Ratings and reviews on add-ons.mozilla.org

Hello!

My name is Philip Walmsley, and I am a Senior Visual Designer on the Firefox UX team. I am also one of the people tasked with making addons.mozilla.org (or, “AMO”) a great place to list and find Firefox extensions and themes.

There are a lot of changes happening in the Firefox and Add-ons ecosystem this year (Quantum, Photon, Web Extensions, etc.), and one of them is a visual and functional redesign of AMO. This has been a long time coming! The internet has progressed in leaps and bounds since our little site was launched many years ago, and it’s time to give it some love. We’ve currently got a top-to-bottom redesign in the works, with the goal of making add-ons more accessible to more users.

I’m here to talk with you about one part of the add-ons experience: ratings and reviews. We have found a few issues with our existing approach:

  • The 5-star rating system is flawed. Star ratings are arbitrary on a user by user basis, and it leads to a muddling of what users really think about an add-on.
  • Some users just want to leave a rating and not write a review. Sometimes this is referred to as “blank page syndrome,” sometimes a user is just in a time-crunch, sometimes a user might have accessibility issues. Forcing users to do both leads to glib, unhelpful, and vague reviews.
  • On that note, what if there was a better way to get reviews from users that may not speak your native tongue? What if instead of writing a review, a user had the option to select tags or qualities describing their experience with an add-on? This would greatly benefit devs (‘80% of the global community think my extension is “Easy to use”!’) and other users (‘80% of the global community believe this extension is “Easy to use”!’).
  • We don’t do a very good job of triaging users actual issues: A user might love an extension but have an (unbeknownst to them) easily-solved technical problem. Instead of leaving a negative 1-star review for this extension that keeps acting weird, can we guide that user to the developer or Mozilla support?
  • We also don’t do a great job of facilitating developer/user communication within AMO. Wouldn’t it be great if you could rectify a user’s issue from within the reviews section on your extension page, changing a negative rating to a positive one?

So, as you can see, we’ve got quite a few issues here. So let’s simplify and tackle these one-by-one: Experience, Tags, Triage.

So many feels

Experience

Someone is not familiar with Lisa Hanawalt

The star rating has its place. It is very useful in systems where the rating you leave is relevant to you and you alone. Your music library, for example: you know why you rate one song two stars and another at four. It is a very personal but very arbitrary way of rating something. Unfortunately, this rating system doesn’t scale well when more than one person is reviewing the same thing: If I love something but rate it two stars because it lacks a particular feature, what does that mean to other users or the overall aggregated rating? It drags down the review of a great add-on, and as other users scan reviews and see 2-stars, they might leave and try to find something else. Not great.

What if instead of stars, we used emotions?

Some of you might have seen these in airports or restrooms. It is a straightforward and fast way for a group of people to indicate “Yep, this restroom is sparkling and well-stocked, great experience.” Or “Someone needs to get in here with a mop, PRONTO.” It changes throughout the day, and an attendant can address issues as they arise. Or, through regular maintenance, they can achieve a happy face rating all day.

What if we applied this method to add-ons? What if the first thing we asked a user once they had used an extension for a day or so was: “How are you enjoying this extension?” and presented them with three faces: Grinning, Meh, and Sad. At a very high level, this gives users and developers a clear, overall impression of how people feel about using this add-on (“90% grinning face for this extension? People must like it, let’s give it a try.”).

So! A user has contributed some useful rating data, which is awesome. At this point, they can leave the flow and continue on their merry way, or we can prompt them to quickly leave a few more bits of even MORE useful review data…

Tags

Not super helpful

Writing a review is hard. Let me rephrase that: Writing a good review is hard. It’s easy to fire off something saying “This add-on is just ok.” It’s hard to write a review explaining in detail why the add-on is “just ok.” Some (read: most) users don’t want to write a detailed review, for many reasons: time, interest, accessibility, etc. What if we provided a way for these users to give feedback in a quick and straightforward way? What if, instead of staring down a blank text field, we displayed a series of tags or descriptors based on the emotion rating the user just gave?

For example, I just clicked a smiling face to review an extension I’m enjoying. Right after that, a grid of tags with associated icons pops up. Words like “fast”, “stable”, “easy to use”, well-designed”, fun”, etc. I liked the speed of this extension, so I click “fast” and “stable” and submit my options. And success: I have submitted two more pieces of data that are useful to devs and users. Developers can find out what users like about their add-on, and users can see what other users are thinking before committing to downloading. We can pop up different tags based on the emotion selected: if a user taps Meh or Sad, we can pop up tags to find out why the user selected that initially. The result is actionable review data that can is translated across all languages spoken by our users! Pretty cool.

Triage

Finally, we reach triage. Once a user submits tag review data, we can present them with a few more options. If a user is happy with this extension and wants to contribute even more, we can present them with an opportunity to write a review, or share it with friends, or contact the developer personally to give them kudos. If a user selected Meh, we could suggest reading some developer-provided documentation, contacting support, or writing a review. If the user selected Sad, we’d show them developer or Mozilla support, extension documentation, file a bug/issue, or write a review. That way we can make sure a user gets the help they need, and we can avoid unnecessary poor reviews. All of these options will also be available on the add-on page as well, so a user always has access to these different actions. If a user leaves a review expressing frustration with an add-on, devs will be able to reply to the review in-line, so other users can see issues being addressed. Once a dev has responded, we will ask the user if this has solved their problem and if they’d like to update their review.

We’ve covered a lot here! Keep in mind that this is still in the early proposal stage and things will change. And that’s good; we want to change this for the better. Is there anything we’ve missed? Other ideas? What’s good about our current rating and review flow? What’s bad? We’d love constructive feedback from AMO users, extension developers, and theme artists.

Please visit this Discourse post to continue the discussion, and thanks for reading!

Philip (@pwalm)
Senior Visual Designer, Firefox UX