Good-bye and good riddance to anonymous Android app reviewers

Shane SchickIf you're going to be a hater, at least have the courage to be up front about who you are and what qualifies you to knock someone else's efforts to create a great mobile app.

That seems, at first, to be the message sent by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) last week when it began demanding that all reviews posted in its Google Play app store be associated with a Google+ profile--the same profile that links to Gmail and other services offered by the search giant. All the anonymous reviews that have been published to date will now be listed as coming from "a Google user" unless otherwise identified. The BBC noted the move will probably make G+ a more important credential for Android app customers.

"Android is the most commonly used smartphone system. Device owners had previously needed a Google Account to download apps from its store and use some of its other services, but this had not involved setting up a Google+ profile," the story said. "They now have an extra incentive to do so."

Developers hate bad reviews for obvious reasons, but it's adding insult to injury when the reviewer in question hides behind some kind of ridiculous pseudonym that protects him from any kind of public backlash for his views. You don't know if the review is a developer himself who has a good knowledge of what makes a good or bad app experience, or someone you ignored in high school who's trying to take a cheap shot at your reputation. There is also the issue of fake reviews, of course. Whether good or bad, they are meaningless and create a false impression for consumers that crave legitimate feedback before they install an app on their smartphone.

Google has been accused of pushing G+ profiles across its portfolio of services because its social network's growth hasn't come close to reaching the scale of rival Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). Its decision to change and consolidate a range of its various privacy policies earlier this year sparked outrage among civil liberties activists that believe Google would gain too much personal data, which could be mined for all sorts of purposes. Mandating G+ for Google Play reviews may seem like just another extension of that, but I see it more as a way to put some credibility behind its reviews, and maybe even some accountability.

I've talked to many experts and seen multiple research studies that suggest consumers place a high degree of importance on app reviewers. This is usually topped only by recommendations from friends and family, which suggests that trust is established when information comes from people you know. Reviews are bound to become more socially-driven over time, and it would make sense that reviewers with good taste and articulate opinions would attract a greater following than someone who rants anonymously.

Time for Apple, Amazon, RIM and Microsoft to stop treating reviews as amorphous user-generated content and start building a community of respected voices. That begins with requiring people to put their online identity--and their reputation--where their mouths are.--Shane