A one star Google Play review

It finally happened: I got a 1 star review on the Google play store.

The review is short and sweet: "Terrible app.. It doesnt work".

Now, I've been developing software for long enough to know that when a user tells me my software is broken, before I can do anything else, I need to find out what they're seeing, how they got to that point, and what they expected to happen instead. Last year I worked on a project which calculated metrics for hospitals. When the customer first saw the report with calculated outputs, we got back the feedback "all wrong", which is, as you can imagine, really unhelpful. Several hours later it transpired that she got confused when entering data about nurses' shifts that crossed midnight, and as a result the shifts she entered were a different length to what she had in her test data. When she put in the right shift durations, the outputs matched what she expected, but not before confidently asserting that the software was wrong.

This app is a crossword/word solving app. You put in your letters, leave the unknowns blank, and it tells you what words will fit. Simple to understand and not a new concept. Electronic devices performing this function have existed since the 90s, and maybe before.

I have analytics data that says that for many users, the app does work. Otherwise they wouldn't keep using it. Digging through the analytics data more, I can also see that the user who left the review used it three times to solve a 4 letter pattern (which I can't see). So I know that the app started, didn't crash, and he was able to input text into the input box and press solve. From this I can deduce that his problem is one of the following things:

  1. Some property of his phone prevented the app from showing the results correctly. This is highly unlikely; although I have not tested on his specific model of phone, there's nothing unusual about it.
  2. He put in some pattern and was frustrated it didn't show the result he expected, because:
    • The word is missing from the (very large) dictionary
    • He saw some esoteric words and decided it was just printing nonsense
    • He can't spell
  3. He misunderstood what the app is supposed to do and expected it to do something else
  4. He has other reasons for leaving this review, for example he is making a competing app.

This is annoying and demonstrates a serious flaw of allowing low quality negative reviews to affect an app's rating, because now I'm motivated to counteract it. As the review doesn't explain the problem, I have no way of constructively improving the app in response, so I am forced to explore non-constructive options.

Up until this point I've refrained from nagging users to leave reviews because I consider that kind of behaviour a bit annoying. However, now I'm thinking of strategies to target long term repeat users (who are presumably satisfied with the app) and invite them to leave reviews. I could go so far as offering them Play Store codes to obtain the paid version of my app for free.

This is extra work for me, it's also unfair user experience for satisfied users, and above all, it's gaming the review system to introduce favourable bias towards me.

I haven't implemented any of this and probably won't, but from the fact I've considered it, we can assert that the rating of an app is not probably correlated to the average user's opinion of it. You could even argue that a poorly rated app is simply one whose developer has not spent much effort gaming the system.

Talk is cheap

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