Thumbs vs. Stars

I’ve been into digital music for a long time.

Back in the days before Napster, I remember getting songs from shifty FTP sites and spending a week ripping my CDs to my computer. I’ve also listened to a lot of streaming music, starting when one of the earliest versions of Windows Media Player featured a directory of radio stations with online feeds.

From the early days, my player of choice was WinAmp. I still use it to listen to my music on my computer and phone. Lately, though, I’ve been branching out- to Google Music (to store my music elsewhere and to buy new music) and services like Spotify and Pandora (to discover new music, or to listen to something I may not own). Each service/player has its own peculiarities, but there’s one thing the three streaming programs have in common that sets them apart from WinAmp how users rate songs.

Years back, WinAmp added a feature allowing users to give star ratings to songs. You give five stars to the songs you really like, zero to the ones you hate. Works great, especially if you have a large collection.

Spotify and Pandora opt for the simple thumbs up, thumbs down approach. For the most part, it makes sense if you’re adding new music to a playlist. Give a song or artist enough thumbs down and you’ll never hear it again. But for songs that are already on the playlist, it’s useless. Google Music also uses this approach, which doesn’t make sense. With Google Music, you’re listening to songs you already own. Why would you give a bunch of songs you own (for non-ironic purposes) thumbs down?

I’d much rather (for songs I’ve already said I wanted to listen to) rate a song with the more specific system. If I give a bunch of songs a thumbs up, that means I like them. But I don’t like them all equally.

If I had it my way, every way I listen to music would allow me to rate songs on a 1-100 scale. But that’s why I don’t write software.

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