One to Five

I heard some interesting advice today: “When you’re evaluating reviews, ignore anything that’s 1 or 5 stars. Read the 2-, 3- and 4-star reviews.”

I think that’s good advice. 1- and 5-star reviews tend to be impulsive; they can often be the result of a single positive or negative interaction (at best; at worst they’re just fake). But those middle-star comments are much more likely to be thoughtful and considered.

We’re all prone to hyperbole, which makes us exaggerate our interactions to the extreme. Was a slightly cold coffee in an otherwise pleasant setting at a fair price REALLY worth a 1-star review? There’s nothing else that could have been worse? Likewise, the cashier smiled pleasantly at me when handing me my change – worth five stars? No room for improvement at all?

Compounding this problem is the fact that there’s no universally-accepted definition of those kinds of ratings. For some people, 5-stars is the default; that’s what you get if you do your job competently and I don’t have any complaints. For others, the default is the middle – 3 – and you work your way up or down from there with your actions. But since no one discusses, much less agrees to, a universal standard, many star-rated reviews are meaningless. Certainly it’s meaningless to average them.

So most ratings are useless, but at least a 2-4 star rating with a comment is less likely to be hyperbole-driven and contain some mix of pros and cons. So if you really want to know what it’s like to buy a product or work for a company, those are good ones to check out.

And there’s a larger lesson – be wary of people with extreme claims, in either direction, on any topic. Pay more attention to the middle.

2 thoughts on “One to Five

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