This note considers 'score sites' (aka rating sites or
personal polling sites) - fora that encourage visitors
to generate an online rating for individuals and organisations
that have previously encountered (eg a teacher) or someone
who is stranger (eg a woman on the basis of her photo).
Many sites operate on a commercial basis.
Most scoring is pseudonymous, something that has encouraged
ratings - and accompanying comments - that are malevolent,
The note covers -
overview - the basis of the sites, uptake by consumers,
- UGC assessments of businesses, institutions and products
- scoring teachers, police and other personnel
- scoring people unknown to the scorer
- the shape of regulation, defamation and salient studies
complements discussion elsewhere regarding consumer activism,
spaces, dating sites
and gripe sites.
People have been individually or collectively ranking
their peers since the beginning of recorded history.
Graffiti from ancient Rome and Egypt for example praises
some figures for their beauty and damns others for their
corruption or promiscuity, a precursor of scribbling on
toilet walls and seedier parts of the net. Enthusiasts
and entrepreneurs in Restoration England published collective
scores on the most beautiful women in London, the fastest
horse, and in an era of sermon-shopping, the most exciting
preacher or the cleric most likely to put you to sleep.
Hallie Rubenhold's The Covent Garden Ladies: Pimp
General Jack and the Extraordinary Story of Harris' List
(Stroud: Tempus 2005) describes Harris's List of Covent
Garden Ladies, published from 1757 to 1795.
That scoring - which sometimes featured the 'star' symbol
(one star good, five stars better) with which many people
are familiar - reflected the emergence of a statistical
consciousness, exploration of possibilities in publishing
and constants such as crowd behaviour.
The late-1990s saw emulation of online review sites, in
which audiences were encouraged to post a comment or click
a button to register endorsement or non-support of a reviewer's
assessment of a film, music recording, television show
or even theatrical performance. Those sites were hailed
as a vibrant demonstration of UGC
and as rescuing criticism from the cold dead hands (or
keyboards) of professional reviewers.
Their development was accompanied by the emergence of
gripe sites, online
fora established by consumer advocates or merely by cranks
as a way of expressing unhappiness with poor performance
on the part of businesses, government agencies and other
Those publishing mechanisms have provided a model for
the creation of what have variously been labelled as 'score',
'personal rating' or 'ranking' sites which allow members
of the public to -
a 'score' to an individual, including individuals with
whom the person has had no contact (eg rating the "hottest
babes" on the basis of photos copied from another
a comment on that individual
a score to or make a comment on a business organisation
or a professional.
published on some sites is available without restriction.
On other sites access involves membership of a 'community'
- something that may be as simple as providing the site
operator with a name and/or email address (neither of
which are necessarily real or verified) or be associated
with a commercial subscription.
Participation in such sites is often pseudonymous.
As a result score sites have attracted criticism as fora
which spiteful and even defamatory comments are made
about teachers, officials, peers and other figures
such comments can be seen by a global audience (and
may be accessible into the future because of caching
by search engines and
copying by online archives)
operators are commercialising misery and abetting online
dubious value as a consumer protection mechanism, because
praise or condemnation may be wholly false or merely
who is being rated?
Development of rating sites reflects perceptions of demand
and emulation, with developers being influenced by what
their peers are doing (or what is getting media coverage)
and what they think will secure traffic.
There have thus been sites that score -
and secondary schools and their teachers
and their academics
and law firms
medical practices and hospitals
auto electricians, carpenters and other trades
sales and insurance salespeople
or potential partners (eg "research & rate
who is doing the rating?
Who visits rating sites and what do they do?
Information about who visits such sites, what they do
(post or merely gawk), whether they re-visit (particularly
revisit on a frequent basis) and whether they are influenced
by what they encounter is sketchy.
Some sites are reported to have substantial traffic; ratemyteachers.com
for example was claimed to be receiving around 147,000
unique visitors per month as of early 2006. Others appear
to be securing little traffic overall.
Much traffic appears to be concentrated on particular
locations (eg teachers for a specific school or tradespeople
in a specific town). That is reflected in the shape of
ratings and postings, with some targets getting most of
the attention and others - for example in business sites
such as the US Angie's List remaining as templates without
a score for attributes such as 'quality', courtesy', 'timeliness'
Scale can be significant. As of late 2006 the UK ratemyteachers
site reportedly featured 454,000 "ratings" for
95,000 teachers at over 5,600 schools.
How do score sites make money?
One response is that some of them don't, with a failure
to generate traffic being reflected in an early demise.
Some sites have based their business model on subscriptions
(with consumers paying for access to the site or for a
'premium' access to information about local tradespeople
and professionals). That model is often supplemented by
revenue from advertising and essentially reflects traditional
offline publishing of directories such as the Michelin
Guide Bleu or Zagat restaurant guide.
It may also be supplemented by discount voucher or other
referral schemes involving payment to the site operator
by businesses that appear on the site and have gained
work through a positive rating.
Other sites appear to rely on two sources of revenue.
The first is advertising (fans and opponents of 'rate
my' sites often grizzle that they are overwhelmed by ads
throughout the site. Another source is sale of participant
information to third parties, eg for the delivery of spam.
That is one reason why such sites often ask for the user's
gender, age and email address (and why the savvier participants
offer a spoof age and a throwaway webmail
Site operators seek to exploit the economics of user
generated content (UGC), with low investment in staff
(some of the for-profit sites rely on volunteers) for
consistently monitoring offensive comments and responding
to reader complaints.
Rating sites, in particular those allowing anonymous assessment
and comment on K12 teachers, have proved to be controversial.
Controversy partly reflects community ambivalence about
pseudonymous criticism and gawking ("where players
get played and psychos get spayed") or disquiet about
"making money by providing kids with an electronic
lavatory wall". It also reflect disagreement about
legal issues, explored in the following page of this note.
Proponents have argued that sites such as playersandpsychos,
dontdatehimgirl and datingpsychos are a natural and valuable
complement to dating sites. That notion has been embraced
by site operators, one of which claims to offer
a searchable database that allows you to uncover anyone's
dating history and make sure they're not a player or
a psycho! Save yourself heartbreaks and headaches before
they happen by getting the scoop from ex's that found
out the hard way.
Already fallen victim to a cheater, liar, gold digger
or nutcase? Then save others from the same suffering
(And start your revenge!) by posting that crazy woman
or cheating man on playersandpsychos.com.
have responded that the 'psycho' might be the one doing
the posting, with enthusiasts assigning a digital scarlet
Site promoters typically claim
free websites let users post anonymous ratings and comments,
and see the public comments posted by others, in order
to make informed decisions. The site is also a useful
scorecard for business owners, who can find out what
their customers are really thinking!
in an expression of digital populism explain
are you and why do you have this site?
We are just common, ordinary people who believe that
the customers have a right to voice their opinions.
argue that ratings can be so unfounded as to be meaningless,
particularly on sites where pseudonymity encourages both
bad behaviour by opponents of a person/business and subversion
of the system with targets posting positive comments about
themselves in the guise of another party.
Teachers in Australia, Canada and the UK have called on
governments to ban the sites, arguing that they encourage
defamation and cyber-bullying.
Governments have typically responded by endorsing filtering
of the sites at the school level (ie schools block student
access on school networks) but have not sought to shutter
the sites altogether.
That caution has reflected claims that operators are immunised
from defamation or other action, as conduits rather than
authors. It has reflected expectations that individuals
rather than governments should take action if defamed
or threatened and that more broadly the sites lack sufficient
credibility to be taken seriously. It has also reflected
naive acceptance of assertions that offshore sites are
wholly beyond the reach of Australian litigants and governments.
Operators have sought to both sell the cake and eat it,
with one for example asking
the ratings statistically valid?
Not really. They are a listing of opinions and should
be judged as such. However, we often receive emails
stating that the ratings are uncannily accurate, especially
for businesses with over 100 ratings.
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