If I had to predict the legacy of Amazon.com, I believe it will be their implementation of the five star rating system and customer reviews.
Amazon didn’t invent the star rating system - it has been around since at least 1915 when Edward O’Brien began using it to rate books - but, coupled with their seemingly infinite inventory and customer reviews, this system has fundamentally changed the way we spend our money.
Consider the last time you purchased a household item or electronic device. I’ll bet you searched for reviews or ratings and invariably, because of the breadth of their product offerings, found your way to a product page on Amazon.com, looked at the aggregate rating and then began reading “customer” reviews. Not satisfied, you searched anew and found a product that had a star rating you were comfortable with.
Or, alternatively, you started at Amazon, searched for a product and immediately discounted those with less than a 3.5 star rating.
I know this because I’m describing myself.
I recently bought a garden hose, deciding to buy it online because I already had a few items in my Amazon cart and, of course, shipping was free with Amazon Prime! This was my first mistake. I spent the next hour obsessing over reviews until I found a hose that I was satisfied with. It was ridiculous. In fact, I almost gave up because of the conflicting ratings and reviews.
We never did this before. We would go to a hardware store, look at the hoses, make an evaluation of which one would do the job we needed done and then made the purchase. If it broke, it broke. We wouldn’t then go and hang around the hose aisle telling people how good or bad the hose was. It would be absurd.
Yet, we crave the wisdom of strangers when making purchases both significant and trivial. And, because we want that wisdom expressed in the most easy to digest form, we trust the five star rating system.
Because of this, the five star system has become ubiquitous online. We rate everything from music to recipes to books using this simple system without ever really giving any thought to what distinguishes a five star item from a one star item.
Most sites give some guidance of what each star means. For example, Goodreads, the only place where I actively leave star reviews, assigns the following values (which you can only see if you hover over a star):
✭ - Did not like it
✭ ✭ - It was ok
✭ ✭ ✭ - Liked it
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - Really liked it
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - It was amazing
That’s a fine system but I feel like the ratings need to give more guidance about my thoughts on the book. So, I’ve decided to rectify this personally by creating my own system for handing out ratings. I’m not arrogant enough to think that this will have any impact on anyone else but, at least it will make it easier for me when rating books.
So, here goes. The official, Brad Hopkins Five-star Rating System key for book reviews.
✭ - Couldn’t finish it.
✭ ✭ - I finished it but wouldn’t recommend it.
✭ ✭ ✭ - I enjoyed it but wouldn’t recommend it unless prompted.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - I loved it and you need to read it as well.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - I loved it, you need to read it and I will read it again.
There it is, a simple system for rating anything. In the above, I apply it to books but, with some slight tweaking, I can apply it to anything. How about restaurants?
✭ - Couldn’t finish the meal
✭ ✭ - I finished the meal but wouldn’t recommend it (and won’t be back).
✭ ✭ ✭ - I enjoyed it and would come back if invited by a friend (but not on my own).
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - I loved it, would come back and you need to eat there as well.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - I loved it, you need to eat there and I’m going to go out of my way to find a reason to eat there.
How about apps?
✭ - Installed and uninstalled immediately for some reason (technical or otherwise).
✭ ✭ - Installed and will keep it but will probably never use it.
✭ ✭ ✭ - I’ll use it whenever I remember it.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - Useful and I’ll look for reasons to use it.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ - Has become an integral part of my routine. I use it daily and it resides on my home screen. You need to get it also!
That’s it, my codified system for rating anything. Hopefully, having a systematic approach like this will help me look at books, movies, apps, products… whatever I’m rating, differently.