One thing I learnt while studying the diffusion of innovations and social networks was that the greater the uncertainty the more likely we are to turn to people for advice/reassurance.

Two recent personal experiences highlight this phenomenon. Firstly, I was looking for places to go on holiday. There were a number of companies offering the type of holiday I wanted (sailing/activity) and from multiple locations. All were broadly similar in cost, had similar weather and facilities. So, to help me decide I took to TripAdvisor and located all the potential targets and chose by looking at user ratings and comments.

The second experience relates to me buying a new camera (which broke while on my holiday) I wanted a particular type of camera and to help me decide I went to Amazon and again looked at user ratings and feedback. In the end the newest version of the camera I wanted had pretty poor reviews, so for now, I’ve decided not to buy a replacement and to simply rely on my relatively good mobile phone camera.

I’ve been reflecting on this theme as recently, two separate users of Trip have floated the idea of introducing such a feature in Trip. I posted the idea on our Facebook page over the weekend and idea was received quite positively (based on a small number of responses).

I like the idea as it can help give context to the research, give different perspectives and perhaps help highlight potential problems with the evidence. There are associated problems such as potential bias, inaccurate comments etc. But I’m sure these negatives can be mitigated for, with some thought.

So, what might a rating/comments feature look like? I have my ideas, which I’ll highlight below but I’m really keen to obtain feedback from you. This feature, if it is to be released, will not happen till next year – but it’s useful for me to reflect on ideas.

One thing that is essential is that the system is easy to use and understand. I would like it to be more than a binary ‘good or bad’ or ‘thumbs up or down’. On both TripAdvisor and Amazon I like to look at reviews by score. So, for those who gave a holiday/product a low score, why was that and vice versa for high scores? So, I think it requires a numerical scale and both TripAdvisor and Amazon use a 1-5 scale (although, someone pointed out that people tend to gravitate to the middle).

When people have scored an article we should offer them the ability to comment. We could suggest a structure to comment against (e.g. what did you like about the article, what did you dislike etc) but I think the more formalised you make it the less it’ll be used. So, I favour a free-text response.

The results would need to be displayed somehow but I’ll not give that much thought now, I think our designer would be the best to advice on this. Needless to say it needs to be clear and easy to understand. I also like the idea of being able to sort results by rating (currently, on Trip, you can sort results by relevance and date).

There are still questions to be explored (apart from the big one of do people think it’s a good idea), such as:

  • Will it be used? I’ll explore this further with our users over the next few months (after we release the new version of the site – due imminently).
  • What will the score represent? I think one can over-analyse. But, I think it indicates a user’s view/opinion on a paper and what this represents is individual to the person. With TripAdvisor and Amazon the comments help explain their rating and you take the points that you feel (as a consumer of the ratings) are important to you.
  • Do we ‘seed’ the scores? We could create a starting score for each document to get the ‘ball rolling’. We could create a score based on the quality of the publication and how often it has been viewed. As people submit ‘real’ ratings the seed-score diminishes in worth.

I often get excited by new ideas and this is no exception. If ratings/comments take off I think it will impact how users consume evidence. It’ll also deliver something that is hugely beneficial, yet potentially immeasurable – value!

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