You just finished an amazing book/podcast/video. It’s so good that you just want to tell someone, you don’t normally make ratings but it’s just too good. So you rate it 5 stars, thumbs up and comment on why. Sitting there thinking about how awesome it was, you scroll down to see a few other comments saying similar good things. But just as you are about to click away you see that out of the 5000+ reviews, there are like 50 one star reviews. You think, “hmm, this was so amazing, I wonder what the heck they didn’t like” and so you scroll to the bad reviews, and see that they have their own reasons to not like it: the narration sucked, the organization, too simple, too complex, on and on. In fact some of the negative reviews are so compelling, if you never read the book you may be steered away from purchasing.
That night, you are looking for a movie to watch; as you browse through the movies you notice one of your favorite movies has a 28% on rotten tomatoes. What? Are you that different? How could most people not like this movie!? You find that this is everywhere, in every subject. Outliers that both define us, and cause us to be mislead at times.
It’s the dimensions
The biggest reason seems to be the various dimensions that make up everything. This movie that I loved engaged the senses and gave the unsettling feeling that the movie character was feeling right from the beginning, it made me want to figure out what is going on. It unraveled the story in a believable way, all while having fun action scenes throughout and to top it off it had a cool twist in the end to make it all come together.
Maybe some people hate trying to figure out what is going on and just want to be told. Maybe what I saw as believable was really cliche. Maybe the action scenes that I thought were good were really not to most. (It makes me wonder how film critics ever actually enjoy movies.)
Yet the problem is with relatively infinite choices out there, how do we filter the choices? How do we decide what to spend 2 hours of our lives watching? If we depend on ratings alone we will clearly miss some content that we really would love to see. Ideally we would have a ton of rating categories that can help filter the dimensions we care about, just like amazon and yelp do for filtering for the type or product or restaurant; except with a focus on ratings. Huge ratings categories could help tremendously, but alas we aren’t there yet.
Know what you like
Imagine all the things we could be missing just because we don’t actually agree with the majority. I like crusty old dive bars that have delicious food and don’t care about the service, others may complain there are leaks in the ceiling and that the server was mean. Books, restaurants, hotels, places to visit, jobs, schools, any and every product, have this dilemma: What we like will not always be what the majority likes. In general, sure, following the ratings will have us in a decent direction. If everyone likes a product, the chances are we will too; at least that’s the theory. Yet, if we happen to be the outlier, then we’ll be left annoyed thinking why the heck did everyone like this so much?! Or why did everyone hate this so much?!
The simple answer is know what you like, by being self aware. Do the research, don’t just go by everyone’s ratings. Have in mind what you like and make sure you are looking for reviews specific to what you like and don’t like. If the positive reviews touch on dimensions you like and feel is important, then you may have found a winner. If a product is rated really well, make sure to check the negatives and see if they resonate with things you hate.
Ratings Often = Approval
It’s one thing to make a choice on a movie or restaurant based on ratings and getting it wrong. But making a career choice, a job choice, a school choice, a partner choice?
The rating system is an oversimplified perspective of a small portion of the masses. A book by Obama will clearly be avoided by any haters as would a book by Trump. The reviews are clearly going to be absent many of the critics that would possibly try the book under different names or authors. Instead of the book receiving a polarizing 2.5 stars, in line with the citizens, they both end up getting closer to 5 stars.
Life is no different, everyone has an opinion about which place is the best place to live, which school is the best, which career is the best, what type of person you should be with, and on and on. Yet often when we are looking for ratings (e.g. ‘opinions’), we are actually looking for approval from others. Approval, justification, validation of what others think we should or shouldn’t do.
It sounds like a bad idea when we put it that way doesn’t it…? The bottom line is, ratings are only there to help you *learn* from others, not to do the same thing as others, not to receive validation, approval or justification for doing something. It’s completely awesome to agree with the majority; but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always check for ourselves anyway.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” -Mark Twain