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Backlash Against the New Netflix Rating System Shows That People Want and Miss Nuance


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We reported on the new Netflix rating systemthumbs up/thumbs down instead of a star rating systemearlier this week. It didn’t take long for those who were huge fans of the original five-star rating system to take to the Internet to express their displeasure. (PS – I’m totally one of those people!)

According to Polygon, a major problem that many subscribers have with the new system is the “inability to tell the difference between a movie that’s acquired thousands of positive likes because it’s popular or if it’s based on merit.” Giving something a “thumbs up” doesn’t really let anyone express the difference between something they liked just fine, but probably would never want to watch again, and something they loved and that they really want to affect their recommendations. That, and as the article says, it doesn’t let people know the difference between something people genuinely like, and something that people have, you know, watched a lot and didn’t hate.

Twitter has been a-twitter over it:

Meanwhile, in a Reddit thread titled “Somebody please wake me up from the nightmare that is Netflix’s new rating system. I never seriously considered Amazon Prime until today,” user gronke put it it this way:

The problem with the thumbs up / thumbs down is that there is now absolutely no difference between “I guess I didn’t hate this movie” and “This is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen in my life, and I want to see more like it.”

Both movies now get the exact same weight in voting.

That means I’ll be hesitant to “Thumbs up” movies that I only mildly enjoyed, because I don’t want to screw up my ratings.

This was a problem even with their 5-star system, because 3 stars was “Liked it” and 2 was “didn’t like it.” That meant that if I only kinda-sorta enjoyed a movie, I mean, I didn’t turn it off, but it wasn’t too great, I couldn’t rate that anything effectively.

It’s true that the star-rating system wasn’t perfect either, but what detractors are trying to express is that if Netflix was going to make a change, that it should be in the direction of more nuance, not less. If I were going to improve the ratings system, I might have added the ability to rate things fractions of stars. For subscribers choosing a show or film to watch, knowing that something is rated 3.5 stars is a very different experience than knowing that it got a lot of thumbs up.

Facebook changed their “like” experience to add gradations (you can now “love,” “wow,” or “sad” something). Yelp and Amazon use stars to help customers find places and products based on other people’s real opinions. People want to be able to express themselves and base their choices on what people actually think of something, not on a limited binary.

One reason Netflix gave for the change is that they wanted to encourage more participation. I guess they thought that giving ratings using stars was too difficult for people? Here’s the thing, the kinds of people who take the time to give something a rating are the types of people who take the time to give something a rating. Those who aren’t, won’t. Changing the system of rating isn’t going to make someone more likely to rate if they didn’t care enough to rate in the first place. However, taking valuable nuance away from the customers who care might just make them stop rating.

I give the new Netflix rating system 1.5 stars.

(via Polygon, image: Netflix)

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