Friday, 29 April 2011

Android Market Comments and Ratings

As with all Internet and digital discourse, trolls seem to be a part of reality in the Android Market. Some thoughts on the Android Market comments and ratings I've received to date.

My Android apps are pretty niche, and I'm fully aware that they will only ever appeal to a small number of geeks like me. In the future I intend to develop apps that are more likely to be useful to a wide variety of users, but the apps I have on the Market at the moment are pretty odd.

However narrow their appeal, I've always tried to indicate very clearly what my apps do in the descriptions within their Market listings. I naively assumed that people who had no interest in the functionality my apps provide would not download them in the first place, but this appears to have been a mistaken assumption. Lots of my reviews seem to be from people who have absolutely no interest in what my apps do (which is clearly indicated in the descriptions) but who have for some reason downloaded them and subsequently given them a poor review.

While I've always been aware that a certain element of nastiness is standard within any Internet based review system, and know all about trolls and trolling, I must admit I've found my own feedback a little demoralising at times.

Here are a few choice 1 star reviews (the minimum possible rating) I've received for my Nonsense app, which is free by the way:

  • "Does what it says. However its nonsense."
  • "Does what it says...NONSENSE!!!"
  • "Boring, tis nonsense but not funny at all"
  • "this game sucks!" //nb the app is not meant to be a game
  • "Stinks!!!!"
  • "This the dummiest crap ever!!?? It is not wat I wanted."
  • "Stupid.. don't download"
  • "Gay!"
  • "Not amusing at all."
  • "Wow...waste of 4 sec. Of my life."
  • "Laaaaaame! Don't do it"
  • "Dumb...Uninstalled."
  • "i agree this is stupid and pointless"
  • "Crap...don't waste ur time downloading.... lame"
  • "Horrible, very stupid"
  • "Its stupid!!"
  • "Super lame."
  • "Worst app EVER!"
  • "The shittiest app I've ever seen"
  • "Boring pointless etc worst app ever do not download this..."
  • "Rlly retarded"
  • "Dumb!! Nothing good at all about this.."
  • "Pointless and stupid."
  • "This sucked! Waste of time!"
  • "Sucks"
  • "Terrible."
  • "I hate it"
  • "This is the most stupid thing ever don't get this!!"
  • "Why anyone would want this is beyond me!"
  • "This thing is almost as fun as going in the street and smashing your balls in with a hammer. This comment is officially better than this app"
  • "This sucks and it makes NO sense at all! Removing app" //nb the app is called nonsense
  • "This was a waist of time and space. I mean there are some bad aps out there but this one is the worse of all"
  • "Zzzzzzzzz...boring on ov de worst games ever"
  • "Its F***ING stupid"
  • "Pointless...don't get it uninstalled. How do u even play this game?"
  • "Title is accurate. Don't waste time downloading this."

Just to explain, all the app really does is generate nonsense sentences. There's a bit of linguistic geekery involved in that the structures are grammatical and meaningless, but essentially it's just a bit of fun. The free version was my initial foray into Android development but in more recent months I've created a couple of slightly more sophisticated paid versions (including a sweary one).

Anyway, from my point of view what's happened here is that I've spent a significant amount of my time producing and releasing something people can have for free if they happen to want it, and the overwhelming majority of those who have added a comment have responded with anger and some pretty vicious contempt, while in some cases acknowledging the fact that the app is exactly as described. Is it me or is there something wrong here?

An analogy: you see a stand in the street with the words "free chocolate ice cream" displayed above it, you go up and get some, eat a mouthful, spit it out and then start shouting about the fact that you hate chocolate ice cream...

I do realise a certain amount of unfettered nastiness is generally inevitable in the context of digital communications, you only need to look at the comments section on any website to see that. However, as a developer basically creating trivial little apps for fun in my spare time, it does take the shine off things somewhat.

To be fair, some of the comments I've had have been really productive and encouraging, and some of them have actually responded to the idiotic, nasty ones. I suspect some of the more helpful comments are perhaps from other developers, so I now make a point of putting positive comments on any apps I use that seem to be receiving a similar level of unwarranted aggression. However, my apps seem to have attracted this extreme negativity in the overwhelming majority of total feedback.

Anyway, to finally get to the point, I've become aware recently that I, and I think most Internet users, just accept this nastiness as a necessary evil. However, I received an email the other day which chimed with some of what I've read in the press in the last while, from an organisation called CiviliNation dedicated to campaigning against online bullying and the general lack of civility in digital discourse, and it got me questioning some of what I've accepted.

It does seem that the tide may be turning slightly and that the days of totally unfettered bile online are probably numbered, in certain contexts anyway. While one of the great things about Internet communication is the lack of censorship, I don't think it follows from that that the normal expectations we have when interacting with people should not apply to digital communications also.

The reality is that bullying has a very serious impact on some people, as the never-ending stream of stories about people announcing planned suicides on social networks demonstrates comprehensively. While this is the extreme end of the issue, I think the time has now come for us to have higher expectations of online behaviour.

Ultimately the problem lies with a lack of responsibility, but the difficulty is going to lie in making people behave in a more civil way while still preserving a degree of anonymity. How we're going to improve the situation I really don't know, but a healthier breed of online discourse would surely be better for everyone involved.

Here's some related content:

Update July 2011:
A couple of interesting Guardian articles on related topics:

The first one is a fascinating look at the history and psychology of "trolling" with reference to anonymity and the second is a Charlie Brooker article from last month on Spotify, not exactly the same topic but touches on some related issues.

And a few more:
Update September 2011:
Interesting piece in the Guardian pointing out the fact that as with any social problem there's no easy fix and that the reasons for trolling are complex:
Guardian: All you trolls out there - come out and explain yourself

The issue is certainly a complex one, and it seems there isn't even a clear definition of trolling at this stage, in fact it probably refers to a range of distinct activities with different characteristics and effects. The days of unfettered Internet trolls definitely look to be coming to an end, but there may well be negative consequences for Internet discourse too, i.e. the inevitable reduction in privacy.

Here's another incredibly depressing tale of extreme trolling:
Skepchick - Mom, Don't Read This

Something has to change, surely...

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