Reviews and feedback: what’s useful and what’s not.

For a lot of content creators using the Marketplace, the review feature is both a blessing and a curse. We can hear valuable feedback and learn which product features people are using, and which they appear indifferent to. We can also end up bombed with 1-star ratings by customers who don’t offer useful feedback, who hold a grudge, or are, quite simply, a jerk.

It always sucks getting a 1-star rating for your hard work. Most Second Life creators and designers aren’t a large company like the book publishers on Amazon… we’re people who put a lot of love, time, and craft into our products. It’s hard to not take it personally when something is rated badly. On the current Marketplace implementation, there’s an awful lot of 1-stars out there, most of which are utterly useless feedback.

The most useless and common 1-star review ever.

“I bought this item and never received it!” – this review is very common, and speaks loads about the fundamental issues with using a Magic Box based system (I cannot wait until this gets scrapped by Linden Lab!) Now the product has a 1-star rating because the Marketplace failed a transaction – not the creator’s fault, and this feedback actually has nothing to do with the product at all!

1-star rating a free item? WTF?

I felt sad when someone rated a freebie of mine 1-star, with a note that it’s poor quality. I don’t think anything I’ve made is poor quality at all; when it comes to tattoo-layer makeup, I consider my products to be (as long as they fit the contours of the skin they’re on) about as good as you’re going to find. It’s useless feedback because it’s not clear what they found to be poor quality. I could speculate that they simply hate the hand-drawn aesthetic and don’t consider beauty items good unless they contain some Google-imaged celebrity photo badly slapped on, or that the makeup didn’t fit the skin they were wearing beneath (which I clearly state in the item description… they’re made for my skin bases and results vary!) or the item didn’t rez for them, in the way that multiple layers sometimes don’t! Maybe they have different taste from me. Regardless, said item is a freebie, after all.

How to write a balanced review

What’s a useful review, then, if a blanket statement about poor quality is not useful? A good review offers a balanced criticism with both good and bad points. A good way to offer constructive criticism that doesn’t bruise egos (I learned this in art school) is the positive-negative-positive method. You begin by saying what you like about a design, art piece, product, whatever. Then you list your negatives… to make this useful feedback, they should not be matters of personal taste, but rather how you would improve the item. Then you wrap the review up on a positive note… say something you like again. The creator is far more likely to listen to feedback when it seems balanced and fair. To list only negatives puts people on the defensive and they’re more likely to dismiss your advice!

What the stars (should) mean

Consider the stars in your review rating. This is how I interpret the star system, whether I’m rating a restaurant or a Second Life product or something off Amazon: Three stars means the item was as expected, but didn’t exceed your needs or expectations. A three-star rating would mean you bought something, but probably won’t use it on a regular basis and don’t really like it much, but it doesn’t necessarily have any bad points. A two-star rating, on the other hand, is for items that failed to meet expectations. Perhaps it doesn’t match the picture. Perhaps there’s pieces missing. Perhaps the item was less quality than expected, but the price was higher than competitors. I don’t know of any circumstance where a 1-star rating is actually useful, unless you opened the box and there wasn’t a damn thing inside and the creator told you to go stick your head up a giraffe when you pointed this out to them.

Four stars, then, could be for items which were even better than expected. Market leaders with high quality products at affordable prices deserve four stars. You’d give a four-star rating to an item that’s nearly perfect. Maybe it just lacks a useful feature (a resize script, different permission options, different animation priority, etc) to make it a five-star item.

I’m generous with my five-stars because I often buy from creators whose work I already enjoy (I tend to regularly shop at the same stores.) Five stars means the item is perfect and you can’t think of a way to make it better. These are the best of the best; they offer a product that meets and exceeds your expectations that you’ll use often.

How to offer useful feedback or reviews

Content creators will read your Marketplace review and listen to your feedback, but you have to make it useful for them. Back up your opinions with suggestions: “I can’t figure out how to get this to work!” is useless feedback because, for all the content creator knows, you could simply be a useless git. “I can’t figure out how to get this to work because your instructions are missing a section” is useful and something we can correct – chances are, it’s an oversight we’d never know about otherwise! If the item’s not perfect, tell us why. If a skin has a seam, tell us! If an item is missing a piece in the box (which is easy to do when you’re trying to box up ten colour variations on an item!) tell us!

I’ve been trying to review everything I buy on the Marketplace, to lead by example. I encourage others to offer their useful feedback to make things better for both consumers and content creators. A quick look at Marketplace reviews show this feature is currently mis-used, which is a lost opportunity to connect those of us who love shopping with those of us who make things to buy.