YouTube launched its new interface today.  And, shock-horror – it has ditched user ratings, a core component of social media and social commerce. You can ‘heart’ stuff and you can ‘bury’ stuff – but you can no longer rate stuff.

The death of ratings on YouTube is important for social commerce because YouTube is the poster-child social media platform – soon to be upgraded to a social commerce platform (as it rolls out charging for premium content), which means that where YouTube goes, others will follow.

Why get rid of user ratings (BTW YouTube has also ditched the ‘Broadcast Yourself’ social media rallying tagline, so is this an anti-democratic conspiracy?)?

Simple: User ratings are useless – according to YouTube.  Most people only bother to rate stuff they like which means average ratings are all good. A fact that is backed up  by social commerce software providers like Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews – (the average is 4.3 stars out of five, if I remember correctly from Bazaarvoice’s social commerce webinar yesterday).  Good for retailers looking to shift stock – but pointless for users looking to separate the flotsam from the funky. For discovery and selection, it’s easier just to to look at ‘view volume’ or ‘favourite volume’ – which is presumably why YouTube has also bumped up the size of view numbers significantly.

User Ratings on YouTube (from Techcrunch)

Psychologically, it’s far less taxing on the brain to give feedback in simple binary like/dislike form, and binary feedback is arguably easier to turn into a useful format to inform choices.  And culturally, binary feedback is less open to cultural bias, as anyone who has done a balanced score card review will know. Americans over rate, German’s under rate.

So on balance, we think ditching ratings may be the shape of things to come in social commerce, leave ratings to professional reviewers – it’s what they’re trained to do, and let users vote (on features as well as products/services).  It works for democracy, surely it can work for social commerce?

YouTube's New Streamlined 2010 Look