The Ratings Solicitation

May 11, 2011

Recently Marco Arment wrote a post and a comment on Twitter about his feelings on the seemingly ubiquitous ratings solicitation in iOS apps:

If I ever added a rating solicitation in Instapaper, it’d be buried in the Settings screen somewhere. But I still probably wouldn’t.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac

Believe me, I understand his reluctancy because I felt it too. If you had asked me two months ago what I thought users think about these, I’d say they thought it was spammy, obtrusive, and just plain shady. But then I found myself implementing it in Key Ring in our latest update. Oh, how my feelings have changed.

The Vocal Minority

I’ve heard that review systems tend to expose the vocal minority, and I believe this. It doesn’t matter if it’s Amazon or iTunes, the vast majority of people who are satisfied, or heaven forbid happy, with a product will never take the time to write a review or leave a rating.

But, there’s a small and extremely motivated group of people that are willing, nay eager, to sling around 1-star reviews at the slightest hint of inconvenience. They have a forum, and by God they will use it. This affects the sleep patterns of app developers in ways I never fathomed until I became one.

The Lazy, Content Majority

The ratings solicitation is the app developers’ last bastion of defense against the Vocal Minority. Key Ring was a meh-inducing 3 stars for the first year of its existence, and our reviews were pretty evenly dispersed between 1 star and 5 stars. After implementing a very unobtrusive, one-time, opt-in ratings solicitation, magically Key Ring is now a sturdy 4.5 stars! The 5 star ratings are through the roof.

Oh how I wish I could attribute the dramatic change to the new UI, speed improvements, or something else I could brag about. Nope, if you look at the written reviews for Key Ring it becomes obvious that the users who are content with the app (who would never give a second thought to rating or reviewing it) are blurting a few words of praise and tapping that last star on the far right just because the app happened to remind them, in a moment of whimsical curiousity and boredom, that iTunes has this rating system and using it might be slightly less boring than whatever they are doing.

The surprising thing is, we have not once had a single complaint or mention about the ratings solicitation. Hell, we get notified by users when we mispell words in our Terms of Service!

The Bottom Line

There are people out there who are completely satisfied with whatever you’re producing, but you’ve probably never heard from them. In an ecosystem that values the coveted “rating” so very dearly, a tactful solicitation for a review is a great way to expose your fans and let potential users of your app know that it is worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to implement one, and don’t think less of apps that do.