the world’s first iPhone virus.  Often times this is an app competitor using subterfuge.

This type of negative PR is hard to control because the typical customer will gladly replace their own personal experience with the experience of the app reviewer.  Side-note, this scenario actually happened to me.

The developer is ironically punished for having no control over comments because the app market creates this facade where customers believe that comments put them in touch with the developer.  Customers ask for help and post their problems in app store comments and the developers are standing on the other side of the sound-proof window screaming in agony because they:

  1. Know what the likely problem is
  2. Can’t get the customer’s contact info
  3. Can’t respond to the comment
  4. Couldn’t warn the customer if an axe murderer was standing behind them

I think there are viable solutions if any of the app stores were actually interested in attracting developers.

Option 1

Allow the developer to respond to comments but don’t allow threads.  A customer can post and modify only 1 review, the developer can post and modify only 1 response to that review.

It’s important that the developer is delineated as being part of the company instead of just another user claiming to be part of the company (the problem with Amazon).  This would at least allow the developer to offer support, clear the air for downright malicious posts or at the bare minimum provide some backing support for comments like.

Option 2

Let the community sort things out.  Turn the app store comments section into a mini Stackexchange, just be sure to show the score on each comment.  Google has attempted something like this but the implementation is poor.  For upvotes/downvotes to mean anything you need to show the meta-score for each comment.  Without meta-score being visible, moving comments up/down only affects the temporal perspective, i.e. it makes comments look like they were posted later/earlier than other comments.

This is how things are now

The Stackexchange model

Developers should have more say

At the end of the day, developers pay the app store 30% of their profits to throw their product into an alleyway full of graffiti.  It’s sad that for this price, it takes a week to paint over a vulgar comment and is impossible to address the untrue and misleading ones.  It’s infuriating that none of the app stores seem to care about this!?!  The first app store that truly gets this is going to have happy developers.  Happy developers typically morph into platform evangelists.

Published 17 February 2012
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