Star Search

Friday, October 09, 2009


When it comes to rating products online, it turns out we're way too nice. The average out of 5 stars for things like dog food, printer paper or boots is 4.3 and as The Wall Street Journal's Geoffrey Fowler explains, all that kindness is actually kind of a problem.

Comments [7]


I agree that Amazon ratings need to be read to be interpretted. To me it's the rating versus expectations. I just bought a $30 printer and it may be 5 stars. My All in One Pixma is definitely 5 stars but they are not comparable products. 5 star products delighted me which means I got something I didn't expect like easy to set-up or great usablility.
For content like books and netflix I more subscribe to 3/5 if I'm not sorry I saw it, 4 if I'm happy I saw and 5 if it was a life changer or conversation starter or stunning in some way.
For Ebay it's positive if I would buy from them again, neutral if I'd accept some risk that the transaction may not be flawless and negative if I would n't buy from them ever again.
Ratings are helpful and I'm glad people take the time to write them.

Oct. 30 2009 03:21 PM

Great story, I give it a seven out of five!

Kidding aside, part of this problem is its self-perpetuating nature; just like the professor at a highly grade-inflated school can torpedo a student's GPA by grading "average" work with a C, it's really hard to rate a good-enough product a 3/5 when you know that in the culture of rating sites, that's a damning score. I recall a few years back, in my early days on eBay, I bought an item which arrived pretty much in advertised condition, in okay time, reasonably well packaged, and I naievely left a "neutral" seller rating. This drew a furious, overcapitalized email from the seller about how I shouldn't have done that without contacting her first to get whatever "problem" I had solved, and how I'd ruined her seller rating, and what not. Silly me to not realize that "neutral" implied that there was something terribly wrong.

Oct. 27 2009 03:04 PM
Tim Brown from utah

Another cause of this problem is websites that skew their star descriptions to force positive ratings. A prominent example of this is netflix where the star rating are
"hated it" "didn't like it" "liked it" "loved it" "it was amazing". 3/5 choices are positive and there's no option for "It was ok" which is probably the most common rating people would give a movie other than "loved it" and "hated it". Hardly the selection of choices you'd give people if you wanted to get accurate descriptions of quality of content.

Oct. 16 2009 12:29 AM
Ben from Maryland

There's probably nothing wrong with all dog food being highly rated. It all meets the needs of your pet, and for lack of tasting it, you have no other basis for making the judgment. The self-selecting bias on having purchasers review products will also skew results high. What kind of person buys a product, that they, a priori, believe to be inferior. If the product doesn't meet your basic needs, and you were lead to believe it would, then there is new information to adjust your experiences down.

We live in a modern world where most products are just very reliable. The differences between them are small, so the differences in ratings will also be small. Try including some anchors in the rating scale if you want to fill the range. 1 = Unacceptable, 3 = meets my needs, 5 = Exceeds my Expectations.

Oct. 13 2009 09:43 AM
Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

I try to be realistic on the reviews I write. I've learnt, from making the judgement call incorrectly, that if I feel a product is either one star rating or the rating below then the go for the rating below. A good way of seeing if you've made the right call on the rating is to look at your review a year later and see if you still agree with it. If you don't then you made the wrong call in the first place.

When buying products I look at why somebody has given it the rating they have and seek out the bad ratings. Where the product is a device (e.g. a mobile phone) I would weight the ones who have used the device for a longer time higher than the ones who have just got it and gave their first impressions (especially as I feel that reliability is the most important feature in a product). I look for trends in reviews (e.g. if 4 reviewers out of 50 say that something has a particular fault then I would take it as read that that device has a design flaw).

When it comes to films and books I am very cautious because too many reviewers fall into the trap of giving spoilers.

Oct. 13 2009 06:53 AM
Nancy Nagler from Spring Green WI

You mentioned Amazon's rating system. They ask you to rate your recent purchase. I'm pretty picky about what I buy because I don't have a lot of money to spare. I will go for names I trust or other recommendations. It will take considerable interest in the product for me to even do the rating in the first place. But I do try to be realistic about my ratings. I have all of Robert Parker's Spenser books, but some are a whole lot better than others. I rated the individual titles accordingly.
Perhaps others doing their ratings have nothing to compare it with or think everything really is 5 stars. If your dog eats the dog food you bought on line and you were asked for a rating, many would give it a high rating.

Oct. 11 2009 08:19 AM
Larry Goodman from Fox Point Wi

NPR is still the best place to get news. It seems to me that over the last few years, All Things Considered and Morning Edition are doing less real news and analysis and more tabloid type fluff(Micheal jackson Rally in Mexico, 10 minutes on the UP etc0 How about an analysis of programing over the years to see if they are dumbing down the country's best news source.


Larry goodman
a long time listener

Oct. 09 2009 09:52 PM

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