One-star reviews are lousy bug reports

Puzzling over cryptic bug reports is a frustrating and unavoidable part of being a developer. When users want to complain to you about a bug, they just usually don’t think through all the pieces of data that might help solve the problem.

What OS are you using? What version of the software? What were you doing to cause the bug? When users are angry, they don’t want to deal with such tedious details. They just want to vent.

This happens with large software companies, small software companies, and indie developers alike. It’s such a common gripe among developers that it’s not even worth describing any further. Any seasoned dev knows what I’m talking about.

In the Android world, dealing with bug reports is even more frustrating, because they usually come in the form of 1-star reviews on the Android Market. 1-star reviews provide all the cathartic venting that users desire, without any of the useful information that could actually solve the problem.

Here are some actual 1- and 2-star reviews I’ve gotten on the Android Market:

  • didn’t open… gutted
  • There is no sound on moment would give higher rating when fixed
  • always forced close on samsung galaxy s. I have to uninstall it.

Yeah, not so helpful. Figuring out a bug from comments like these is like trying to solve a detective story with half the pages torn out.

Worst of all, these kinds of comments are dispiriting for developers, because star ratings are so crucial to getting your application to be highly ranked in the Market. My own recent app KeepScore had only 4- and 5-star reviews, and was starting to get ranked pretty highly, before receiving an onslaught of these nasty little comments:

Angry? Yes. Helpful? No.

KeepScore is designed to save scores automatically. In particular, it’s supposed to automatically save your scores whenever the app leaves the foreground, as shown here in the source code.

I couldn’t reproduce the data loss described in these reviews. Even when an incoming call disrupts an ongoing game, KeepScore gracefully exits and displays a comforting message saying, “Game automatically saved.” I’ve never seen it lose data.

So what happened here? Did the Android system kill the app before it could call the onPause() method and save the data (which, according to the Android Activity Lifecycle, shouldn’t happen)? Did the users just accidentally create a new game, so that it replaced the old one in the “Resume Last Game” section, making them think that the data had been lost? Who knows. Without a proper bug report, I have no idea what to make of this.

Bad reviews make the author feel better, but they rarely lead to better applications. I’m going to try not to let these reviews sour my experience with KeepScore, though, or discourage me from putting more effort into it. I want to get to the root of this problem.

So, loyal KeepScore users, have any of you run into this particular issue? If so, please report it on the GitHub page, and let’s squash this bug! Oh, and if I do manage to fix it, please leave a nice little comment for my trouble, will ya? It’d be nice to have some good reviews to offset all these bug reports.

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