This falls into the "Don't trust technology when something is more important to you than to the computer" file.
I happened to wander over to Goodreads today -- a website I've never quite figured out, other than it seems to be for people to discuss books in genres they have similar tastes in, or something like that. Opening up on my own homepage, a graphic of my books appears there, along with their user rating. I noted that The WIld Roses had four ratings and was at 3.75. I was pleased to see it had four reviews there now (paltry though that is), but a bit surprised that its average had dropped, so I took a closer look.
There were four ratings. Two of 5-star. One of 4-star. And one that was 3-star. Well, that was okay, at least, I was wary of having gotten one of those dreaded 1-star "This book sucks eggs and is the worst thing ever written" reviews. (There's one of those on Amazon. I didn't read the whole thing, but it had something to do with being "repetitive." Whatever. That hardly strikes me as 1-star territory, but to each their own. Happily, it has a 4.6 rating overall. But I digress...)
Looking at the Goodreads page, though, something got me scratching my head. I noticed that the numbers didn't add up -- literally. If you add all the ratings (5+5+4+3 equal 17) and divide by the four ratings, that doesn't come to 3.75. It works out to 4.25.
I sent a note to Goodreads, and to their credit, their answered right away and fixed things. Here's the note I got.
Very nice, very thoughtful, very cheery. And she fixed the problem. And fast. So, good on them. Except -- what she said doesn't make sense. Not that it doesn't make sense technically, in terms of caching, but in basic math. I wrote her back -- not to make a case of it (after all, the problem was resolved), but to let Goodreads know that they might want to have their tech team look at, in case there actually is a problem.
Thanks very much, I appreciate it.
Just know, however, that I think there might be a tech glitch on Goodreads that has nothing to do with a backlogged cache.
With two books rated 5-stars, one at 4-stars, and one at 3-stars, there’s no combination of numbers that mathematically can get a 3.75 rating.
Here’s what I mean:
If you just took the lowest two (the 3 and 4 star ratings), that would get a 3.5 average.
If you took the lowest three – a 3, 4 and 5 star rating – that would be a 4.0 average.
(If you took the highest three, it would be 4.67.)
With all four ratings, it’s 4.25.
So, there’s no way I can see that it could ever have a 3.75 rating. That suggests that there’s some oddity on the tech end. Unless I’m missing something completely.
Anyway, I just wanted to mention this. And thanks for following up and so quickly.
My new friend Meghan wrote back to say that it was simply of not having counted the most recent ratings. I replied -- saying I was appreciative of her help, and I wouldn't keep noodging after this -- but I suspected that I wasn't clear. I reiterated my point about the actual numbers simply not adding up, regardless of when they were cached or counted. She got it this time, and said she'd pass it along to the tech team.
To be clear, this wasn't a case of noodging, or being anal. The ratings for books are critically important for authors, most especially if you're on the low end of the totem pole, and if the numbers are in fact wrong, it can be problematic, for many reasons. (Not just the obvious reasons. But there are advertising sites that won't accept your book unless it meets a certain rating threshold.) If there is some glitch, it can be a real issue for authors, who just assume that math done by a computer must be correct.
But after writing about technology for almost 20 years -- and living with computers longer -- computers do glitch. And wrong data can be entered. So, just saying that "The computer says" is not always an answer.
Computers glitch. So do humans. Hey, I could be screwing up big time here, foolishly. But looking over the numbers, I don't see that being the case. And sometimes, it turns out to be a good thing to double-check...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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