Thursday Thoughts: Rating Systems

There’s getting to be far too many interesting weekly events. Next I’ll even be updating my blog every day… or more than once every day! So yeah, this week’s Thursday Thoughts, hosted by Ok, Let’s Read, are around rating systems. Well, anybody who’s looked at my reviews here will know that I don’t post ratings on here. I prefer to let my thoughts on the books I’m reviewing come through more than my arbitrary, very personal gut feeling, which is what my ratings on Netgalley, Goodreads and LibraryThing are.

When I rate on sites that do use it, I tend to pretty much use GR’s scale, since I’ve been posting there the longest:

  • 1 star: Didn’t like it
  • 2 star: It was okay
  • 3 star: I liked it
  • 4 star: I really liked it
  • 5 star: It was amazing!

I like that because it’s nice and subjective. If I had to rate books on their technical merits, I’d probably be very critical and end up giving low ratings to books I actually really enjoyed. Or sometimes I’d feel compelled to give them low ratings based on things that might bother other people (but don’t bother me in that specific instance), e.g. ratio of male to female characters. I do still dock stars for things that really get in my way while reading, of course, but it’s possible to enjoy less well-written and even problematic media, and I do. At least when we’re talking subjective ratings, you can’t argue that just because you gave a book five stars, everybody should.

On Goodreads, there’s often been discussion about the skewed ratings (i.e. towards the positive) and more granular ratings (half-stars/ten point rating system). On the former, I feel that it’s more useful to be able to separate out positive reactions to books than negative ones. You’re usually going to skew to liking books unless you pick books without regard to genre, blurbs, etc. — I do know of someone who does that — because you know your preferences. It doesn’t stop you coming across some real stinkers, but generally being able to separate out much you liked something is more important than quantifying exactly how much you disliked something.

In terms of half-stars, I’ve just never seen the point. Sure, you can always get a more complex rating system that arguably expresses your feelings more accurately, but that tends not to work well for people. I can’t find the link now, but I think it was Netflix that found that people used the rating system less the more complicated it got.

Honestly, though, I find that my own ratings are more useful to me than anyone else’s. I don’t know what standards people are using when they rate stuff on Goodreads — they could be using the site’s standards, but plenty of people use alternate methods which they state in their profiles, but are still treated as standard in the aggregate, etc. Sometimes it works okay when you know the person’s tastes — for example, I’ve been following Dan Schwent‘s reviews on Goodreads for years, so I know when he rates something four stars what he means by that, and I can sort of gauge how I’d rate the same books because we’ve had significant overlap — but mostly, the star rating doesn’t tell me that much without the review.

I can start including star ratings on here at some point if people seem to want it, but I try to be clear enough about my feelings on books that it isn’t necessary.