One feature of DiscCat is the ability to go off and do an online lookup in a couple of online databases for your barcode number, to save you the trouble of having to type that information in. This feature was originally added in so that if the data happened to be available, it would save you a bit of typing, which is always good. However, recently I have been getting a lot of one star reviews on the Android market based solely on this one feature. People seem to be getting outraged that it doesn’t find every DVD they scan, or even in some cases it didn’t find any. Unfortunately I cannot respond to them as the Android Market does not provide the ability for the developer to respond to reviews, or to contact the user who left the review, or really do anything else to try and mitigate the effects of 1 star reviews. Since I can’t respond to the users directly, I figured a blog post explaining exactly why looking up a barcode is non trivial is the next best thing. The rest of the post follows the jump.

All the way back in June 2010 I got a 4 star review that said:

Finds nearly all titles

Then, just two days later, I got a 1 star review that said:

Found 1 in 50 products.

This seems a bit strange. I found from my own collection of roughly 200 titles that I was getting a hit rate of roughly 25%, a 2% hit rate seems absurdly low. The only reason I can think of for such a low rate is that the user must own a lot of DVDs from non English speaking regions.
This was backed up by another few low reviews:

Funkar ju inte så bra här i sverige Works not so good here in Sweden

Die ständigen Updates nerven, außerdem wurde noch keiner meiner deutschen Discs erkannt. Musste immer alles selbst eingeben. Ziemlich mies. Nerve constant upgrades, yet none has been detected also my German discs. Had to enter everything yourself. Pretty lousy.

Keine deutschen Ergebnisse. No german/european Results

Findet leider nichts Unfortunately, nothing found

Nix gefunden… Nothing found…

So, it is having a lot of trouble with titles that are not in English. Then, just a few days ago, I got this one:

Shame Didn’t recognise any of the first 5 Region 2 DVD’s I tried even though it has a category for region. All DVDs I tried were on IMDB. Could be a really good app if they get a better database.

So now it is having trouble with Region 2. I should note at this point that IMDB does not record information about DVD releases, and their terms and conditions expressly forbid me from automatically using information from them, so any information they have I am not legally allowed to use.
After this review, I modified the description on my app to note that the online barcode lookup is just one feature, it has never been a feature I pushed, and I really cannot understand why I keep on getting 1 star reviews based on a feature I said was not reliable and not to rely on it working. All I asked was for reviews to be fair and based on the app as a whole. A few days later (today in fact) I got this review.

Low rating because of one feature? Its basically the main feature. No one wants to scan hundreds of codes only to find some work, then manually enter the rest. I’ve scanned several region 1 DVDs and nothing on “your database ” or the internet. I really want this to work but it needs to find items a lot better. I have several hundred to scan and many will need to be manually entered. Again, I want this to work since “my collection ” is no longer supported and I paid for that app, twice.

To be honest, that review hurts. I appear to be receiving the wrath of this user who has been abandoned by another developer they gave money to. I can’t see how this relates to me – my app is free. As I readily admitted in the description for the app, the online lookup feature does not work well. All I asked was for fair reviews. To get someone who actually read that, and responded, with a 1 star review based on the one feature really does hurt and makes me wonder why I spend so much of my time, for free, working on this.

Anyway, I did say I was going to explain how the online lookup works, and why it is so unreliable.
UPC/EAN barcode numbers have no central database. Manufacturers are assigned a block of numbers, and they then allocate those numbers to products as they see fit. They don’t have to let anyone know what number goes with what product. What this means is that any free online database of UPC/EAN codes is made up of user submissions. There is no way around this.
You might say something like “But Amazon has it, and they have a barcode, just search them”. Unfortunately there is no free lunch – Amazon have this in their terms and conditions

4) Usage Requirements

(e) You will not, without our express prior written approval, use any Product Advertising Content on or in connection with any site or application designed or intended for use with a mobile phone or other handheld device, or any television set-top box ….

So while I could just search Amazon, they have said they do not want me to. I suspect that many other apps just ignore the terms and search it anyway, and that is why their results are better than mine. I will not be doing this.

What I use is the free service UPC Database. Everything in this database is submitted by end users, so it is very incomplete. This is also the reason why it has better success with Region 1 discs than it does with non English speaking discs. The site is American, so that is who tends to use it. So while this site is incomplete, it is better than nothing.

For books, I use the Library of Congress, the COPAC catalog in the UK, and Google Books. Between these three services, the book catalog is quite accurate. Perhaps I should just remove the ability to catalog DVDs, and just keep books. That would keep the complaints to a minimum 🙂

As for my plans for the future, I have a new backend I have written, to be brought online with the release of version 2.0 in the near future. This will search across a number of databases, so hopefully it will be more comprehensive. Still, it won’t be perfect. As a test, I tried searching for the recent Australian release of Cars 2 on BluRay through multiple online databases. –,,,,, and Not a single online database had this title. The database I keep that is made up of submissions from users of my app did have it, and I was not the person that added it.

I hope I didn’t ramble too much, and I hope you can understand where I am coming from when I ask you not to rate my app based on one feature.

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