Social Commerce

YouTube & The Death of User Ratings

YouTube launched its new interface today.  And, shock-horror – it has ditched user ratings, a core component of social media and social commerce. You can ‘heart’ stuff and you can ‘bury’ stuff – but you can no longer rate stuff.

The death of ratings on YouTube is important for social commerce because YouTube is the poster-child social media platform – soon to be upgraded to a social commerce platform (as it rolls out charging for premium content), which means that where YouTube goes, others will follow.

Why get rid of user ratings (BTW YouTube has also ditched the ‘Broadcast Yourself’ social media rallying tagline, so is this an anti-democratic conspiracy?)?

Simple: User ratings are useless – according to YouTube.  Most people only bother to rate stuff they like which means average ratings are all good. A fact that is backed up  by social commerce software providers like Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews – (the average is 4.3 stars out of five, if I remember correctly from Bazaarvoice’s social commerce webinar yesterday).  Good for retailers looking to shift stock – but pointless for users looking to separate the flotsam from the funky. For discovery and selection, it’s easier just to to look at ‘view volume’ or ‘favourite volume’ – which is presumably why YouTube has also bumped up the size of view numbers significantly.

User Ratings on YouTube (from Techcrunch)

Psychologically, it’s far less taxing on the brain to give feedback in simple binary like/dislike form, and binary feedback is arguably easier to turn into a useful format to inform choices.  And culturally, binary feedback is less open to cultural bias, as anyone who has done a balanced score card review will know. Americans over rate, German’s under rate.

So on balance, we think ditching ratings may be the shape of things to come in social commerce, leave ratings to professional reviewers – it’s what they’re trained to do, and let users vote (on features as well as products/services).  It works for democracy, surely it can work for social commerce?

YouTube's New Streamlined 2010 Look

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

11 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Interesting post. Not sure I agree with the sentiment that users shouldn’t be rating things, or that ratings are useless. It’s a bit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The context of the situation, the audience, the product or service, registration system, display, volume, etc. all play into the effectivness of the rating/review system. Ratings is what pull people in, however I will tell you that 80% of shoppers get more decision-making value out of a review vs. the rating (Bazaarvoice study). I talked about this topic here:

    1. Thanks Sam, appreciate the comment, link and well-advised caution – I really agree with you that user ratings can make sense in the context of a review (point two in your article).

      Similar debates are happening in customer experience research circles as well (e.g. 11 point Net Promoter Rating Scale vs. a simple binary ‘would you recommend it’ (Yes/No) question – which I am a fan of).

      So I don’t want to appear negative about ratings, especially professional ratings (whilst I’d be happy with my friend telling me if a film was good or not (binary), I’d really value a professional movie critic telling me just how good it was). I simply think there may be method to YouTube’s madness; from a research perspective, binary questions may be sometimes easier to answer, and may have more research validity and reliability – so better for informing choices. They are definitely a LOT easier to analyse;-). But will the death of ratings on YouTube be the catalyst their general demise? I certainly don’t think – or hope – so.

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