One of the internet’s most useful – and sometimes most worrying – features is its ability to track the things users frequent, to use algorithms that develop an understanding of what they like and dislike and to tailor recommendations for purchases, content and advertising to each person individually. The best way to encourage users to offer this information willingly, however, is still something that companies and websites are figuring out. Facebook now offers six different reactions so you can be explicit about your emotional response to someone’s post. This week, Netflix changed the five star rating to a thumbs up or down deal instead.
The company explained the move to the simpler system in a blog post, claiming that the move would allow the site’s algorithms to offer more accurate recommendations for each user:
“We’ve all gotten used to star ratings on e-commerce and review apps, where rating contributes to an overall average, and the star rating shown next to a restaurant or a pair of shoes is an average of all the reviewers. On those apps, being a reviewer can be fun and helpful to others, but the primary goal isn’t always to help you get better suggestions.
In contrast, when people see thumbs, they know that they are used to teach the system about their tastes with the goal of finding more great content. That’s why when we tested replacing stars with thumbs we saw an astounding 200% increase in ratings activity.”
While it seemed to be a sensible idea motivated by the desire to make the service better for the user, fans are – so far – not enjoying the new system.
One Reddit user summed up the issues many people are having quite succinctly in a thread bemoaning the new system:
“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.”
People offered solutions within the thread, some more helpful than others. Some suggested using thumbs up for what would previously have been five star content and thumbs down for one star content and not rating at all anything that would previously have got a middle star rating. Others, perhaps less helpfully, suggested not rating anything altogether.
How long this dissatisfaction lasts will remain to be seen – after all, YouTube seems to be coping just fine a few years after making the same move.
In the meantime, Netflix appears to be actively acknowledging and engaging with fans’ responses on various social media, so it seems promising that whatever the future holds will continue to keep users at the front and centre.