DID YOU READ

Our current star rating systems might deserve zero stars

Our current star rating systems might deserve zero stars (photo)

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Those five star ratings systems on websites like Netflix and iTunes have turned us all into a nation of critics (sucks for me, I used to feel special). But is a five star ratings system really the best way to determine whether something is good or not? According to a couple of researchers from MIT, maybe not.

As spotted by the tech site GigaOM, a new paper by Devavrat Shah of MIT’s Laboratory of Information and Decisions Systems argues that online ratings systems “should instead ask users to compare products in pairs, not as stand-alone items.” In other words:

“…the kind of star rating systems that are the status quo on the web today are flawed because, well, humans are flawed. ‘If my mood is bad today, I might give four stars, but tomorrow I’d give five stars. But if you ask me to compare two movies, most likely I will remain true to that for a while,’ Shah says in an article published this week on MIT’s news site. ‘Your three stars might be my five stars, or vice versa. For that reason, I strongly believe that comparison is the right way to capture this.'”

Shah and his team believe that these “pairwise rankings” create a more accurate recommendation model than the five stars (they boast that their algorithm “accurately predict shoppers’ preferences with 20 percent greater accuracy than the kinds of formulas most often in use today”). In other other words, assigning a score to a single movie is a less reliable method of ranking films or television shows than selecting a preference between multiple films or television shows.

This is all tremendously nerdy stuff, so nerdy it’s giving my pocket protector sympathy pains. But it is pretty important, too. Any time you pay any attention to the star ratings on a website before you rent a movie on VOD, or purchase an album, or decide to make a reservation at a restaurant, you are validating those star ratings. And if they’re inaccurate, imagine the impact those inaccuracies have on your choices. If customers are being swayed by what those stars tell them, those stars damn well better be accurate.

Granted, I didn’t go to MIT and I can’t even spell algorithm much less make one of my own. I’m sure their research is sound and well thought-out. But my question would be this: how do they ensure people take pairwise rankings any more seriously than they do five star rankings? If web users, secure in their Internet anonymity, will give a movie one star just because they had a bad burrito for lunch, who’s to say they won’t react similarly when offered the choice of deciding between “Star Wars” and “Battlefield Earth?” How do we know they won’t use that same anarchic impulse to screw with those recommendations too? I’m not sure we do, but maybe there’s some sort of behavioral study that says that they won’t.

The other problem with comparative rankings is something I’ve found through my own casual use of the website Flickchart, where you repeatedly rank pairs of movies in order to create a list of your favorite movies. The site’s a lot of fun to play with, but the comparisons it proposes are often totally absurd. Comparing a thing you love to a thing you hate is easy: when Flickchart throws up “Almost Famous” and “Bad Boys 2” it’s not too hard to pick a winner. But comparing between things you love can very, very tricky.

If Flickchart gave you the comparison of movies above — “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown” — you’d have something to choose between. They’re both neo-noirs set in Los Angeles, they have similar tones and themes and ideas. It’s a hard pick, because they’re both phenomenal movies, but there are obvious commonalities. But if Flickchart asks you to compare between, “L.A. Confidential” and, say, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” which do you select? Personally, I’m more likely to watch “L.A. Confidential” if given the choice between the two, but can I really argue “L.A. Confidential” is a “better” movie than “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?” “Snow White” is a watershed film in the history of cinema. “L.A. Confidential” is just a very well-acted and well-written crime story. So which one do I pick? And not only which one do I pick, but which one do other people pick? Some might choose according to their taste, some by a quasiobjective system of importance or cultural impact. The room for variation seems almost as large as with five star ratings.

I agree that five star ratings can be very flawed; there’s too much room for human error and not enough nuance. And I’m curious to hear and see more of this pairwise ranking in action. But if you gave me a pairwise ranking of these two options right now, I’m not sure what I would pick.

Your turn for some pairwise rankings: do you like five star ratings or comparative rankings? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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