We’ve often noticed that people tend toward extremes when assigning online product ratings. For Amazon products with an theoretically average (3 star) rating, more than 65% of all ratings lump into either the best or worst score – a ‘bimodal distribution’ in stats-speak.There are many potential reasons: a lack of clear criteria for different ratings, a desire to influence the displayed score, shameless promotion, spite, and so on. Whatever the reason, the end result is that many rating systems are essentially a thumbs-up, thumbs-down proposition and often give misleading information.
Fortunately, the lack of sophistication doesn’t carry over from quantitative ratings to text-based reviews. From what we’ve seen in the distribution of ratings, we might expect text-based reviews similarly to espouse straightforward points of view. Instead, most text-based product reviews actually contain ‘complex opinion’ – writing with at least one observation contrary to the overall argument. (There are some notable exceptions to this trend.)
As an example, in this Amazon listing for a Casio camera, 61% of the 46 English-language reviews mention both a positive and negative aspect of their experience. Considering the average review is only about four lines long, the amount of even-handedness is surprising. Other merchants, such as Best Buy, include designated fields in their review systems for Pros and Cons to encourage more considered opinions.
- The poster has nuanced thinking, and therefore a relatively more insightful perspective
- The contrary point is important enough to mention, despite the poster’s overall impression
- The poster is engaged enough with the topic to write a complex post
It’s been said that, “We learn our virtues from our friends who love us; our faults from the enemy who hates us.” We like it the other way around, too.