We are now accustomed to being able to rank or recommend on websites. More importantly, we are accustomed to seeing resources ranked, related or recommended. To the extent, I suggested in a recent talk, that when we don't see these features on a site it is as if as if we are watching black and white TV, or the colour has been bleached out of the experience.
There was a short article in The Atlantic recently which discussed this.
Today's ratings are only the raw material for what's to come. Rearden Commerce's Web-based personal assistant already helps employees in corporations like ConAgra make travel plans, by quizzing them about their age, income, job, family situation, lifestyle, and preferences like favorite types of restaurants. (JPMorgan Chase will roll out a Rearden-based travel adviser to its credit-card customers later this year.) The next step, says Rearden CEO Patrick Grady, is to pull in ratings from all over the Web and mash them up with anonymous information from Rearden users. Then, if a beef-loving cat-litter salesman is traveling to Dallas, the system can recommend a top-rated steak house where other cat-litter reps have had luck taking pet-shop owners to close deals. [The Rating Game]
It noted that the Pew Internet & American Life Project "found that about one-third of all American Internet users rated something online" in 2007.
In the last few weeks I have had a couple of reminders about the interest in rating/recommending over and above the usual invitations from Netflix to rate borrowed movies. I bought a bag online from Timbuk2, and a week or so after it arrived I was invited to go to the website to leave a review - good or bad. Such invitations are now routine. We bought a CD from an independent seller through Amazon. There was also an email followup. This was more interesting. It encouraged us to leave a rating of '5' as anything less would be construed as negative by Amazon. If there were any issue which would prevent us leaving a rating of 5, the seller encouraged us to get in touch to discuss before doing anything to damage their reputation.
Ratings are very important to some. They will become more important to others. The examples above are of sites which invite ratings of services or products they offer, and in an environment of abundant resources and scarce attention we recognise the value of such behavior. However, it is natural to go beyond this to sites whose central function is to rate/recommend. We are familiar with ratemyprofessor.com and the article mentions glassdoor.com, a site which allows employees rate their employers. The article also discusses some of the issues with such sites, as groups protest against being evalutated in this way.