Asking the Right Question

There are many reasons why you’d like to know if your user liked something or not. It can be used later for recommendation, for example, or to assess whether or not the users want the new feature you’ve just added. And it seems to me that not only the question but also the choices of answers offered matters a lot.

So, let’s say you add an (optional) survey to your application to collect feedback. You can ask a yes/no question like “do you like the new feature?”. The obvious yes/no answer isn’t so obvious. If the users select yes, it means yes, but what if they click no?

Does selecting “no” merely means that they do not “like” it very much and that they are indifferent, or that they hate it? You can sort of filter indifference by using, like Facebook only a like button, that looks something like

but that now conflapulates dislike and indifference. If there would be a “dislike button”

You can now deal with hate it, indifferent (by selecting none), or like. But Facebook only uses like, and I am not sure why. I think it would be interesting to see the pages several tens of thousands people hate.

The Amazon five star rating suffers from the same kind of phenomenon. In their rating system, you can vote on a book (or some other item they sell) by leaving a comment (which, by the way, becomes their property once posted) and give one to five stars.

If you’re looking for a hotel, a hotel with one star is still better than an unrated establishment; and one star already means a lot. A five star hotel is therefore much better, it is a world-class establishment (with a world-class price). But the Amazon rating starts at one star, even though the book may be the worst book you ever read. You can still write an incendiary comment (or troll the product with my pictures) but one star still seems optimistic.

I think a scale that allows users to explicitly express different levels of dislike, indifference, and like is better than an only like button, or than a rating system using only positive feedback—it makes no sense to award a star to a product that infuriates everybody.

So I thought a bit about scales that represent strong dislike to strong like while allowing indifference. Maybe a meteorological metaphor would work?

What if we exclude indifference? Maybe a scale with oranges (good) and lime (bad (although I rather like lime))?

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So when you seek feedback and add a survey on your web page or application, ask yourself what is it exactly you want to know in the first place. Do you want to ask a yes/no question, and if so, is it really a yes/no question? “Will you be back?” is a yes/no question (or a yes/no/don’t know). “Do you like the new feature?” is not really a yes/no question. It’s a yes, I like, or no-I-don’t-care-or-no-I-hate-it question. Same with the like button. If you don’t press it, are you merely indifferent or do you dislike it? What if you have a question that is rather open-ended? Something like “How did you feel about the game?” Curious? Interested? Annoyed? All of the above?

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I do not know how Facebook uses the like button, because, well, I don’t even have a Facebook account. But one can imagine that each like is accumulated and somehow the very liked pages becomes prime real estate to sell targeted advertisements. But the very disliked pages, the pages where people actually go to hate it a little bit more, are also prime real estate. A bit like Rebecca Black’s Friday, that 32M people loved to hate—not as popular as the other Friday (with 175M views or something).

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Most of the images are from Wikimedia common user Paintpot, under LGPL. Derivative works presented here are therefore under LGPL as well.

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