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An Architect's View

Maybe you should decide?

June 20, 2007 ·

Jeffrey Zeldman suggests that "maybe" is not an appropriate choice and should not be offered to users. As someone building a social networking website, I know what he means and, whilst "maybe" was part of our earlier design, when we launch, you will only be able to say "yes" or "no" to an event. Zeldman says:
How can you know what "maybe" means? In the context of a web service, you can't.
He also rails against five-star ratings since those have an implicit "maybe" (three stars) that tells you very little. Thoughts?

Tags: programming · scazu

13 responses

  • 1 Brian Rinaldi // Jun 20, 2007 at 5:12 PM

    I agree. Maybe is generally an implied no anyway used by noncommittal folks IMO. Also agree on the 3 stars in general, though I like Netflix solution whereby you are free to choose no opinion.
  • 2 Mark // Jun 20, 2007 at 6:48 PM

  • 3 Joe // Jun 20, 2007 at 9:01 PM

    It can be tempting to try and force your users to make a yes/no decision, but if you don't give them the easy-out/maybe/don't-know kind of answer that they're looking for then aren't you corrupting your results?
  • 4 Andy J // Jun 21, 2007 at 12:19 AM

    Surely any system past 2 options is flawed. You either like something (or will do something etc) or you won't. If you're unsure the answer is most likely going to be No anyway? Also mentioned in Zeldman comments with four stars[whatever] available the third becomes the de-facto "undecided option". If you are really that unsure then don't answer the question at all.
  • 5 Nathan D // Jun 21, 2007 at 12:25 AM

    His argument seems silly as an absolute. Like any measurement, the relevant scale is highly contextual. Being "neutral" is often a desirable option when rating something, but in other contexts you want people to pick a leaning. If you have an RSVP it might be frustrating to have people pick "maybe" -- but that's often better than having them simply not answer because they aren't yet sure. Perhaps you can just make the "maybe" choice optional for the person creating the event?
  • 6 Jeremy French // Jun 21, 2007 at 4:31 AM

    The concept has validity, but only from a certain perspective. If, like the example he used, you need hard data, and soft data will cause you problems, then yes, obviously, you should not allow soft data to enter your system.

    On the other hand, if you're less worried about the data collected, and more concerned with the user experience (like say, a poll on a social networking site), perhaps giving your users "someplace to hide" is a good thing. If I'm asked to rate something, and I'm truly ambivalent about it, I don't feel comfortable giving it 2 stars out of 4, nor 3 out of 4. I feel like I'm lying a little bit, thereby skewing the data. That discomfort is a very small part of my day, obviuosly, but when you're talking in terms of a web-based user experience, that small amount of discomfort might be the tipping point between a one-time visitor and a returning customer.
  • 7 tony of the weeg clan // Jun 21, 2007 at 5:06 AM

    im not sure i agree :) maybe i do, but im not sure.

    its almost like there needs to be an "im interested, but i still have to think about it" setting then.

    since maybe is truly a position on something. i use maybe when i want to express an interest in something, but i cannot commit. i want the person to know that i acknowledge what they are doing/saying, but i dont have enough facts to FULLY decide what side of the fence im on...

    :) tw
  • 8 Sammy Larbi // Jun 21, 2007 at 6:02 AM

    He had me convinced by the end... and I previously liked the option of "maybe"
  • 9 Ouz Demirkap1 // Jun 21, 2007 at 6:09 AM

    When I hear "may be", I feel like there is a need to clarify what is requested. This is an "on hold" situation and needs more information to be able to "decide".

    If you have a "may be", try to supply more details to help the decision and force to decide.

    In business perspective I have this problem where I work now. I say always that we must be satisfied before delivering the client side. But unfortunately in real world, time and budget is the main key. On the other hand satisfaction is a subjective thema and the main question is "who decide". :)

  • 10 Peter Ladage // Jun 21, 2007 at 6:42 AM

    So, instead of 5-stars, or any odd-number of stars which will have a median value, do you suggest only an even number of stars, thereby forcing the user to lean towards one end or the other of the rating system? 2 stars would be pretty black-and-white. 4 stars would be a little more lenient.
  • 11 rob // Jun 21, 2007 at 8:20 AM

    That is an interesting point, but from my experience the world is not so cut and dry. Few people (aside from geeks) like binary choices. It's pretty rigid. Some people actually feel indifferent or really do mean maybe.

    If I was offered the chose yes / no and that's all (in some situations) I just wouldn't answer.

    With an event, some people don't know till the last minute if they can go - I'd rather know that 50 people are going to show up and another 10 might - as opposed to thinking 60 will show up "for sure" or all 60 might possibly show up.

    I guess it depends on if you find gathering information / people participating more important than "good" aggregated data (which could be argued that more data even if just the middle is still more data - welcome to the bell curve.)
  • 12 Eric // Jun 21, 2007 at 2:41 PM

    I can see the justification for Yes/No on an invitation, especially when you don't have a plan to support "maybe", but the four-stars bit is just trying to manufacture opinion.

    The reason people pick 3 our of 5 stars when reviewing something is that they didn't <i>have</i> a strong impression either way. Sure, the numbers get more exciting if you force people to arbitrarily choose 2/4 or 3/4 when they don't really think something is notably good or bad, but it's just a matter of adding noise to the signal. People familiar with such a system will learn to disregard 2/4 and 3/4 as anything more than a very fat 3/5.
  • 13 Luke Kilpatrick // Jun 22, 2007 at 7:03 AM

    I think for a Social networking in relation to an event is a valid option. When it comes to social events some people are afraid of commitment and therefore maybe is an excellent option. It still allows you to gauge how many people will show but also allows the commitaphobe a way out for not showing up. With the busy lives of so many people maybe might be the only option.