Developers Replying to App Store Reviews is the [Best][Worst] Thing Ever

Earlier this month I wrote a post about how vital it was that Apple began allowing developers to reply to reviews. In my post, I didn’t specify whether or not those reviews should be public or one-to-one with the reviewer, just that a conversation needs to be had.

This is the salient idea:

The time is ripe for the App Store review system to grow into a two-way conversation between reviewers and developers, rather than a static ‘complaint board’.

Today, Matt Gemmell makes some very, very good points about the effects of a public forum on the human psyche. He references my favorite theorem on the subject and is spot on about how people turn into warped versions of themselves with an audience:

People aren’t really people when they’re in public; they turn into grandstanding, entitled, mutant versions of themselves. Talk to them privately, and suddenly you have a person again. It’s a cruddy reflection on our cruddy species, but wishing it away isn’t helping anybody.

He offers a few suggestions for ways to initiate the conversation outside of a straightforward public back-and-forth and the piece is well worth a read.

Instapaper developer Marco Arment also touched on it, offering another possible manipulation point: unscrupulous or crappy developers who would abuse a publicly available reply option.

And Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory feels that providing personalized support links to problem reviews could help to force developers to maintain a functional and helpful support page and encourage reviewers to visit it in order to solve their problems, rather than stew.

Rene Ritchie of iMore also took a crack at this and made some good points about filtering out things that are more along the lines of ‘bug reports’ or ‘feature requests’ than actual reviews.

These are all great points and there is some really good thinking going on about this topic now, which is fantastic, and one of the reasons I wrote that post and an earlier one about how Apple could use its acquired Chomp talent to help change the way the App Store works.

The fact of the matter is that public replies may not be the answer, there may just be too many potholes to avoid. Look at the quality of internet comments as an example and tell me that you wouldn’t end up down a rabbit hole of anger and blame. I’m basically a professional comment-generator who deals with the full spectrum of human intelligence, ignorance and outright stupidity when it comes to comments on a daily basis. And it still takes all of my effort to stay civil when replying to comments at TNW. I’m usually able to because it’s very rarely helpful to argue with someone who has nothing to lose and everything to gain by making you mad. But it doesn’t always happen.

Developers are not exactly the most patient and understanding folk. Engineers tend to think in a very analytic manner that makes arguing a point a mostly civil affair. But the rules of logic don’t apply when it comes to dealing with the public.

All to often you’re required to set logic aside and take up the reins of the unpredictable stallions of human emotion. And that’s where things can get tricky, especially for those who think in blacks and whites, not shades of grey.

But the important thing is that there is a serious discussion now being had about this topic, which I feel is an extremely important one, both for Apple as the App Store continues to grow, and to the developers in its ecosystem. I don’t think anyone has the right answers yet, but I think that there are some very smart folks at Apple working hard on the problem, including the ex-Chompites. So I’m cautiously optimistic that we might see some results later this year.

Until then, don’t stop talking about it, don’t stop thinking about it. And if you have something to share, share it. Isn’t that what a conversation is all about?


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