The Leviathan: App Store Reviews and Ratings

By March 21, 2015Blog

TLDR: If you haven’t rated your favourite indy app – then do so now – it really makes a difference.

The Mac App Store (MAS) is both a wonderful and terrible thing.  It is provides both a shop window and an industrial strength infrastructure that would otherwise be beyond the reach of an independent developer like myself.  With it I can reach, literally, millions of Mac users in dozens of territories.  With minimal overhead on my part I’m provided with reporting, billing, release management and a seamless download and update mechanism all of which I would otherwise have to cobble together myself.

As with most of Apple’s successes the Mac App Store is neither novel nor perfect but from the point of view of a software delivery platform it works pretty well.  I don’t want to join the never-ending list of rather ill-informed articles lamenting anything that comes out of Cupertino.  Besides, the shortcomings of the App Store, most notably the process of App discovery, are well documented. The crop of start-ups and workalikes from competitors are testament to the fact that App Store is overdue some changes which are no doubt in the pipeline.  (Recent changes from a developer’s point of view are encouraging and show signs that the App Store as a platform is approaching maturity.)

There is, however, something that as users we can do today to improve the App Store for everyone.  The App Store is one of those great internet experiments that is supposed to benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, specifically the notion that harnessing the ratings and reviews of the many will allow individuals to make better choices about which apps to download. Unfortunately like many other systems that rely on an invisible hand they often work better in theory than practice.  The App Store like Amazon Reviews or Trip Advisor is filled with paid for reviews and other thinly disguised marketing efforts, competitors deliberately slating the competition, customers issuing ransom demands “would be five stars if you just….” as well as the genuinely frustrated who are not being correctly channelled into some kind of support process.

In App Store terms the mega apps like Angry Birds and the like are not really affected by these kinds of metrics – in fact it’s interesting to note that many popular apps often have reviews that are surprisingly low both in number and stars given.  These kinds of apps already have such external momentum that by the time the user is hovering over the icon in the App Store the decision to purchase has, consciously or otherwise, been made.

Small, independent apps for which reasonable alternatives exist really do live and die by their ratings.  The vast majority of apps on the App Store have no reviews or ratings at all.  When buying a cat bowl on Amazon do you buy the one with sixty reviews or the one with none?  This is a specialised form of herd behaviour known as information cascade that can ultimately become disadvantageous by causing existing products to be be disregarded and stifling the creation of better alternatives.

So, if you’ve got a favourite app, hotel or cat bowl, then take the time to rate it today and make that independent developer’s, hotel proprietor’s or cat bowl magnate’s day.