incentivizing ratings & reviews

Implicit question asked by Roy Tennant during a presentation to my LIS 531R class — why is Amazon so much better at incentivizing users to rate and review books than libraries (when they support those capacities) are?

5 thoughts on “incentivizing ratings & reviews

  1. OK, now that I have had half a second to think about it — maybe Amazon doesn’t incentivize better; maybe its user base is just so much larger that a similar percentage of contributors will result in a much greater volume of content. (Or maybe there’s a tipping point where people are more interested in contributing if they see there’s already a baseline, a conversation to join, and that baseline is more easily established by the large volume of customers.)


    1. I had the same thought: Amazon just has a really huge pool of potential contributors. But hey: why can’t libraries collaborate to have the same thing? I’d think that a consortium of libraries could jointly create a shared database of book information and reviews that all of the members could draw from and contribute to.

      And on a completely unrelated note, why are Robin McKinley’s novels “Beauty” and “The Outlaws of Sherwood” shelved under non-fiction in my local library?


      1. I sort of asked Roy Tennant that today, although I was still trying to get a handle on the question in my head so I’m not sure how well it came out — my version was, surely the software vendors can have access to all this data if they want it; are any of them selling data-aggregation services? If not, why not? Why isn’t there pressure on them to do so, or why aren’t they responding?

        There are (I think very new) third-party providers that do things like this, so, e.g., you plug the whatever module into your catalog and it does ratings & reviews aggregated across all of their customers. And yeah, it would be easier if you were already in a consortium system, and thus quite possibly sharing software to begin with. I think insofar as consortia aren’t doing this it’s because the idea is still very new to the library world, there’s a lot of debate about the Future of the Catalog and what it should look like, and there isn’t always the technical expertise in-house to implement things or provide vision.

        Your unrelated note: I have no idea. That sounds very odd. *looks up your local public library* Hey, they’re totally using AquaBrowser! (which is one of these next-generation discovery layers that sits atop a catalog being all e-commerce-y and stuff) Cool. (I am going to guess this is a function of your town having obscene amounts of brainpower with trailing spouses; the next-gen implementations I’m aware of are usually in…larger places.)

        So it looks to me like most McKinley is shelved under fiction or sci-fi (logically enough), but Outlaws of Sherwood and Rose Daughter are under the Dewey class for folklore. Which, I mean, I guess they are (not having read them but going on the descriptions). But why put them there and not with the rest of McKinley’s stuff, I dunno. Two guesses: one, that there’s some interesting cataloguing policy decisions going on, and you should ask them and report back to me ;), or two, that they’re too small a library to have an expert cataloguer so they are just copy-cataloguing, sucking down data from OCLC or Library of Congress and just obeying it blindly. Except that there are some other books by her in the system that have Dewey numbers but are shelved with fiction. So I think they have made a decision that these, being folklore retellings, belong in the nonfiction/folklore/Dewey section of the world and not the fiction section. But you’d have to ask them why.


  2. Another idea: People find the Amazon reviews useful in their deliberations about purchasing books. Hence they are motivated to contribute reviews, because they easily appreciate the value they provide.

    So, you ask, aren’t reviews helpful in deliberations about the next book to pick up at the library? Sure they are, but the decision itself feels less crucial: Purchases automatically worry us more, because we give up material resources for them. Picking up a bad or disappointing library book only costs us time, which we permanently undervalue, psychologically.


    1. I can see this is true, and it would incentivize people to *read* the reviews (I certainly do), but I don’t see how it incentivizes people to *contribute* to them. My understanding is that tagging systems and the like work because people perceive immediate personal benefit, and then are willing to share their work with the crowd. Reviewing a book you’ve already read can’t possibly help you make the choice about whether to read it; it benefits the system as a whole, but the individual? It’s too ex post.


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