30
Dec
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Earlier this month an update to the Play Store began rolling out with a brand new ratings widget appearing on the main landing page and within landing pages for each major section (Apps, Movies, Books, etc.) The simple card encouraged users to give a score of 1 to 5 stars on a previously downloaded (or claimed) item in exchange for some suggestions about similar items they might be interested in. While this seemed like a relatively innocuous addition, obviously intended to drive additional downloads, it seems to have had a unexpected negative effect: Several developers are reporting a drastic rise in 1-star ratings on otherwise successful apps.

RatingsCumulative
Credit: gfactoriser via BadLogicGames.com

Some developers began to notice their average ratings had taken a significant dive around December 10th, nearly a week after version 4.5.10 of the Play Store had first appeared. Upon closer inspections, their apps had been receiving an unusually high volume of low scores, most of which lacked reviews to explain the poor performance. As developers started discussing the issue on some online forums, it became clear that this wasn't an isolated incident and the culprit may be the newly added Quick Suggestions widget.

Screenshot_2013-12-30-10-44-39Screenshot_2013-12-30-10-44-48Screenshot_2013-12-30-10-45-43

The opinion among many developers is that the quick suggestions card is misleading to most users, especially those that may not be taking the time to look at it closely. The fear is that users are only reading the top line and interpreting this as Google asking if it should suggest more apps like the one shown, as is common on other services. It's also possible the app shown may have been forgotten by long-time users and could be perceived as a suggestion. In either case, somebody might be inclined to give low ratings to discourage the Play Store from recommending such apps again. Even if people are reading the less prominent second line, which is more clear that you're actually rating the item, it's not obvious how a high or low score will be used to produce suggestions. It's worth nothing that there is also an overflow menu button in the top right corner that offers a Not Interested option, but the effect of this is equally unclear.

Another part of the complaint centers on reviews, which are not possible from this interaction. After tapping on a star, your score briefly appears as a large number before the card slides away to be replaced by a few suggestions. The only way to give a written review or adjust your rating is to find the item in the Play Store and edit it manually. This poses an additional issue as the widget can capture accidental taps while casually scrolling, but offers no option to undo once you lift your finger. Here's a brief video to demonstrate the flow.

Developers are understandably angry given the potentially catastrophic effect this can have on the high ratings some of them have achieved. Older apps that have amassed a lot of ratings and reviews over time shouldn't be as severely affected, but newer apps could be hit pretty hard. Some have even declared that they will wait until a change has been made before submitting new apps, fearing that they might receive ratings that can't be erased.

There have been a few suggestions for how the widget can be fixed to be more fair. The first simply calls for prompting users to enter a proper review with their rating. This would prevent accidental taps from going on record and should encourage users to give more thoughtful comments for low scores. Another suggestion was to change the widget to simply ask users if they would like to see more apps like the one on display, after which they could still be prompted to give a permanent rating. Hopefully, Google will move to make a fix quickly, as the damage that has been done might not be reversed.

If you're concerned that you've unfairly rated apps in the past and you want to make some changes, you can easily find a list of ratings in your activity feed. Simply open the navigation drawer from the left side, tap on your profile picture at the top and you will see a long list of every rating and +1 you've made.

Thanks, Kovács Béla and Bubblesoft

Sources: Amir Uval, BadLogicGames, Reddit [1 and 2], MakingMoneyWithAndroid

Cody Toombs
Cody is a Software Engineer and Writer with a mildly overwhelming obsession with smartphones and the mobile world. If he’s been pulled away from the computer for any length of time, you might find him talking about cocktails and movies, sometimes resulting in the consumption of both.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

    Whoever came up with this really, really didn't think it through. It's pretty sad that the Play Store team is so desperate to boost review metrics that they're willing to blatantly sacrifice quality for quantity, which is exactly what this is about. And now they're getting bit in the ass for it.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      I bet the original intent for this was probably very good.

      I'm sure there was a meeting where somebody suggested prompting users to review their stuff and using that information to fine-tune the recommendation engine. This is the thing that came out after that idea passed through a marketing department, one or two project managers, and a few iterations that went out of control. Somebody declared that reviews had too much friction and ratings would be better, then somebody else said it should be a big widget to get more attention, and another person said it should look like users are trading a simple rating for presumably high quality suggestions.

      When I look at this, I smell design-by-committee.

    • thedosbox

      "the Play Store team is so desperate to boost review metrics"

      Simple solution - remove the requirement for Google+.

    • ssj4Gogeta

      To be honest, it didn't even occur to me that it could be interpreted in a wrong way before I read this article. It seemed pretty simple to me - "Rate this application so we can learn what you like and give you better suggestions."

      • Matt

        Yeah I honestly can't believe that anyone would think it's anything but what it says. Even AP staff...

    • Paul

      "Desperate", that pretty much tells the story. Personally i hate the new design. 7 out of 10 times i'm hitting that god damn star rating when i just want to scroll down. I can imagine some users are so pissed off with that, that after some time they don't hit "Cancel" anymore and just go with 1 star.

    • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

      "they're willing to blatantly sacrifice quality for quantity, which is exactly what this is about"

      Let's not get carried away here, this is pretty obviously a mistake or oversight not a deliberate attempt to confuse people...

  • http://planetmew.com/blog/ Christopher Glass

    There's also a good chance that people are meaning to tap the icon and hit low, tapping the 1. And as soon as you tap, it goes to the next panel. There's no confirm.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      There are so many potential reasons this widget could cause people to hit 1 star for no good reason, it's just kind of an all-around bad idea with an even worse implementation.

      • Roemraw

        Nah, the idea was not bad, just the implementation that messed up.

        • APReader

          Agreed, the idea of soliciting user feedback itself seems pretty sound, and even well established (Amazon emails you to ask for reviews on previously-purchased products, for example).

          Because of the botched implementation, it looks David's reaction is a classic case of pushing the pendulum a bit too far to the other side. As with anything, sanity lies somewhere in between the extremes.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

            You're oversimplifying idea and implementation. Of course getting more feedback is better - I didn't say it wasn't. They went about it in the wrong way (a poorly-explained widget), with the wrong approach, and the wrong philosophy (quantity > quality).

          • APReader

            Perhaps I am simplifying. I basically see "idea" to be "use case", and "use case" here is "get feedback". The "how" behind that idea (the way they "went about it") was no doubt botched -- no one will disagree on that front.

            In my opinion, the implementation was almost okay. Soliciting feedback through the card interface in the store seems pretty elegant. The fact that it's so easy to screw up in sending a bad score with no easy way to undo, and the fact that it was so poorly-explained as you mentioned, though, makes it clear they didn't go through enough testing/iteration on the thing.

          • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

            No what he said is fine. The idea (acquiring more ratings by using a slimmed down simplified widget) is a good one, the implementation (the fact that the widget is poorly explained and doesn't ask for confirmation) is the bad thing.

            Claiming that they designed it with the wrong philosophy is particularly funny because it shows that for some reason you're assuming they deliberately chose to sacrifice quality of ratings for quantity. They didn't, this was clearly an error. If they had known ahead of time that this would result in a bunch of bogus 1-star reviews they wouldn't have done it.

  • Michael Panzer

    I thought this rating is just for my results and don't apply to the app. I have rated apps with 1 star not because it's a bad app (it wouldn't be on my phone if it were) but because the question was if I want to see more of that kind of apps.

    That's a really bad idea to count those as real ratings!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      That's precisely what's happening, and I myself also thought the same thing. Relevancy to my tastes vs actual rating.

    • Dennis Ulijn

      This. If I use a Voice Memo app or a Sudoku app I get the question how I would rate the app. I don't need another app, as I'm happy with the solution I already have, but if I rate it positively I get recommended other apps that solve the exact same problem... I figured that the rating was a rating for the app, though.

    • http://artflowstudio.com/ Bart Janusz

      I really think this is blown out of proportion. Quick rating box causes influx of number of ratings (both good and bad), of course if you have highly rated app single 1* offset mean more that single 5* (that's how arithmetic mean work) which effect in drop of rating (yes it happened to me as well - my app drop from 4.7 to 4.5). In my case I'd say it start to stabilize. My advice is - deal with it, I honestly doubt Google'll change anything :)

  • alamarco

    You know what would get people to review more? No Google+ integration...

    There are a ton of apps I use daily that I would love to give good reviews, but I'm not integrating Google+. Google needs to stop shoving Google+ down peoples throats if they want better quality and quantity.

    Worst part is, I use Google+, although it's on a separate account than my Play Store.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      I'm not about to try to talk you into anything, per se... I'm just curious why you're against leaving ratings and reviews if it would show up under a G+ account with nothing on it? All you'd really be doing is posting under a different name, picture, or whatever than your regular social account.

      • alamarco

        I don't want my name being used in reviews. While I wouldn't need to add any content to the account like a photo, it would have my name. No need to have it attached to reviews.

        I've reviewed my fair share of apps on my iPhone because I believe good reviews help the developer out. It's me doing my part as thank you to the developer. Until this whole Google+ thing blows over, my Android reviews will be 0.

        Same thing happened with YouTube. Used to leave comments, now that's done.

        • Brian Koppe

          "Until this whole Google+ thing blows over..."

          Thanks for the laugh ;) It's one thing to dislike Google+, but don't be delusional. You have two options: Learn to get used to it, or use fewer Google products (or none). Google+ (and Google+ integration) isn't going anywhere. They've said from the very beginning - 2.5 years ago - that Google+ is the future of everything Google. That is only more true and obvious now than it was then.

          • alamarco

            Thanks for the laugh. Delusional is thinking one knows the future as if there are only two options. :)

            As customers we are given the choice. We don't have to be force fed and told what to do like a child. Just because Google says something doesn't mean we all have to do it. Choice is powerful and only some people choose to use it.

          • Brian Koppe

            You're right that customers have a choice. Sometimes that choice is to stop using a product if you don't like it. A massive company like Google isn't going to change their plans for Google+ without a catastrophic failure, and they've experienced nothing of the sort. It's not delusional to be confident that Google+ isn't going anywhere. It's obvious to anyone who is paying any attention. Appropriately, I just came across this recent article on the subject which you may wish to read: http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/12/google-is-kind-of-like-the-next-version-of-google/ It has been 2.5 years and Google is still saying the same kind of things they said at the very beginning: Google+ is the future of Google.

          • alamarco

            So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to stop using my Android phone because I can't review apps? How does that make sense?

            I choose not to review apps due to the Google+ integration. I'm not going to stop using Android because of it. That's asinine. Android is the pinnacle of choice. Google can integrate all they want, but unless they close Android there will always be choice.

            Example: I always used QuickPic, but if I didn't I'd quickly change to QuickPic after the recent Gallery/Photos changes.

            I don't think you understand what choice means when you quickly go to "stop using a product" instead of looking at alternatives.

          • APReader

            Brian/alamarco, I think you're both (more-or-less) agreeing. You're just expressing yourselves in different ways.

            Brian's basically saying that if you dislike Google+ integration, then don't use whatever part of Google's ecosystem requires it. Just don't expect Google to relent on integrating into more of their products.

            That's not really any different than what you said before: as long as Google+ integration stays around, you won't be leaving reviews. Which is fine, and in the same spirit as what Brian is telling you (where "whatever part of Google's ecosystem requires it" would be the reviewing functionality in the Google Play store in this case). Brian isn't saying "stop using Android".

            The only thing is that you probably shouldn't keep your hopes up in expecting Google+ integration to relent, because all indications point at them charging full speed ahead with that. (I guess that just means that you're going to have to start refusing more and more of Google's ecosystem.)

          • alamarco

            That's perfectly fine. No idea why he would argue against that since that was in my initial post which is why I didn't get that he was saying the same thing.

            Thank you for clearing that up.

            I'm fine with parting ways with services as I'm not heavily tied into the Google ecosystem. I stand by my initial post in that just like reviews, I'll gladly walk away. I don't see them doing any sort of crazy integration though. There just isn't much you can integrate besides comments, which is easy to walk away from.

          • qs

            Using fewer Google products it is, then. There's currently an excellent alternative for every product other than Maps.

          • Suhas Vemuri

            Good luck with that..

    • Pkmmte

      I strongly agree with you.

      I too, have a separate Google account for Google+. After a year of using Google+, I decided to upgrade to Google+ on my main account but ended up getting banned due to a name policy. (Which is the exact same name I've been using on my separate Google+ account for a year)

      As much as I love Google+, I'm not too sure about all the integration. I haven't been able to rate any apps or leave YouTube comments ever since...

      • Calvin Uijlen

        Change your name on Google+ and you should get verified very soon. Problem fixed..

        • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

          That requires effort though. It's much simpler to just complain about it.

  • Mathias Kenting

    To be fair, the Steam app sucks.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Lol, I actually just downloaded it a few days ago right when Steam's servers were crashing, so I haven't even used it yet :)

      (Note: I deleted any rating I gave to apps while getting screenshots and video)

    • Ibrahim Yusuf

      The Steam app will get a redesign. There is a new one on iOS

  • BozzyB

    There also should be a section like "my ratings" in the navigation drawer of the play store

    • Magnus Smedberg

      In the navigation drawer you can press your name just above "store home".
      There you have your ratings and +1's in the order they are submitted, with the newest entries first.

  • lusky3

    It's sad to see some people don't understand what a rating system is for. If they think they are rating it just for recommendations, something is wrong. Unless you actually install it, you can't rate it. Right there should tell you something.

    • mtami

      A rating system should be fair and bias free. - fail
      It should be implemented in such a way to prevent accidental ratings. - fail
      It should be helpful to other users, warn them of bad apps, recommend the good - ..? (mostly ok, but failed for the accidental ratings)
      It should give developers feedback to help them improve the app - fail

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

        Well said

  • daveloft

    I don't find it confussing at all, its exactly like Netflix. It asks you to rate a previous view a d then it shows you reccomendations based on the review.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      For what it's worth, I understood what it was asking for while we were doing the teardown on the apk, but I wasn't surprised at all that some people would be confused by it.

      Part of the problem is I have been asked for ratings on books and movies I've never even downloaded. I've also been asked for ratings on apps that I've downloaded but never run and a few that I haven't had installed for over 2 years. These all seem like things the Play Store shouldn't even ask about.

    • thedicemaster

      movies and TV shows are different from apps.
      with movies you most likely have a specific preference, and when you've seen a movie you like it's likely you want more movies like that one.

      apps are the opposite.
      you usually keep looking for apps until you find a good one that suits your needs, and then you don't want any more like it because you have no need for alternatives..

  • http://www.Nave360.com Sebastian Gorgon
  • Sergey Otro

    Since December 12 my app's rating have dramatically dropped from 4.705 to the 4.618 with total 12k reviews. Number of ratings per day have increased from 85-100 to the 180-220, though.

    I've thought this can be some sort of unfair concurrency, but now I see the real reason, Google Play update.

    Thanks for sharing this, Cody!

    • danialgoodwin

      (There are multiple ways to measure success.)
      So, it would appear that the Google Play developers have succeeded in one metric: number of ratings. But, the main concern here is, what are users truly rating for? The recommendation engine or the actual app itself and apart from anything else?

      Herein lies the confusion. Some people may rate low if they don't need to recommendations for other great apps like the one they are using. And, some people may rate higher for a bad app because they would definitely like to see more recommendations...

  • Floss

    Ah, well that explains the unusual increase in 5 star no text reviews I've seen this month. Though I wonder why my fairly small app ( a year in the store) is so a-typical in this regard.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Just a shot in the dark... Maybe you've got a user base that's more prone to reading and paying attention before randomly clicking. Given that the total download numbers are a relatively small number (depending on perspective), it might be a niche app? If the user base is relatively specific, they all might be really big fans. I can imagine this widget has been great for a few apps, just like it has been horrible for others.

    • Michael Panzer

      This could also mean people are interested in alternatives to your app. The question is if you're interested in this sort of apps. If you've found the best app out there, why should you be further interested in this kind of apps? So 1 star. On the other hand 5 stars would mean that you want to see similar apps because you've not found the best one yet.

    • Primalxconvoy

      I was wondering about that too. I just ignore crud like that anyway.

  • Cuvis

    First the YouTube thing, now this... Is Google trying to fuck their own shit up?

    • GraveUypo

      they're not really trying. they're DOING it for a couple of years now.

  • Martin Karim

    I think the widget is great idea and to me it was clear that it's actual rating of an app, not just some info for recommendations...

    • mtami

      The question is - do you think that *all* users will understand this correctly, as you did?
      And if some might misunderstand, and give low rating by accident - do you still think it's great?

    • jm

      In my opinion rating in this way is misleading because the metter is about "are you interested in apps like this?" answer YES-NO. btw this is the same Google does to choose widget in Google Now: YES - NO

  • DirkBelig

    As if the ragers who can't "review" any more coherently than, "1-star - Id giev ZEERO starz if i cud cuz dis app sux!!11!" needed an easier method to be useless. Pffft.

    Hey kids, got a problem with an app? WRITE A NOTE TO THE DEVELOPER ASKING THEM FOR SUPPORT OR MAKING A SUGGESTION!!! The idiots who believe bombing an app with 1-star rage reviews is helpful should be slapped. I've already had one app dev send me two emails in reply to a suggestion and one partially implemented and had another personally help me try and sort out a huge problem a corrupted upload caused on mine and a few others' phones. I wasn't able to fully recover, but his attempt to support was better than a flame review.

    • Primalxconvoy

      I agree but some app devs have removed the email option to contact them and either provided difficult or troublesome alternate methods (like online forums or non-mobile friendly websites with text entry forms) or simply have given no options to give feedback whatsoever (like Naver Line, which is ironic considering they are touting a communication app).

    • Alexander Osmanov

      Ahh, the scream of every developers heart... so much truth! I'd buy you a beer if I met you just for saying these words! :D

  • Jeffer

    I quit rating apps when Google decided to force the consumer to use Google +. Sorry developers

  • http://ralphchastain.com/ Ralph Chastain

    I only rate apps 1 and then uninstall them. Also, contacting support prior to rating an app is a good idea.

  • Whyzor

    There's rating/grade inflation as well, this probably just corrects things. Bad apps will have more 1 star ratings from people who have tried them at one point, but just forgot to rate or review it later. Giving the user a chance to explain 1 star ratings is still needed to help improve it.

  • Jacopo Marello

    just to block the overwhelming power of google in the Net I'd suggest to start rating every app from big G with one star and begin a Net strike against Google, power to the users!

  • Reinhard

    Actually we contacted Google about this catastrophic issue and they are not likely changing this (they wanted to ignore this but then i sent them link to this article and now they forwarded to team for "consideration" = they are still ignoring it). I think all developers should open a support case with Play (if they manage to find the feedback form) to make more pressure. If its like now why should anyone improve the apps to improve rating (as it was before which meant better quality) - the rating is meaningleas with the current approach!?

  • André Santee

    Brief description of app's cons should be required before users would throw their one-star-ratings. Most one-star-ratings are now coming without any comment, it is not helpful at all, despite the fact that some users might not have any clue of what he's rating for.

  • Alexander Osmanov

    I personally find this very frustrating. My new app is steadily receiving one to five 5-star reviews every day and at least one 1-star rating without any review every 1-2 days. This has already dramatically reduced my overall rating.

  • Meltzi

    And this is the empty response from google play support center: "Thanks for your note. Unfortunately, as much as we'd like to help, we
    aren't able to provide additional information for your inquiry."

    Does this adhere the google values?

    Anyone who finds this feature problematic as I do , please tell them , maybe if many will shout they will finally listen, acknowledge their mistake and fix it.

  • Guest

    Anybody knows when is this going to improve; my app is still getting unexplained 1 star ratings everyday and the app rating is going down fast

  • apsley

    As a developer, I would be hard pressed to think of something more useless than the app rating system on Google Play. I think that a lot of users ignore it, quite frankly. What's interesting is that the rating distribution on well received apps follows a normal distribution except for the "one star" rating which doesn't follow the 'curve' of the other ratings (for an example of this, see the store listing for Google Play Services). Part of it may be the issues discussed in this article, but also I think that some users will give an app a one star rating if there is something about the app that they don't like, even if the rest of the app is acceptable to them. It's a form of therapy, I think. Also, I think that because of the ridiculous nature of soft keyboard entry on cell phones, and because of the poor quality of Google Translate, app reviews tend to be generally totally moronic and useless.