I'm writing a web page that will allow people to rate "objects". I was thinking of giving users the classical 5 star rating... but then I remembered the like/dislike approach and how YouTube changed from the 5 stars to the like/dislike method.

I'm going to show ratings anyhow because it is the very foundation of the site... but calculating the rating from the like/dislike approach is doable.

I'm wondering... Is there a reason for me wanting to go one or the other? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

  • I use both, found it useful for sorting and user features. Sometimes I have instead also implemented it as Rating | Favorite? | Hide Hide is sometimes Block or Flag. More often they are the normal Like and Dislike or thumbs up and down.
    – Garet Claborn
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:07
  • 4
    I think this question belongs on ui.stackexchange.com.
    – Jim G.
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:33
  • @Jim G. Probably. If you flag it for moderator attention you can get them to move it anywhere.
    – Matthew Scharley
    Mar 22, 2011 at 4:17

8 Answers 8


I prefer like/dislike as a user. This gives me three choices (not boolean, as Tieson T. suggests): Like - Dislike - Don't vote (neutral).

The third one could be made explicit. Perhaps through the use of smileys. I don̈́'t want to spend a long time pondering "Well, it could be a 3, but maybe it s close enough to 4.. hm...".

Users are lazy. The general trend will show through anyway. And that's what you want.

  • 1
    I like the 3-stars approach :)
    – PedroC88
    Mar 23, 2011 at 16:53
  • 6
    Don't vote = neutral? I'd just stick to don't vote = don't vote. "Neutral" makes it sound like you are assessing/interpreting it.
    – gef05
    Mar 23, 2011 at 17:42
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    I think 5 stars actually is ambiguous but like/dislike provides the user with less options. I think I'll go for a 3-tokens system. Thanks guys :).
    – PedroC88
    Mar 24, 2011 at 3:04

Google started enabling a vote system based on 1-5 rates for Videos on Youtube. They noticed people were using it as a mere Boolean switch: 1 or 5.

You may use a Star system, but expect rather unbalanced results where most of the feedback will come in the shape of 1(no) - 5(like). You may want to skip the experiment and rather design a simple 'yay/nay' approach.

Relevant Link

youtube comes to a 5 star realization its ratings are useless


Like/dislike systems are unambiguous. Either you generally like something, or you don't; you can't have both. With enough votes one way or the other, you can get a sense for just how much people generally like or dislike something.

Rating systems in general are ambiguous; my standards are likely different to yours, and to Bob's and his will likely be different again to Bill's. For instance, I know several people who will never give out a 5/5 because they believe philosophically it is impossible to score perfectly. Others I know will just hand out 1 or 3-4's on principle because it's easier than trying to rank properly

One thing you need to be careful about if you do go down the like/dislike route and then want to generate ratings based on those votes is that you don't start generating them too soon. Basing a rating off say 5 votes means that the 6th vote carries a lot of weight and could potentially shift the object 1-2 stars on its own depending on the layout of the barriers.

For instance, you have 5 votes. Your breakdown is say:

5 stars: >= 90% likes
4 stars: >= 75% likes
3 stars: >= 60% likes
2 stars: >= 45% likes
1 stars: >= 30% likes
0 stars: < 30% likes

At this point, an extra 1 like or dislike would shift it an entire star rating (1/6 = 17%)

  • I am aware of the issue and I personally like the 5-starts precisely because of that... because people can be more precise about the actual score they wanna give... but it seems as if people rather like/dislike than score something.
    – PedroC88
    Mar 22, 2011 at 2:59
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    @PedroC88 A star rating system is ambiguous. Like/dislike is the opposite. Either you generally like something, or you don't. Rating something as 5 stars is ambiguous; my standards are likely different to yours, and to Bob's and his will likely be different again to Bill's.
    – Matthew Scharley
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:04
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    For instance, I know several people who will never give out a 5/5 because they believe philosophically it is impossible to score perfectly. Others I know will just hand out 1 or 3-4's on principle because it's easier than trying to rank properly.
    – Matthew Scharley
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:06
  • Point taken there :)
    – PedroC88
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:49
  • @PedroC88 whatever they tell you, people are a lazy bunch ;)
    – Matthew Scharley
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:58

It may depend on what kind of data you want access to at a later date. Like/dislike is a pure boolean value; they either like or dislike, and those are the only two values you can store.

Now if you allow a star rating system, you can store the number of "votes" of each value for that item, so that, say a year or so down the line, you can do a bit more data-mining on your data. For instance, you could have two different items with the same average score, but when looking at the data, you see that the first item has a very polarized voting grouping (they either love it or hate it, so to speak), whereas item two follows a normal bell curve.


  • THAT is exactly my concern... the data mining I can get on the like/dislike approach. I know that users would find like/dislike easier.. but I can get way much more statistical info off of stars.
    – PedroC88
    Mar 23, 2011 at 16:54
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    Though, the YouTube experience indicates that people will use the system as binary (no stars vs 5 stars) anyway, so there'll be nothing to mine.
    – Bevan
    Mar 23, 2011 at 20:00

Starring usually is very unclear. Not only as @waldito said because mainly 1 and 5 will be used.

Also because, theoretical, there is no 'dislike' in this system. 1 star could be interpreted as recommended-a-little-bit or as a dislike.

Further, like/dislike is at the same time a "pass this on to my friends". Probably because Facebook started using it like this. You rate the object and you recommend it to your friends via your wall. Were as rating (through the users eyes) doesn't go on their 'wall', or whatever way there is for users to recommend it to their peers. Of course this is not strictly linked to each other. Also when starring an object the site could use that to let it be recommended to others. But it is not often done, not clear to the users, and hard to use the 1-5 measurement in that.

  • In my site there won't be such thing as a "wall". I am not building a social site... I'm building a site around such objects and they are the only thing that matters. People will come to get info on the objects and the rating is just another info about them except that it comes directly from the user. What if I were to specify (right there in the ratings controller) what would each star mean?
    – PedroC88
    Mar 23, 2011 at 16:51
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    @PedroC88 - providing definitions for each star might be useful, but you're assuming your users will read the definitions. Personally, I think this is unlikely as users tend not to read anything they can get away with skipping.
    – Bevan
    Mar 23, 2011 at 20:02

The difference is subtle, yet very important.

  • about the 5 star rating - the user will associate it with quality. If I see an object rated with 5 stars, I will think that it has a very good quality.

  • about the like/dislike rating - the user will associate it with preference. If I see an object that received some "likes", I will think that some people prefer it, without associate it necessarily with the idea of quality, though my peers' appreciation is also a very powerful tool to build trust.

The choice depends on what you want to transmit.


There's a passionate discussion about this topic on Quora:

Is there a better alternative to the 5-star rating system?


Everyone here seems to be against the star rating methods, but it think it actually depends on the app you're creating.

For instance if it's a blog or social app, I'll go with the traditional like/dislike approach that way people quickly make a decision and move to the next post.

If it really an eCommerce where you download or sell products like music, books, applications or so, where you're really after the review, I think in all sense the star rating method will do, you can imagine if play store was just about like/dislike it won't really show the full picture compared to star rating method

If you're confused about which method to use, I'll advice you go for like/dislike approach

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