Content Ratings "Inside the Firewall"

Ratings, Tags, and Bookmarks on the web and in SharePoint 2010

KM guru Stan Garfield posted a great summary of some issues with content ratings systems when they are used inside organizations rather than on public sites, in other words - "inside the firewall."  Stan points out that inside the company, ratings are not as successful as they are on sights such as Amazon.com.  I think Stan is right, for all the great reasons he notes in his insight. Ratings are one of the social computing features in SharePoint 2010 and I have been thinking a lot about them because I just finished the first draft of the chapter on social computing for Essential SharePoint 2010 (look for it in print and in Kindle format in June).

Content ratings are more helpful on sites such as Amazon because it is clear what you are rating when you say that a book has "5 stars."  You're rating how good you thought the book was.  I use content ratings all the time on my personal favorite book site, Audible.com, but they are not the only input to my decision about whether to download a book because I also read the reviews, which provide a lot more context than ratings.  People who like to read are pretty passionate about books and they can build a "reputation" as a quality reviewer on sites like Audible or Amazon, which they are likely to frequent fairly often.  Two incentives to tag an item with a rating on the internet are reputation and passion.  On the internet, most "raters" are anonymous so they don't have to worry about any repercussions from their rating while they build a reputation for their "handle" on the web.  Inside the enterprise, raters are rarely anonymous so there may be less incentive to give a less than stellar rating.  Moreover, rating a document you download requires a "round trip" to the intranet to both "re-find" and then rate the document after you have taken the time to read it.  I may be a cynic, but I wonder whether we will find users who are as passionate about their work documents as they are about books so that they will take the time to go back and rate the document they downloaded, assuming that they can actually find the document again, a complaint I sometimes hear.  Thus, time is also a barrier for ratings "inside the firewall."

Stan posed a question to our online knowledge management group wondering if anyone had a good example of a ratings "success story" inside a company because he hadn't really seen any.  One of the stories we talk about in our upcoming book describes a company who created a repository to share IP and asked users to rate the content using a 5-star rating scale.  At first, pretty much no one rated.  We suspect this was for several of the reasons that Stan poses in his document but also because it was unclear what they were being asked to rate - the quality of the writing, whether or not they agreed with the author, whether or not they thought highly of the author, or whether they liked the quality of the document.  In an effort to encourage participation, the sponsors clarified the intent of the ratings - to describe the extent to which the rater agreed that the document was a good example of IP.  Once it was clear that the intent was to identify content that readers felt was definitely intellectual property, many more users participated in the ratings process.  Having a clear purpose for rating and clear sponsorship for getting people to rate contributed to the success of this ratings effort.  Inside the enterprise, it's not as clear that people get the same "reputation" value as they do on the internet.  I think part of the reason is because of the whole political structure of the organization and a concern that some raters might be "more equal" than others.  Therefore, if you expect to get some value from adding ratings to content, it's going to have to be clear to people what and why they are rating so that they will be less concerned about the fact that they aren't going to be anonymous.

SharePoint 2010 includes several social computing features designed to help users contribute to content evaluation, including the ability to optionally add ratings to documents.  In addition to allowing users to add ratings to content (note that this feature is not enabled by default), SharePoint 2010 includes two features that Stan suggests as better alternatives to ratings:

  • I Like It: Documents, pages, and other content can be tagged with a simple "I Like It" tag just like Facebook.  The "I Like It" tag shows up in your activity feed  so that your colleagues can see what you "liked" but it also provides a way for you to quickly get back to content that you "liked" because it is exposed to you on the Tags and Notes tab of your profile.  No more need to remember: "how did I find this before?"  (In some respects, it works like My Links in MOSS 2007.)
  • Tags and Notes: You can also tag content with words or phrases that you select from a list of previously used tags or you can add new tags yourself to provide more context to organize or evaluate content.  For example, you can tag any document you consider to be a really good example of something with the term Best Practice or Good Example.  It's easy to see how people will use Tags and Notes to help classify content since this can be done pretty easily with a quick review.  Tags and Notes can also be used to help filter search results and just like I Like It, help you quickly find content for which you added a social tag.

Before you think that ratings actually work any better on the internet then they do inside the enterprise, take a look at the October 5, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal.  In an article by  Jeffrey Fowler and Joseph De Avila called "On the Internet, Everyone's a Critic But They're Not Very Critical" the authors present an interesting statistic: the average rating for things consumers rate online is about 4.3 stars out of five.  So, even on the internet where we all assume that ratings work better than inside the enterprise, for the most part, they just tell us that things are actually pretty good.

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