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Monday, October 06, 2003

User Ratings on iTunes & iPod

There has been an interesting thread about iTunes usage methods which gives some insight into how users are adopting a five-star rating scheme to rate their song collections. A few observations can tentatively be drawn from the thread.

Whilst users are presented with a rating scale of one to five stars, many users are only really using 3-5 stars. For example “My real rating sytstem is only 3-5 stars, since below 3 isn't "worthy." ;)” [1] or “I don't currently use 1 or 2 stars, 2 stars basically represents what I consider everything unrated to be (so I could rate all unrated items thus) and 1 star might be passable/poor (but not unlistenable - which would get turned off/deleted)” [2] If a rating of one or two stars is viewed as a negative rating, this apparent attitude makes sense since users are rating songs they hold in their personal collection i.e. songs they like. Fortunately, it also enables the rating scale to encompass other songs with negative ratings at a later date should they wish to do so. It also explains why most people select 3+ or 4+ stars when specifying their playlists.

Zero stars may also be a possible rating on iTunes / iPod although it unclear to users (may not be possible on iPod?) how to input this particular rating. Hence “Apple: Why can't you select 'Zero Stars' from the menu?” [3].

It would also appear that behind the iTunes/iPod five-star rating scale there is a numerical representation using the range 0-100 (so five stars would be represented by 100, two stars by 40 and presumably zero-stars by 0). Whilst I don’t have a Mac or iPod to verify this, it would seem to make sense to have such a large numerical range behind the scenes as it provides as much granularity as a user could possibly wish for when rating a song - would anyone really know that a song should be rated 68 as opposed to 67? Other rating scales could also translate onto this range – e.g. a four-star rating scale would have one-star represented by 25, and three-stars by 75 etc.

It should be noted that in the discussion above there is an implicit assumption that the rating scale is used to represent the “quality” of the song. Some users have used the rating scale for their own purposes/interpretations, such as one user who “…rated every track on his machine 1, 3 or 5 stars. 1 star tracks are calm and slow, 3 star tracks are medium paced and 5 star tracks are jumpin-up-and-down tracks.” [4] or “A "5" is a tune I can lead... "4" is for tunes I want to learn... "3" is for music I like to listen to even though I may never play it myself” [5]. Such definitions would only seem suited for personal use, unless they are widely adopted by other users or a well defined segment of users.

Quotes from thread:
[1] Posted by: Nanook at October 5, 2003 10:33 PM
[2] Posted by: Jacob at October 3, 2003 10:31 AM
[3] Posted by: ashley at October 2, 2003 01:24 AM
[4] Posted by no1son at September 27, 2003 11:24 AM
[5] Posted by: John Dowdell at October 2, 2003 01:55 PM

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