The nicer part first: how to get 5 starts? This is not as tough as you may think. There are millions and millions of iPhone and iPod Touch users. They’ve downloaded over a billion apps so far. Looking at this numbers it’s pretty obvious that virtually every app will find someone who like it enough to give an enthusiastic review.
My app, Eternity, got it’s first 5-star review, the day it was published. Let me quote it here:
I am giving an enthusiastic 5-stars because I think this is totally worth many times the money with out any improvements at all. I use it as a constant (eternity) running time log even while I am sleeping. I have created categories some even with several layers of sub-categories ranging from Family and children, Business and Partners, Music and multiple instruments, Writing and several books, and Miscellaneous and multiple recurring categories. The reports allow me to know exactly where I spent my time in practice in the broader categories and be able to drill that down to the more refined specific area. I never stop the timer ever but rather just start the next one which auto stop the former even knowing exactly how long I sleep and when. I even created a “What next?” category in Miscellaneous that fills the gap when I don’t know what to do next. This is a self management and tracking system dream come true. Of course you can run other programs while Eternity is still running and yes I have some improvement ideas but somebody must have read my mind on exactly what I needed. I now know exactly where my time goes with as much detail as desired with the elegant simplicity of the iPhone touchscreen. WOW!
For me, the most pleasing part was the one where the user describes my app as his “dream come true” and projection of his mind. It’s a great compliment for a developer when a user concludes, that software does exactly what he wants.
This was a review of the 1.0 version of Eternity (the first iPhone app I’ve ever written). Lacking many features, very basic. Still, someone liked it very, very much. Not that hard, is it? Write an app, publish it, wait some time.
OK, now the harder part…
How to get a 1-star review on App Store?
The recipe for getting a 1-star review is very similar: write an app, publish it, wait enough time (Eternity waited almost 7 months). Given enough users and time, someone will be dissatisfied enough to voice his opinion.
This is even more true for free apps. People download them just to see what’s in or because they are bored and browse the App Store. If they don’t know what the free app really does, which is very common in case of niche apps, they will give it 1-star review just because of that.
The 1-start review for the paid version of Eternity was:
To have a logging application on a mobile device without a way to purge the data is crazy at best. This application will take up some space and you would have to remove log entries one by one!
Contacted developer and was told it would be in the next version. I have stopped using the application.
(it was subsequently updated by the user and the rating was increased to 2-starts).
I’ve had an email exchange with the author of the review before he published it. I explained that Eternity requires very little storage space (about 150KB after over half a year of 24/7 logging, fraction of the space used by an mp3 song). So my first reaction was: oh, this user probably doesn’t understand what kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes are. Hence such review. So I explained it in more detail and assured that Eternity won’t consume a lot of storage even when the log is not purged for years.
It turned out that the author was a developer himself and he perfectly understood what KB, MB and GB are. So his review was very technically oriented. Every software collecting data should have a way to purge it somehow. It’s a “must have” from a technical point of view. And I agree!
Note however, that such review could be written by a non-technical user as well: It’s my little iPhone. There is no much space in it. Do you think you can eat and eat it forever? No way! ;)
So why Eternity didn’t have that feature right from the start? Well, that’s because I thought too technically developing it. It will take few hundreds of kilobytes after years of using, I have few months (at least) to develop data purging. Both technical and non-technical criticism of such approach is valid, however. It’s a bad practice not to have a way to delete data in a data-collecting software. It’s a bad practice to restrict user control (even a bit paranoid) over his mobile device.
What should you do now?
In my teen years, I was on a camp. When me or my fellows did not behave well, our instructor ordered us series of push-ups. After completing it, we had to say a simple formula: “thank you for improving my brawn!”.
So what should you do, as a developer and a micro-ISV owner, with a 1-star review? Well, you should accept the critique whether you think it’s fair or not. Say “thank you”. “The user is always right” should be your motto. Users have many expectations (sometimes contradictory), different views, requests, worries, but it’s always your job to reforge them into a robust shape of your product.
So the first thing I did was developing the “data purge” functionality (it waits for other features to join, before the next update is released). The second is writing this entry to document a bit harder part of “My micro-ISV way” ;).
What to do to avoid 1-star reviews?
This can’t be said enough times: think like users think (or at least try to). That may be hard for several reasons, however.
First of all, there are many users and they, well…, “think different” :)
Second. You, as the developer, know your software inside out (yes, that’s a common illusion among developers, including me :) ). Because of that, what’s obvious to you, may be a mystery to the user. In a one-person company there are not many people to take a (blank) look at your creation :). Before users do, of course.
Third. It’s hard to wear your “software engineer” and “average software user” hats at the same time. And you have to do that all the time. Do you think 256 is a nice, round number in the eyes of the user? Think again ;)
Looking at the 5-start reviews, I’ve had a bit of success in thinking like users do, but there are still many 1-start aspects of what I do. I’m aware of that.
What does it mean in a micro-ISV world?
Running a one-person company, you’re responsible for all the good as well as bad things. There are no layers of tier 1, 2 and 3 customer support between you and the end user of your products. Your praise is very public, but your shame too. That’s very different from a corporate software development world, as far as I know it.
BTW, that’s why I gave my company a name after one of my nicknames: Komorian. I wanted my business to a bit personal too. That and the lack of good, unregistered domain names :). I know it’s lame (do you want to hear a lame company name? Stand up and say “Google” out loud :-P.
The conclusion of this story is that when you screw up in a micro-ISV, there is no-one else to blame. So be prepared to take the blame yourself. It may be tough, I know. But “this is the business we’ve chosen!”. Now, who said that? The first three readers sending good answers get a free copy of Eternity :) (via promo code – valid only in US App Store, sorry).