September 30, 2008, 1:07 PM — With its decision to change the commenting system at the App Store to require customers to buy iPhone software before they review it, Apple did the right thing. In fact, I'm amazed it took the company this long to put such a policy in place.
From the day of the App Store's launch, some of us pointed to unfettered software reviews as an area for abuse. It was sadly simple for a developer to create a sock puppet account and pimp its own product, just as it was simple for a rival to do the same to denigrate the competition.
That's not the only problem. The App Store is overrun with inane comments from customers who are incensed that no free evaluation versions of apps are available, who feel that the developer is asking too much, or that their product duplicates functionality found elsewhere, without ever having tried the application in question. And a one-star review sinks an app's average rating.
In a pathetic and clearly avoidable imitation of countless Web forums around the Internet, the App Store is polluted with mindless drivel from people who feel they can safely disparage others behind relatively anonymous pseudonyms.
Developers have been gnashing their teeth at this shortcoming, as there's no way for them to counter the comments and there's no clear arbitration system in place.
I'm both disappointed and surprised that it took Apple two months to implement a system that actually connects comments with valid customer accounts--and imparts, on some level, a responsibility for conscientious reviews to the App Store users. But that doesn't change that as it stands today, the App Store is littered with the graffiti of pretenders, complainers and miscreants alike.
I'd like to suggest that Apple take the only reasonable approach left to it: Take a mulligan. A do-over. Zap all comments from the App Store and start over at square one.
Now that Apple has learned its lesson, let's give the App Store ecosystem to rebalance itself now that there's some accountability behind comments. The abuse of App Store reviews has already rocked the boat. Apple should do more to help its partners regain an even keel.