Facebook is apparently testing displaying star ratings, our of a possible five in total, on Pages on the desktop version of its site, according to a reliable tip received by TechCrunch this morning. Screenshots and live testing show that Facebook has turned on the star rating display for at least a small subsection of users, providing information to network users that goes beyond the somewhat sentiment-deprived basic Like.
Using a star system for place and page ratings isn't entirely new; Facebook has been collecting star ratings from users on the desktop and via local search for quite a while now, and also seeking star ratings on content and apps via Timeline. What is new is making this information explicitly displayed on the social network itself, in a prominent place on a business or place Page.
This shift, if it moves from the testing phase to general adoption, has a couple major implications for Facebook users. First, for general members, it provides an increased degree of sentiment information surrounding places and content that goes well beyond the simple off/on attribute of the Like. The Like is actually fraught with ambiguity – users employ it variously to express sympathy, solidarity, endorsement, a sign of interest or even in some cases a feeling of dislike. The number of Likes something has indicates how present it is in public consciousness, but not necessarily how people generally feel about it.
Comments provide some sense of sentiment around a Page, but the five-star system threads the needle between ease-of-use, information and digestibility, compared to both the Like and text comments. And as Facebook moves to become a platform geared towards providing public information, as well as real-time interactivity around media like TV, offering more granularity around how its users feel about people, places and things makes a lot of sense.
For businesses, it's not clear yet whether displaying this rating will be optional or mandatory, but if Facebook is making a play to compete with the Yelps, Foursquares and Angie's Lists of the world when it comes to local discovery and service recommendations, it would make sense that they are required by default. That could mean a considerable shift in how businesses use FB, with more emphasis placed on customer service versus just maintaining a presence on the network. Likes are easy, after all, but getting users to fill up that star bar will require a lot more effort and interaction.
We've reached out to Facebook to learn more about this feature, the extent of the test and whether a wider rollout is planned, and we'll update when we receive more information.
Thanks to FB user Om Agarwal for the tip.