Who actually writes reviews on the app store? (and software forums)

James Tizard
3 min readOct 22, 2020

Introduction

This post discusses the findings from a University of Auckland study [1] that asked, who is writing online about mobile apps (and other software)? The researchers surveyed 1040 software users, revealing new insights on this previously unanswered question.

Who writes on app stores? (And forums)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of people don’t write online about the apps and software they use. Of those surveyed, just 18% said they had ever written a review on an app store, with even less writing on software forums.

Most people don’t see the benefit of writing app reviews and simply aren’t motivated to spend the time. However, app reviews can have a big impact on which apps get downloads. App makers know that good reviews equal more sales and so are highly motivated to keep their users happy! App makers often move quickly to fix problems reported in reviews and add requested features.

Age of app reviewers

The study revealed some interesting new insights into the age of app reviewers. Contrary to the stereotype of young people spending countless hours on their phones, middle-aged people were found to write app (and software) reviews significantly more. Interestingly, under 18-year olds were by far the least likely to give reviews, with even senior citizens writing more!

Another interesting trend was that younger people (under 24) did prefer to write on app stores over software forums, with older people often using software forums more than app stores. This may reflect adults using computers at a higher rate for work and other productivity-related activities.

Gender of reviewers

Men reported writing app reviews at a significantly higher rate than women. There were also differences in the types of reviews given by each gender. Women were much more likely to praise the app, whereas men were more likely to request a new feature or discuss shortcomings.

This difference was even larger on software forums, with men reporting to use forums twice as often as women. And, while both genders primarily use forums to get help with software, men were more likely to report bugs, request features and assist others.

Conclusion

The University of Auckland study found significant differences in the age and gender of those who write app store (and forum) reviews. These reviews are used by app makers to improve their apps and keep their users happy! There is a danger that if some groups are less vocal about their app experiences, their views and desires for apps won’t be taken into account.

Previous research has found that most software has inclusivity issues, and these new findings may be a reflection of this. Going forward, there will be important benefits to be gained by making app stores and software forums more enticing to underrepresented groups!

Research paper

If you’re interested in this study, a full copy of the research paper is available here: https://github.com/kblincoe/kblincoe.github.io/blob/master/publications/2020_RE_demographics.pdf

If you would like to cite these findings in your own work, please use the following reference:

[1] J. Tizard, T. Rietz and K. Blincoe, “Voice of the Users: A Demographic Study of Software Feedback Behaviour,” 2020 IEEE 28th International Requirements Engineering Conference (RE), Zurich, Switzerland, 2020, pp. 55–65, doi: 10.1109/RE48521.2020.00018.

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James Tizard

PhD. Research fellow at the University of Auckland. Requirements engineering, machine learning, natural language processing.