After a pilot program that began last year and was expanded in January, Google has today announced that all developers can now reply to reviews of their apps on Google Play.

This ability will allow developers to complete the circuit of communication, offering them the ability to create a conversation, rather than a one-sided complaint forum. This is something that I’ve been waiting for Apple to do for some time now, especially since its acquisition of Chomp, so bravo to Google.

“You can reply to user reviews in the Google Play Developer Console, and your replies are shown publicly below the corresponding user review on Google Play,” says Google Play Product Manager Ellie Powers. “Users receive an email notification when you reply and can either reply to you directly by email, or update their review if they choose to do so — though keep in mind that users are not obligated to update their reviews. You can also update your reply at any time.”

reply reviews Google completes the feedback loop, now lets any Google Play developer reply to app reviews

Google provides a set of posting guidelines for developers and notes that all replies will be public, so developers should take care with how they respond. The answers are similar to the ‘auction questions’ on an eBay listing and should be aimed at not only answering points raised in a review, but also at offering those who read the reviews with information that will inform any review they might use.

Google says that developers who have found the best use of the reply function so far have found that replying constructively, referring users to support channels, soliciting ideas about improvements, thanking advocate users and letting them know when bugs have been fixed are the most effective uses of the reply function.

I dipped into why replies to Apple’s App Store reviews would be an improvement for everyone last year when Google announced the pilot program:

If you frequent the App Store at all, you know that the reviews below app listings can be of varying helpfulness and accuracy. Sometimes they’re working on false assumptions of the app’s capabilities, sometimes they’re simple issues that could be fixed with a settings tweak. Sometimes they’re completely insane.

Google has cut the path here and Apple needs to follow. It would go a long way towards making the App Store a place for discussion about apps. Starting out with a subset of developers is an interesting way to ease into it, and allowing those replies to be sent directly to the commenters by Google email creates a conversation chain that didn’t exist before.

This effort follows up Google enabling real name support for app reviews through the Google+ sign-in, which I feel offers a humanizing effect as one of the biggest reasons that people act without thought on the Internet is the comfort of anonymity. It’s a bit harder (not much, but a bit) to ‘troll’ someone using your real name on the net. There are still plenty of pitfalls and places that this system could go wrong, but I think it’s a good second step.

Image zallio / Flickr