M.G. Siegler announced on TechCrunch that YouTube’s 5-star rating system is useless. And he’s right, insofar as YouTube’s rating system is concerned – it is underutilized and, as the accompanying graphic illustrates (left), not even able to muster an obliquely meaningful bimodal distribution. However, Siegler extrapolates from the data a much broader claim:
“And really, the same seems to be true of basically all 1 to 5 star crowd rating systems. It’s easy to know if a video (or anything) is good or bad, but how on Earth do you determine if it’s 2 star, 3 star, or 4 star-worthy? Everyone likely has their own opinions about what would constitute those ratings, and naturally, they’re all completely subjective.”
With all due respect, this is a gross overgeneralization, one that represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the important distinctions between different social sites and different types of social activity. As many of the comments to Siegler’s post correctly point out, 5-star rating systems are extremely effective and widely used on social sites such as Amazon, Yelp, and iTunes. 5-star rating systems suffer from inherent limitations, as Christopher Allen points out on his Life with Alacrity blog. However, the tweaks Allen suggests seem a much better alternative than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or abandoning rating systems altogether because of their inherently subjective nature. More importantly, Siegler makes the common mistake of assuming that all online social activity is the same. It’s the same kind of broad-stroke generalization that sends companies down rabbit holes in their quest for social media success.