Marco Arment questions the use of App Store’s star ratings.

Matt posted previously about whether we should rate apps when prompted by the app. Developers add prompts to get users to rate the app because having a higher rating would increase the chances of their apps being found and downloaded.

Eliminating the star ratings but leaving the written reviews would eliminate a lot of developer headaches and much of the motivation behind the annoying “Rate This App” epidemic that’s interrupting and annoying iOS customers and infecting, embarrassing, and devaluing almost all modern iOS apps.

Amazon’s review system is a good example of an excellent, peer-reviewed system. Yes, Amazon uses a star rating system as well, but users can also vote whether the reviews are helpful. This allows the system to show the most helpful favourable and critical reviews, providing shoppers with feedback that addresses the pros and cons of the products.

In my opinion, the App store would benefit greatly with a peer-reviewed system. However, I would suggest replacing the star ratings with a choice of whether the reviewer would recommend the app. A star rating system is too arbitrary. What is the difference between a four-star and a five-star rating?

Let’s say there is a good writing app that does not support Markdown. Reviewers A, B and C love the app. Reviewer A relies heavily on Markdown. Reviewer B uses Markdown at times, while Reviewer C has no idea what Markdown is. Reviewer C gives 5 star because the app blew him away. Reviewer B gives 4 stars because he feels the app could be improved with Markdown support. Reviewer A gives 3 stars because of the lack of Markdown support. Three different ratings, even though they agree it is a great app.

Now we look at what the results would be if the reviewers only chose “Recommend” or “Do not recommend”. While they have differing views of how good the app is, all three reviewers agree they would recommend the app. Instead of an average of four stars, the app gets three recommends. To me, three recommends is more meaningful than a score of four stars.

This along with peer-reviewing of the feedback would certainly transform the App Store reviews into something useful for shoppers.