Humans and ratings

How do we understand a thing? One way is price. More expensive = better mostly works so we use it. But other quantifications aren’t so clear. Temperature, for one. Avalanches too. Calories as well. There’s ‘the thing’ and the challenge is conveying information (and hopefully action!) about it. Here’s two quick examples then an idea.

At Airbnb ‘the thing’ is rating a guest or host. Rather than only stars, they use words too. “With each star,” Jiaona Zhang said “there is a word that accompanies that star, for example, five stars is great and four stars is good. What’s interesting is that something like three stars varies by culture.”


“Predicting something is 3.2 stars is kind of fun if you have an engineering sensibility,” said Todd Yellin of Netflix, “but it would be more useful to talk about dysfunctional families and viral plagues. We wanted to put in more language. We wanted to highlight our personalization because we pride ourselves on putting the right title in front of the right person at the right time.”

Both Airbnb and Netflix use numbers and words to convey information which leads to better matches.

But I feel weird not assigning perfectly fine a perfect score. Like a Keynesian beauty pageant, I don’t want our server-driver-rep to score less relative to their peers! So a perfect score they get.

But what if there was an option for an 11? Besides Spinal Tap who else uses 11 on a 10 point scale? No one. That’s good. There’s no social norm. But sometimes something is an 11 out 10. Sometimes something is above and beyond. Restaurants have easy solution, tip more. But when it comes to rankings maybe humans actually need a way to turn it up to 11.

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