Honest, informative rating of content… please!

I spend a lot of my time thinking about what makes a business communication system really useful. Sad, but true. There’s one concept that you will see on social tools and websites across the globe: rating.

Usually when viewers are given the opportunity to rate posted content, they are forced into providing either a positive view (thumbs up, +1 etc) vs no view at or. Sometimes there’s also the opportunity to provide a negative view (thumbs down). On the surface, this seems great – the great unwashed masses are given a voice and good “stuff” will be praised whereas bad “stuff” will not.

But there are significant issues.

Firstly, often the rating schema is linked to an entirely different concept – that of “following” either a post or a poster. Conflating these two concepts means that, sometimes, in order to follow future dialogue you’re forced to indicate that you liked the original post. This may not be true!!

Secondly, there are degrees of appreciation which are not covered in a “+”, “-“, “no view” approach. I like my neighbours and love my wife, rather different degrees of “appreciation” here, but social platforms would expect me to “like” them all. Yikes.

Lastly, these systems assume that all opinion is equal. That simply is not true.

I discussed the problems that this causes in social systems in an earlier post, “Bubbling to the top: the Social Media value challenge“.

The solution is clear. The systems need to do three things:

  1. Separate out the concepts of “following” and “rating”.
  2. Allow for positive and negative feedback, on a graded scale.
  3. Promote the feedback of individuals noted for their informed feedback (based, perhaps, on the feedback which they themselves receive?).

The end result is posts that are not marked as “21 people liked this” but, perhaps, as “this post scores 35% based upon viewer feedback”.

Notice that I haven’t covered the thorny, in my view, issue of attribution: that of showing who “liked” or “disliked” the post. I say “thorny” because the feedback which people give is affected by whether that feedback is visible and attributable to them or not. Is an employee going to be highly critical, publicly, of his boss’s post? No, of course not. We all have our jobs to consider. Yet we need feedback to be honest. So perhaps it would be better, in the business environment, to keep those ratings as a amalgamated score and not as individually attributable.

Rating, providing useful feedback in order to help information find its true value and hence find its way to individuals who might value it, is essential to an effective business communications system. A simplistic approach doesn’t work.

Building Effective Information Systems using Social Tools

Social media systems, tools which enable us to emit little nuggets of information whenever we like, run the risk of being analogous to using a fine-mist spray to fill a water glass at 50 feet. It’s not a terribly good way to get a drink. The trouble is, we all play two roles in the analogy: we are both the spray head and the glass. We emit nuggets of information, we also consume information which other people have emitted. It’s all a bit haphazard and directionless: it needs control in order to be effective.

Let me move away from the analogy and back to social media proper. As a Google+ user, I often send out updates – usually links to blog posts of my own, or to news articles or posts which I’ve found on the Internet which are either interesting in of themselves or else worthy of comment. These sorts of updates go out publicly, and I like to think that there might be a few people out there who would find them useful. If they could find them. And that’s the problem I am trying to highlight in this post: building social media tools which don’t just allow us to emit information, but allow information to find us. Read more of this post