VersionCrapper User Reviews

Steven Frank, clever programmer at Panic, writes about the clueless underbelly of the Mac user community, the VersionTracker user review forums:

The other day we received an email from a paying customer, who had a fairly simple routine inquiry about the software he had purchased. Certainly nothing life or data-threatening. Like all of our other support email, it went into a first-in, first-out email queue. It seems only fair to answer emails in the order they arrive, after all.

When a response was not forthcoming after an hour, said user sent another support email.

After the second hour, a third email arrived, this time with a threat attached. We were to either reply to this email immediately or our company and product would be besmirched by him posting a scathing review on a popular version tracking web site.

And people ask me if I miss working for Bare Bones.

Users like this are, thankfully, few and far between, but when they rear their heads, they’re a real pisser. Worse, when you think about it, they only annoy the good guys: developers who are actually trying to be responsive to their users. The shitty developers who ignore their users aren’t bothered, since, well, they ignore their users.

When you encounter bugs in software, there are only two reasonable ways to respond: (1) report the bug to the developers; or (2) keep it to yourself, and either work around it, or, if it’s a show-stopper, abandon the software.

Choice (1) is the only option that has a chance of helping the bug get fixed; it sounds totally obvious, but developers only fix the bugs they know about. But choice (2) is still reasonable. Perhaps the software in question isn’t very important to you. Perhaps you reported bugs to the same developer in the past, and never heard back.

What’s completely unreasonable, however, is option (3): lambasting the developer and the software on the web. It’s baffling; if you’re going to take the time to write a report about the bug, why post it to the VersionTracker forums without having first emailed a report to the developer? Is the goal to see the software actually improve, or just to get off on pissing all over someone else’s work?

Teeth-gnashing over preposterously misinformed VersionTracker reviews is commonplace among small developers. (For example, Maarten Hekkelman bemoaned VersionTracker reviews in our interview last month.) But I wonder if it’s actually warranted. I mean, are there any reasonable people who actually give any credence at all to VersionTracker reviews?

Mr. Frank writes:

Users, because of the abuse I mentioned, do not trust software companies, even when they’re telling the truth. Users trust only other users. It is an “us versus them” battle that benefits absolutely no one in the long run.

He’s correct that users don’t trust software companies. But that goes for consumers in any industry. Everyone knows that marketing is usually bullshit — only the gullible believe unverified marketing information.

But there’s even less credibility in the VersionTracker review forums. First, nearly all the reviews are anonymous; a quick glance through the reviews for Panic’s Audion reveals authors like “Tazintosh”, “SkunkBrand”, and the aptly-named “whothehellareyou”.

Real criticism — whether it be for software, cars, books, or movies — hinges upon but a single thing: credibility. And there is no credibility whatsoever in VersionTracker’s anonymous review forums.

But it’s not just the anonymity that sinks the VersionTracker forums. The reviews themselves are pathetic. Most of them are poorly written, poorly spelled, and riddled with technical inaccuracies and faulty logic. And an inordinate number of them focus mostly on price, such as this gem from “7up”, reviewing Bare Bones Software’s Super Get Info:

Damn, pay $20 bucks just to don’t have to type in the shell 2 or 3 commands… This is very stupid. For the newbies, go buy a small UNIX book and btw you gonna learn some useful things; instead of paying for an useless app. Damn where gonna go this world.

VersionTracker.com is a very useful site. Indeed, it’s one of only five news sites listed in the sidebar for this site. But what’s useful about it is narrowly focused: it’s a frequently-updated comprehensive listing of newly released Mac software. That the user reviews are so uniformly bad detracts from the VersionTracker brand. Ideally, the folks at TechTracker would come to their senses and just remove the user review feature. They serve no useful purpose.

Barring that, the best course of action is to ignore them — which, I’m guessing, most of you already do.

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