Ratings in Social Software
Brit Blaser on the role of ratings in Social Software:
...I can't imagine software more social than Xpertweb which, though its purpose is unabashedly commercial, intends to socialize its users by the character of user ratings it tracks and publishes. You might say that Xpertweb is a set of values expressed through users' valuations. As Einstein is quoted, "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted."
Social software then, at a minimum, should at least make sure that things that matter are easier to count than they are without the software. Any other attributes may make the software elegant or compelling or easy to use, but the social part seems to be the trick of newly exposing communal activities or opinions that were not previously visible.
So that sets the bar for social software. We recognize it because it lets us start to count things we care about, but the designer has to figure out what those things are. Presumably they're not obvious yet, or we'd already be counting them. What characteristic, theme perhaps, might indicate something needs new counting tools?
Harkening back to the days of yore, in the medevil bazzar, some crazy guy was probably going around trying to get everyone to agree on the concept of coinage. Initially people resisted. A cow is a cow and a sheep is a sheep and never the twain shall meet. If I think gold is worth one thing and you think its something else and lordy know what it will be tomorrow, how can one commodify? But, low and behold, you can carry a coin in your pocket and a cow only with great difficulty.
People are in constant pursuit of the commoditzation of everything. Not just goods, mind you. We abstract concepts in commonly digestible forms. We archetype and then debate over value. Things must be simplified to be social or we end up talking about different things.
- A rating is a price. We define a good and deliberate over its value through signals. Sometimes we express price not for transaction but to communicate value in its simplest form (a guy at Stanford won a Nobel Prize on this). A price is the simplest method of communicating value.
- A rating is a mode of communication. What I value when. When I send a smiley to someone, its a rating.
- A rating is a signal of trust. Whom I value when. Trust is credit and credit is priced.
If there is a theme that indicates we need new counting tools its when things become too complex and when we need to simplify through the language of a rating.