Be helpful instead of giving stars in app stores

Star ratings are reductive and not helpful to buyers. Consider being helpful instead.

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A helpful review, marked as helpful

Support your favorite Android apps and developers with a "Helpful" binge

On this week's episode of In Beta, Gina Trapani and I talked about app stores and how numerical or star-based ratings leave users without much idea of how good an app is for their needs.

Some apps have seemingly artificially high or low ratings averages, while others are highly ranked, despite not actually doing that much for anyone who downloads. What you want is to hear from other phone or tablet owners who were maybe looking for something similar to your own needs. As with a good story, you want a character you can relate to, even if only for a sentence or two about a Twitter client, a document scanner, or a word game. "Finally, an app that makes managing multiple accounts easy" is so much more helpful than "Best Twitter client EVAR," because you can understand the characters' motivations, so to speak.

Android apps, and the Play Store from which they spring, have a particular advantage: "Helpful." You can, as someone with a Google account, click a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to mark a rating as helpful. You can sort reviews by Helpfulness, too. In the case of Handy Scanner Pro and Pebble watch mini-store ttmm, I found a few reviews that actually told you what the app would do, for a particular person's needs, and whether it worked better or worse for them than other apps or stock functions. I rewarded those reviews, then headed off to find the most helpful reviews for other apps I enjoy.

Helpful is what we want when we walk into an actual store—this dishwasher is great for people who run small daily loads, whereas really tough roasts and people who entertain want this model, and so on. We can reward the same kind of thing in app stores, if those stores allow us. Be helpful.

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