I, Probert

Former GeekPlanetOnline Site Editor Dave Probert is a man with an ear to the ground of the geek community. When that ground starts to rumble, our man in East Sussex has something to say...!


The internet wants your opinion on absolutely everything. Modern news wants to know what you think on the latest stories. Online stores want to know what you think of your purchases and social networking sites want to know what you think of what people think.

With so much opinion floating around it's hard to get your opinion noticed. A lot of people have decided that the best way to get noticed is to have an extreme opinion, be it positive or negative. You only have to look at online star ratings to see this. Products on the App Store or Android Market are either rated FIVE STARS (Paul Ross) or one star. Every product is either the greatest thing ever created or irredeemably shit.

It makes things particularly frustrating when trying to discuss the relative merits of something online. The lovers and haters go toe to toe and anyone expressing a moderate opinion is ignored. No one wants to engage with someone who is expressing a moderate, considered and thought-out opinion. That's no fun.

Instead you get pages of people who have long since stopped discussing the initial subject, but instead are taking each other's opinions and their ways of expressing them to pieces. I have been sucked into this trap myself in the past. Many of my initial engagements in the world of internet forums fitted this pattern. After a while though, I started to recognise how fruitless that enterprise was and I have long since moderated my contribution to such discussions.

The thing is that not everything falls into the categories of AWESOME or shit. Most things actually fall somewhere in-between the two, but the increasingly binary nature of online opinion leads to the merely above average becoming over-hyped and the slightly below average being unjustly pilloried.

These days there is a trend for describing something that fails to elicit a strong opinion either way as being “Meh”, which can be a fitting description of some things but I think it is in danger of being overused.

Whatever happened to things just being OK? I acknowledge that I am generalising here, but there seems to be a reluctance to declare something as OK or just fine. There are so many things for which that is an accurate description. OK is a success in my book. To be worth five stars, something has to be truly exceptional and that is a rare and wonderful thing. When something achieves that height of excellence it's right that it should be celebrated. Being good but not exceptional isn't a failure. The exceptional is in a class of its own, it's lightning in a bottle. When everything that is a satisfying experience gets described as exceptional, it damns the things that truly are with faint praise.

Equally things that are truly terrible should be named and shamed, but there is a difference between a true stinker and something which doesn't quite make the grade. The internet does love to kick something when it's down and it's easy to be swept along with the negative fervour.

I have seen this expectation of top marks just for being acceptable lead to toys being launched from prams. I have seen podcasters whose shows have been given three stars openly attack reviewers and entire publications for daring to suggest they are merely quite good rather than the greatest thing in the history of everything ever. I would happily accept a three star review of anything I have done, which I know will probably lead to some ironic use of GeekPlanet's own rating system. Would I like to be considered a five star columnist? Of course I would, but I know that kind of praise has to be earned through the quality of my work. If someone feels that something I have done is indeed worthy of a high rating then great, but I don't expect everything I do to be hailed as awesome. That would be ridiculous, self-deluding and egotistical.

Of course all opinion is subjective and I'm not saying that if you were blown away by something that I thought was OK that you are wrong. It just seems that being OK is now considered the same as being bad and I think that is unfair. OK is necessary in order to identify the exceptional and the bad. OK is important. I guess what I'm saying is in the great scheme of things it's OK to be OK. In fact it's just fine.