This week I made a pretty noticeable change to 50WS: I removed the ability to rate stories and replaced it with “Like” buttons. Why? Well, here’s my thought process on the subject.
Over the past few months, there was a clear trend on 50WS towards low star ratings. The best stories used to get 4.5 averages, but now most stories were sitting at 2.5 to 3.0, with a few occasionally approaching 3.8 or 3.9. There were cases where a story that was doing quite well suddenly received a large number of low votes, driving its average way down for no apparent reason. So not only was there a lot of unexplained negativity, but there seemed to be some abuse of the system, too.
This got me thinking.
With star ratings, readers had three ways to express their opinions about a story. They could rate it, they could leave a comment, or they could share it using the Share buttons. Of the three, rating was the easiest and least personal, commenting was the most personal, and sharing was the most one-directional: you usually only share a story if you really like it.
I asked myself: what would we lose if we got rid of star ratings? Well, directional feedback on stories (saying it’s “good” vs. saying it’s “bad”) might take more effort, meaning some feedback would disappear. We would also lose a way of “comparing” stories to see which one the readers liked more.
How valuable are these things, and what differences does a Like button introduce?
Directional feedback can be useful. It’s good for a reader to be able to say when they liked a story, and it can be helpful to the author to get feedback on elements of a story that didn’t work so well. The positive side can be captured by a “Like” button, although we can’t distinguish between a 4 and a 5 anymore. As for the negative feedback, it’s much more useful to get an explanatory comment than a throwaway 1-star or 2-star rating: a comment benefits the author more.
As for comparing stories, I don’t publish any stories I personally consider 1-star or 2-star, and I don’t often look back at a story and feel it was a 3-star. I already filter out the less effective stories when I review the submissions. So all the stories on the site meet a certain standard. A poor star rating from the readers doesn’t really mean the story is bad, because I don’t believe I publish bad stories. As I said previously, we are losing the ability to compare 4s and 5s, but the best stories tend to earn positive comments, too, and those are a better measure of resonating with readers than a high rating is. We also have the Top Stories program to reward the really good stories (though I choose the winners myself, so ratings/likes don’t really determine that).
In the balance of things, I felt that moving to Likes instead of ratings had a lot more pros than cons. We now have a better measure of “popularity” and a system that’s less susceptible to abuse (it still allows for “positive abuse” if someone Likes a story several times from different IP addresses, but there isn’t as much harm in that as low-rating a story multiple times). Our positive feedback is maintained, and our negative feedback is improved.
I haven’t deleted the old star ratings from the site yet, and I will probably archive them for future reference, just in case, but I’m pretty happy with this change.
I’m willing to hear feedback from 50WS readers, though, so if you haven’t already chimed in on the announcement post on the site, let me know what you think.