How to Gracefully -Give- Criticism

A few weeks ago, I submitted Anthropomotron to the Apple App Store… and it got rejected. The same day, a friend got his grant proposal rejected by a major US research funding organization. The contrasts in how the rejections were delivered were staggering.

To catch up, Anthropomotron has been my pet project for almost the past year, and also in a stretch of time around 2004 or so. I thought it would be a good idea to make an app that consolidates a lot of the information that anthropologists use. The iPhone and Android markets would be perfect places to distribute this app (as well as simply through a webpage) so I set out to make an app in my spare time.

I made a final bug-check to make sure that everything looked good, and uploaded my app to the App Store. I waited under two weeks and got an email back from Apple saying that there was a problem that kept Anthropomotron from going through. I signed on to their developer site and got a short message:

We found the user interface of your app is not of sufficient quality to be appropriate for the App Store. Apps that provide a poor user experience are not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.

Specifically, we noticed your app does not deliver content optimized for iPad.

Please evaluate whether you can make the necessary revisions to improve the user experience of your app.

If you cannot – or choose not to – revise your app to be in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines, you may wish to build an HTML5 web app instead. You can distribute web apps directly on your web site; the App Store does not accept or distribute web apps.

HTML5 is the major new version of HTML and enables audio and video to play natively in the browser without requiring proprietary plug-ins. Using HTML5, web apps can look and behave like native iPhone and iPad apps, and using HTML5’s Offline Application Cache, a web app can work even when the device is offline. With web apps, you have flexibility to deliver as much or as little functionality as you desire.

To get started with iPhone or iPad web apps, please review Getting Started with iPhone Web Apps.

For a description of the HTML elements and attributes you can use in Safari on iPhone, check out Safari HTML Reference: Introduction.

I was a little disappointed since Anthropomotron would need some further work, but I was very thankful that I didn’t get the rejection that my friend received from a research funding organization. From any objective perspective, my friend was dissed anonymously on the internet, except that this is supposed to be two professionals interacting professionally about a professional project. My friend held up his end of this exchange by turning in a professionally written proposal. He received a very unprofessional reply.

I won’t post the whole message here, but the rejection attacked my friend’s methods (which he did not invent), the state of whole region being studied (which he obviously has no control over), and added a wild assertion about how prehistoric peoples would feel about his proposal.

It’s just not my friend who has received a hostile review from a research funding organization or a scientific journal. The phenomenon is so common that students are anticipating their first hostile review like a rite of passage, something that has to happen before they progress beyond a certain point in their career.

And that’s nuts.

Hostile reviews have no positive effect on science, but has several negative consequences. Speaking from the perspective of psychology, Robert Sternberg has a lot of powerful points listed in an editorial he wrote as president of the American Psychological Association. It’s short and definitely deserves a read here. Sadly, it was written in 2003 and the state of the hostile review has not changed for the better since that time.

As an example of a review done better, let’s have another look at the review I got from Apple. The entire message is geared towards helping me solve my problem. It starts by stating the general criterion that my app failed to meet (“poor user experience”) and narrowed down the issue in the next paragraph (“does not deliver content optimized for iPad”). That statement is too vague to be helpful, but a further email exchange cleared up the issue. The remaining two-thirds of the message is full of helpful information. It describes in great detail an alternative method of getting what I made onto an iPhone or iPad: making a mobile website (which is exactly what I did with Anthropomotron). The message goes a step further and addresses one large hurdle with mobile web development, the necessity of an internet connection, by describing how the problem could be circumvented. Wow! I was genuinely impressed by what I learned from this one short note.

Imagine if the Apple reviewer sent me a snarky message instead. Maybe it insinuates that I’m lazy or sloppy, and not suited for iPhone development. Perhaps it’ll tear into the app by saying how no one will find this useful, or that it is insignificant compared to the professional apps made by full-time developers. Or it’ll say that my app is just a feeble attempt at making anthropology a real science.

The internet would pillory Apple if that was how they conducted business. Yet, this behavior is prevalent in the science business, and all it does is harm itself in the process. So please, be constructive in your reviews. Treat the anonymous writer like you would your own advisee. And for those who are receiving the punishment now, when you are in the reviewer position, write what you would’ve needed to hear all those years ago.

Next: How I took Apple’s comment to heart and made Anthropomotron look really good on the iPad!

2 thoughts on “How to Gracefully -Give- Criticism

  1. Mike says:

    Curious what your experience will be like when/if you submit to Google…..

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