Don’t Throw Out “Maybe” Yet!

Don’t Throw Out Maybe Yet!

Jeffrey Zeldman’s post “Maybe” is one option too many caught my eye this afternoon. I completely agree with him that “maybe” is a pain in the neck. From my vantage point, yes/no (or like/dislike) are the only user inputs that really matter.

But…

Most of you will notice that BeerRiot has a third option – “shrug”. It wasn’t always this way. The first versions of BeerRiot had no middle ground – you liked a beer, or you disliked it. I was staunch in my position, callously telling people that they should make up their mind.

It wasn’t until over half of the first twenty people to which I showed BeerRiot asked, “Where’s ‘meh’?” that I started to change my thinking. I started to realize that being forced to make a black/white decision was making people uneasy. They really wanted the comfort of being able to postpone making their choice.

The decision was pretty easy at that point. I wanted people to stay around my site. Therefore, it seemed a good idea to make them comfortable. Shrug was born.

In the time since introducing shrug, I’ve found it to be more than just indecision. It’s a way to acknowledge the existence of a thing, without passing judgement. For beer voting, it lets me know that although I have no strong feelings about a beer, I have tried it (something I have trouble remembering with the wide variety available). I can see it working similarly for party invites: it lets the organizer know that even though I don’t know my schedule, I have, in fact, received the invitation.

Here’s another way to think about it. Suppose there is no “maybe” option. You must either accept or decline the invitation. So, what are people who don’t respond? Are they not “maybe”? Maybe you’re a pessimistic person: you consider non-responders “no”. Okay, then, if all non-responders are “no”, then why even have a “no” option? Why not just have “yes”? A unary system – respond “yes”, or you don’t exist.

For BeerRiot, at least, that would seriously cut my dataset. I think the same would be true for party invites. You couldn’t even tell what kind of buffer you might want to plan for – all you would know is the number of people who are definitely coming. Or in BeerRiot’s case, I couldn’t tell if a beer is controversial – I’d only know the number of people who like it.

So, I say don’t throw maybe out yet. It’s more than just indecision. It’s user comfort and metadata all rolled into one.

I’ll leave you with this, though: I don’t see the point in more than three choices. “Kind-of-like” and “Sort-of-dislike” are even less data than maybe to me. At least with “maybe” I can tell the voter is unsure. With “maybe-like”, I can’t tell if she’s unsure or genuinely less positive about this beer than others.

P.S. I love Bill W.’s comment about rating other people’s ratings. It’s exactly the kind of problem that BeerRiot tries to solve.

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4 comments so far

  1. Tyler Prete on

    A good point. At least shows people are reacting to your question or poll. Non-responses are even more confusing, because there really is no reliable way to infer anything from them.
    That said, I think it depends on what is being asked. For going to dinner or a movie, I think yes/no is preferable. For beer ratings, a “shrug” option does seem to work well.

  2. Top Posts « WordPress.com on

    [...] Don’t Throw Out “Maybe” Yet! Don’t Throw Out Maybe Yet! Jeffrey Zeldman’s post “Maybe” is one option too many caught my eye […] [...]

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  4. [...] those interested, here is my reasoning for keeping the ‘neutral’ vote around, in opposition to John Gruber’s [...]


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