I’ve had this idea in the back of my noggin for a while. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine from way back, and I’ve held it there because of my own terrible reviewing habits. Well, as I endeavor to become a better reviewer myself, I thought I might finally get this black stain off my mind as well.
Periodically, I’m tempted to write this because of some article that pops up – usually, a mention of coordinated efforts to one-star review something into oblivion, or I’ll be reading product reviews and come across a number of unhelpful reviews, which prompts me to consider this again.
I’m worried that people do not understand how to do for-real reviews anymore. Maybe they’ve forgotten how. Maybe they never knew and are just copying what they see. Maybe they’re trying to be clever in the wrong venue. I’m looking at you, Mr. Takei.
The point is that reviews are supposed to help the rest of us ignorant consumers make wise, informed purchases. It’s hard to do that when you have to wade through bad, misinformed, or satirical reviews to find the relevant ones.
A book review, for instance, is supposed to review the book. What was the pacing of the story? Was it written well? Are there any glaring errors or plot holes? These are the sorts of questions you should answer for a book review, not “Ugh, the stupid book didn’t even get here until after my vacation so I didn’t bother reading it. 1-star.” That’s not a direct quote.
We’ve all seen them. Whether it’s books, movies, kitchen products, or anything else, some reviewers seem to forget they are supposed to review THE PRODUCT ITSELF and another part of their experience.
Allow me to cite an example of my frustration:
John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down is expected to release October 10 (according to Amazon and Goodreads). Yes, in the future. Yet, GoodReads boasts 198 reviews and 525 ratings – for a book that hasn’t been released yet.
Yes, a lot of them are, “I don’t even know what it’s about, or what it’s called BUT IT’S BY JOHN SO IT IS FIVE STARS!!!” That is a direct quote.
Now, yes, this falls to GoodReads for not locking down their review board until after the book has been released, but that would just be delaying the inevitable. This review would still happen, whether it was before or after release, whether it had been read or not.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the rallying cry of the unified for one reason or another. Whether it is Milo Yiannopoulos, Laurie Forest, or Lani Sarem, people (both for and against) are reviewing based on their beliefs, their opinions, or their feelings. Sometimes they are even basing their reviews on other reviews rather than firsthand experience.
That’s not how this works.
Now, let me get into a little fear-mongering so I can explain why this change needs to happen.
The less we use review boards the way they are supposed to be used, the less likely it is that people will use them for actual reviews. We will (and on some platforms, already have) become a society dependent on Likert scales to base our opinions. Behold the Likert scale:
We’ve all seen or taken something like this. Amazon’s five-star rating system is a basic Likert question. If you are anything like me, there is no way accurately explain your feelings about something into a single dot on a five or seven point system. It seems easy: “How much did you like this product? A lot, kind of a lot, sort of a lot, not a lot, or not at all.” Sure, you might be able to quantify your feelings about your coffee maker, or veggie slicer into one of those five dots, but can you honestly explain your feelings about a book or a movie with just those five dots?
I think Henry Cavill is a great actor, and he played a wonderful Superman. He deserves five stars. I also feel that Man of Steel wasn’t that great (don’t get me started), so I’m definitely not going to give the movie five stars. Can you honestly tell me that if I rate it two, or three, or four stars, that you actually understand what I am communicating?
I can’t. I honestly have no idea what you are thinking when you rate something. I assume you understand the scale the way I do, so when you rate something in a way I disagree with, my instinct is that you don’t understand what you experienced, and therefore your opinion is flawed. An actual written review might still be argued, but at least I can understand, without confusion, what your opinion is.
But let’s keep going down this rabbit hole of rating systems.
So, let’s assume that people are using the five-point system, and they frequent three points the most. Namely: most, least, and the middle. Why bother with a five-point system then? We could make things so much easier for the users by just reducing it to a three point system – but wait. That middle area is just “I don’t know how I feel” anyway. If we reduce it further – to a two-point scale – we can get actual data on people’s feelings!
No, we can’t.
A two-point scale is exceptionally misleading. It’s the internet equivalent of “Do you like me: Yes or No?” Dating apps thrive on the simplicity of this rating scale. It’s a binary scale that lumps you either with the love-its or the hate-its, regardless of your nuanced thoughts on the matter. It’s okay to not want such simplicity to define your opinions, as Netflix is finding out.
This brings me back to my original point (yes, I still remember what that is, and thank you for following me this far into the murk): we need to be better about reviewing. We need to remember that our reviews are less about grandstanding and soapboxing (although those are certainly incentives) and more about helping people make informed decisions for themselves.
Get out there and review, or we’re going to get stuck with Like buttons for everything.