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Netflix poll: stars or thumbs?

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March 17th, 2017

Netflix is changing its ratings system and I'm not happy about it. Partly because I'm getting old, but partly because binary ratings stink.

"Five stars feels very yesterday now," said Netflix VP Todd Yellin. A statement made yesterday, thereby nullifying his entire argument, I guess. Yellin probably never saw a crowd pass judgement on a gladiator or a Siskel & Ebert review, a TV show that finally gave the opposable thumb purpose.

Over the years I've learned how to read Netflix's ratings. They've become an indispensable barometer for the laziest kind of couch surfing. The kind where I'm sprawled out, casually browsing through Netflix categories before pausing on an intriguing title or an evocative image. I glance at the stars because I can't be bothered to check my usual review sources. Four stars or above, and it's usually pretty good. Below three is often unwatchable, and in-between is more often than not something I won't regret watching.

This morning my Twitter bud @ow reminded me of this XKCD comic that perfectly captures the efficacy of Netflix's current review system:

Moving to a thumbs-up or thumbs-down system loses that nuance. It's either, or. It's shit or not shit. There's no way to know if a thumbs-up means "this is watchable" or "this is great!" Netflix is starting the star wars, if you will. Which reminds me, Star Wars received ☆☆☆☆ from Roger Ebert and ☆☆☆½ from Gene Siskel because even they knew that the thumb was not enough.

Maybe a binary indicator is all a couch surfer deserves. What do you think, dear reader?