Netflix doesn’t want you to be an armchair critic anymore

The days of umming and ahhing over whether Orange is the New Black deserves four or five stars are over. Netflix has completely overhauled its ratings systems to give you a simple choice: do you like the show or not?

The nuance of five degrees of love and hate, Netflix found, was causing a certain amount of rating inertia, leading to a recommendations system that was imperfect. With the new system – which only lets you provide a thumb up or down, like a Roman emperor binge-watching the latest series of gladiator duals – Netflix wants to tell users they aren’t critics. The company just wants to know about your personal taste.

Comparing the old rating system to Amazon or Yelp, Netflix’s Cameron Johnston told USA Today that users were putting too much nuance into their ratings. “They’re trying to help out everyone else potentially trying that product or service. They don’t expect to get better results.”

With the new system, “people intuitively understand I’m teaching the system about what my tastes are to get better suggestions in the future,” Johnston added.

That certainly seems to be the case. In pre-launch testing, Netflix reported a 200% increase in rating usage, which helps the system build its recommendation engine more efficiently.

There will inevitably be some disappointed by the move away from armchair critic, and I suspect the ability to slate programmes that everyone unaccountably likes is a big draw of the five-star system. Do you remember when YouTube had the full five-star rating system to choose from on every single video? The web’s favourite video site (and coolest brand around, apparently) ditched stars around seven years ago because this was the spread of star distribution:ratings_graph

In other words, nobody rated videos unless they absolutely loved them, or absolutely hated them, which made the system unfit for purpose. Judging by the increase in ratings on Netflix, making love and hate the only options is just simpler for everyone, even if it does mean that in future rating 50 Shades of Grey will become an ironically black-and-white issue.

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