Why the internet should abandon five-star ratings

I’ve brushed on this here before, but it was on my mind recently, so I thought I’d speak about it.
There’s an old XKCD comic floating around that summarizes starred ratings on the internet. This is it:

Credit: XKCD

Sadly, it’s quite accurate. As consumers, we want perfection. We want to love everything we spend our money on. If something doesn’t have a top-tier rating, it must not be worth our time and effort. I understand that and agree, but the more time I spend online, the more I realize that the five star rating system is horribly broken.

Five-star systems add unnecessary levels in an attempt to describe a consumer’s satisfaction rating more accurately, but it falls short of its goal when a percentage satisfaction rating is just as (if not more!) effective. Not only that, but the problem is exacerbated in the fact that every website that uses starred reviews uses a different rating scale for them. This can confuse users, and can skew results based on what the userbase is accustomed to using.

For example, let’s compare Amazon’s five-star rating scale to that of Goodreads, since those are two major book review outlets.

Amazon’s rating breaks down like this:
One star = Hate it
Two stars = Don’t like it
Three stars = It’s okay
Four stars = Like it
Five stars = Love it

While the system on Goodreads breaks down like this:
One star = Don’t like it
Two stars = It’s okay
Three stars = Like it
Four stars = Really like it
Five stars = It’s amazing!

See the problem? A three-star rating on Goodreads is a positive thing, meaning the book was enjoyable. This is a very common rating on Goodreads and isn’t considered a negative rating. But to a consumer who is used to Amazon, it means something entirely different.

There’s a reason I don’t use starred ratings whenever I post reviews of media here. Simply put, it’s the same reason the five-star system is broken, really. Especially when media like books or movies are involved.

When you read, watch, or listen to something, your experience is not broken down into five categories. Either you like it, you don’t like it, or you’re indifferent. If you look at places with very successful and accurate rating systems, like eBay, it’s broken down into those three categories only. Positive, negative, and neutral. And really, that’s the way all ratings systems should be. Not only is it plenty broad enough to explain your feelings about the media you’re consuming, it encourages people to write text reviews to go with the rating.

Of course,  places like YouTube further simplify the rating system by removing the middle ground and simply allowing “like” and “dislike” votes, and that gets the job done just as well.

How do you feel about starred rating systems?

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