The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
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Cheats annoy us all and there have been some memorable spats in the course of their unmasking, but the cause of most arguments and ill-feeling on the site does seem to be the rating of opinions. I’m not going to try and tell people how they should rate and nor would I wish to, but what I would like to do is persuade everyone to think about why we rate opinions, the guidelines which Ciao provide for us and the effects of our actions on other members.
Unless otherwise indicated all my quotations are from the Ciao Help section.
Why do we rate opinions?
The primary reason that we rate opinions (and the reason that Ciao ask us to do so) is for the benefit of the site. We’re content checkers. The ratings which we give “make it easier to decide which opinions are worth reading”. Opinions with better ratings rise to the top of the pile and ones with lower ratings drop to the bottom. The overall rating though is not a simple average of all the ratings received.
So far as Ciao are concerned we are each given a score, calculated on the basis of the way that we use the site and are viewed by the membership. A rating from a member who rates “broadly and impartially” and who has a “high quality Circle of Trust” will affect the overall rating more than a rating from someone who joined this morning, apparently with the sole purpose of rating your masterpiece UH. So, the consumer in search of knowledge and enlightenment is still going to find it in your opinion despite the fact that it’s got a couple of rogue rates attached to the string of Very Helpfuls.
Bear in mind too that Ciao’s interest here is in ordering the opinions for the benefit of the consumer, the vast majority of whom will be non-members. Look at the profiles of the longer-standing members and you’ll find that there are many thousands of non-member reads and it’s these unique page impressions which help Ciao to attract the advertising which will form a substantial part of its income.
The other way in which our ratings benefit the site is that we’re the quality control checkers. Not all opinions are read by Ciao. Just reading the opinions would be a full-time job for one person and it’s an expense that a fledgling dot.com can’t justify, particularly when there are hundreds of people prepared to do it for free. If I find an opinion which shouldn’t be on the site, perhaps because it’s offensive in some way, I send a link to email@example.com and suggest that they might like to remove it. Experience has taught me that this is personally more prudent than rating it as it’s less likely to attract a revenge rate. At the other end of the scale we nominate opinions for the Premium Fund – or we should be doing, because that’s the way to ensure that the Fund is fairly spread amongst the members who’ve earned it.
The secondary reason why we rate opinions is to provide feedback to the writer to help them to improve or to tell them that they’re on the right lines.
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that the guidelines don’t suggest that rating is an excellent method of seeking revenge, working off a grudge or drawing attention to yourself.
Rating an opinion
Ciao suggest that you should “ask yourself how did this opinion help me make a better decision?” and say that your answer will help you to rate honestly. There’s four buttons at the bottom of each opinion. Let’s look at what they each mean.
- Very Helpful – Ciao’s guidelines are not exceptionally stringent. A Very Helpful opinion is one which is “an excellent, well informed and very useful opinion”. It doesn’t suggest that the opinion must contain every possible fact, down to the position of the barcode and precise diameter of the tin. It doesn’t even suggest that you must be able to make a purchasing decision based on that one opinion and it doesn’t say either that the grammar and spelling must be perfect although too many mistakes will obviously detract from excellence.
There are a few other things that don’t come within Ciao’s suggested definition either. It doesn’t say that this is a rating automatically to be given to an opinion which has got a string of VHs. Every person has the right to read and evaluate the opinion for themselves and they might be the person who sees the flaw in your argument that everyone else has missed. It doesn’t suggest either that it’s a rating which you automatically give to your friends or someone with whom you wish to curry favour: “I couldn’t possibly offend…” is nowhere in the guidelines.
I always have problems with opinions which are written primarily for their humour. Some are extremely funny, but I wonder how much they help the consumer, which must be the first concern if the site is to flourish. I’m happy with an opinion where the humour is incidental but less so when I have to search out the information. That, though, is my personal opinion and preference.
- Helpful – Ciao say that this is “a useful opinion containing a good amount of relevant information”. It obviously lacks the “excellence” factor of the better opinion, but is still going to provide information and comment which will help towards making a better decision. For me it’s the opinion which doesn’t mention a vital point – for instance I’ve read a surprising number of mobile phone opinions which don’t mention anything about making phone calls. No matter how they wax lyrical about the games and ability to take photographs that opinion is never going to be better than Helpful for me.
Over the time that I’ve been on this and other sites I’ve become aware that some people will never rate a first opinion as higher than helpful and all that’s likely to do is put someone off because they think that the standard is impossibly high. I hate putting people off – they’re our future reads. Whether it’s a first opinion or a fiftieth they should all be rated honestly and on the same basis – for the benefit of the consumer.
“Helpful” isn’t “I want to bring you down a peg or two”, or “I like being difficult and different” or “My name will be visible for longer”. It’s an opinion which helps someone to make a decision but which lacks a little something.
The two ratings we’ve looked at so far both provide the writer with additional Community Points. In both cases there are two points for the member read and an additional six points (making a total of eight points) for a VH or three points (making a total of five points) for a Helpful. Once we go below this the ratings deduct from the points already earned.
- Fairly Helpful – This is “an opinion of limited use with little relevant information”. It isn’t really going to help anyone to make a decision. For me they’re usually the ones that have been churned and have had little thought put into their writing. Established writers tend to know the ropes and for me it would be unusual if they produced an opinion which I found only fairly helpful, but sometimes time overtakes all our opinions and if they’re not updated they can sink to this level.
“Fairly Helpful” is going to take four points away from the accumulated Community Points (plus two for the read, but minus six for the rating). I’ve seen many FH ratings which I’ve suspected have been given to “get at” the writer – a small pin prick which it’s difficult to prove is a revenge rate or given unreasonably. For me they show the rater up more than the writer.
- Unhelpful – This is “completely unhelpful information with very little, if any, relevant information.” I include in this rating those opinions which have been copied, those where words have been repeated to bring the count up to the 120 minimum and any which are offensive. I also rate as unhelpful an opinion which is in the wrong category. I know that this sounds harsh, but if an opinion is not in the right place it is of no use to the consumer.
Giving an unhelpful rating penalises the writer by a net ten points (plus two for the read, but minus twelve for the rating), so it isn’t something which I’d do without good cause.
The UH button does seem to be the favoured weapon of the revenge rater. If I believe that I’ve been revenge rated I’ve no hesitation in reporting the matter to Abuse (firstname.lastname@example.org) not least because I don’t believe that any member should be allowed to get away with that sort of behaviour. I’ve always found Ciao most supportive about this and I’ve only needed to supply details of the opinion (I usually forward the email notification) and the reason why I believe this to be a revenge rate.
How it affects other people
Honest and fair rating can encourage and help writers to improve. It’s good for the site as well. Opinions are properly ranked and consumers can quickly access the best opinions. The next time they find Ciao as a search result on Google they might just come back.
Bad rating will deter people – both members and the consumer whose clicks bring advertising revenue to the site. How do you tell though, the difference between good rating and bad rating, particularly when it gets below very helpful? How do you know that the Helpful that you collected for a piece you were proud of wasn’t spite but an area where you needed to make improvement?
I prefer to leave a comment if my rating goes against an established trend or even if I feel that it’s likely to. I know too that if someone takes a moment or two to leave a comment about why they’ve given a particular rating I’m a great deal happier. I can then decide whether I want to add to my opinion, change details or simply accept the rating given, but whatever I decide I know that the rating has not been given maliciously. There have also been several occasions when I’ve been very grateful for the fact that someone has pointed out what I’ve completely missed.
There is no obligation to leave a comment and I wouldn’t like to see one imposed, but if there is no comment there can always be the lingering doubt that the rater’s intentions were not entirely honourable. At the very least it would seem that the reader has found some inadequacy but isn’t willing to help you put matters to rights. It’s rather like allowing someone to walk around with the back of their dress tucked up into their knickers.
To ask for the reason or not to ask is a knotty question. Until recently I’ve always favoured the approach of asking for help to improve the opinion (rather than demanding to know why someone has gone against the VH trend) and I’ve generally had a reasonable response, but I’m more reluctant to do this after accusations of bullying have been made against people who have queried ratings. I don’t know the answer.
There is something I do know though and that’s that advertisers don’t just look at unique page impressions when they consider whether or not to advertise on a site. They look to see if there’s a good atmosphere, to see if there’s anything that they might not wish to be associated with and if a site doesn’t meet their expectations then they don’t advertise there. That’s Ciao’s loss and it could ultimately be ours.
i think this review is very relevant and informative, no matter whether your an established member or a newbie.. thanks. paula x
x__Kelli__x 29.09.2004 18:44
Your review was very helpful, I'm new to the site and my first review was only "somewhat helpful" which made me think "oh no" but practice has increased my recent ones to "very helpful" i like to think that i rate fairly and would like to say i enjoyed yours x