This week I finished a book that made me reconsider my ratings for other books. It was that good. As I rated my book on, I noticed a shortcoming in rating systems: I can’t redefine my definition of best.

Exploring the problem

Let’s take Goodreads as an example: it uses the well know 5-star rating system:

The Goodreads rating system.

It’s a basic system where you can give your book a rating varying from one to five stars (other rating systems also allow half or even the exotic quarter stars).

The problem arises when I read a new book that’s better than anything I’ve read before, a book that redefines my previous ratings, a book that changes my perspective. The only way to change this right now is to manually edit all my reviews and downscale of them to 4 stars. Even though I only have 19 books in my list currently, there must be a solution.

The ‘never use 5 stars’ solution

It’s possible to solve it yourself. I’ll give an example: I have a friend who never rates anything 5 stars on Untappd (a beer tracking and rating app). He does so for one simple reason:

What if there’s a beer out there that I like more? I’ll be unable to rate it properly.

The problem, as he mentioned himself, is that he never actually uses the 5-star option, because he thinks there’s always something better out there.

A better solution

My solution would be to add a redefining 6-star option. This option would allow a user to rate a very good book, a book that redefines what the user calls ‘the best book ever’, as the new benchmark with a 6-star rating. Selecting this 6-star option would downgrade all previous ratings by one star (the 6-star becomes the 5-star, the 5-star the 4-star, and so one). Why are there no rating systems like this?

Possible issues with my solution

I know there are problems with my idea. The main one is downscaling all previous ratings. You can do it the easy way and downgrade everything with one star, but you’ll get a problem with your 0-star ratings. They can’t turn into -1. If you have a rating system that supports halves and quarters, you might consider downgrading everything with 16 of its current value and rounding the new values off to the nearest quarter.

But whatever problem arises, it’s solvable. And in the end, I think a 6-star option would make for a better user experience.