Punishment vs. Rewards: App Store Reviews

John Gruber, voicing a frustration about the “rate this app” nag screens that are the scourge of iOS users:

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

It’s actually hard to be an iOS user and not agree with Gruber here. Those screens are shitty and annoying.

I hate them with a passion.

If you have been following any iOS developers on App.net/Twitter that do these nag screens, you will have also noticed that Gruber’s post seems to have started to affect the app ratings overall for apps with nag screens. (Which was the point, as we hope it would inspire change.)

We hope we will eliminate these nags by giving bad reviews.

Except that’s only looking at the problem from one side of things.

User Side

From the user perspective: you took time to download this app and therefore should be able to use it without being nagged to death to rate the app.

This is only logical.

As a user you also expect a stable app that is given regular updates and improvements. Again, not wholly unreasonable.

Mostly, you just want to use the app when and how you want to and then get on with your life.

Developer Side

Developers need to get their apps into the hands of as many users as possible to fund the future development of apps.

Developers also know that people are unlikely to buy poorly rated apps, and that not everyone reads blogs about apps to stay abreast of what is best. Therefore developers need good ratings to fulfill the first obligation of sales/downloads and thus the nag screen.

There’s no more evil to it than that, with developers feeling like it is a small ask of their users. Again, not wholly unreasonable.

Opposing Forces

This is where the problem exists. The developers have every incentive in the world to cause a user a minor annoyance and ask users to rate the app via nag screen. The developer figures this minor annoyance is worth it for the user because it indirectly helps the developer continue to work on the app.

More ratings = more installs = more money = more time spent developing the app = benefits to users. Everyone wins…

It’s rather simple. And in that vein it is in the best interest of the user in the long-term.

Except the user’s priorities don’t align with this thinking. The user faces a few problems with nag dialogs that aren’t typically expressed in the developer perspective:

  1. Your app isn’t the only one nagging them to review. In fact, if it was just one app every once and a while nagging the users, then users would likely never care — but it’s not just one app every once and a while. Actually most apps, most of the time, are nagging thus creating a feeling of constantly being nagged. It’s like driving a school bus: what’s the harm in one student asking “are we there yet?” There’s no harm in that, but the fact is that once one student asks they all ask, and then you just pull the bus over and walkaway from those little brats.
  2. The user has to stop their day. Think about that, especially if your app is designed to help the user accomplish something faster/better/easier. You, the developer, are asking your user to forgo the potential “productivity” benefits of your app, stop, head over to the App Store, write a few words, sign in, agree to new terms, sign in again, pick a star rating, and submit. It’s not a minor annoyance, it’s typically a big pain in the ass that takes real time.

The simple fix is for Apple to allow submitting reviews from inside an app. That’d be great and simple.

But that’s not reality today, and we need to deal with reality.

It’s not fair for users to review apps one star based on the fact there was a nag screen from rating the app. We should all agree on this.

But it’s also not fair for developers to nag users to review their app based on the fact that “it’s vital to development and doesn’t take any time”. Again, we should all agree on this.

I think a better strategy is this: If you don’t like nag screens and an app nags you, don’t rate that app, but pencil in some time once a week to rate one app you like that never nags you.

It’s a matter of punishment versus reward. I think, in this case, rewarding those that don’t nag is better than punishing those that do nag.

Side Note About Push Notifications

But, with all that said, fuck those people that abuse push notifications. Slaughter them in reviews.

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Article Details

Published
by Ben Brooks
4 minutes to read.


tl;dr

John Gruber, voicing a frustration about the “rate this app” nag screens that are the scourge of iOS users: I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — […]