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Questions about the 7 Sponge Standard of Quality

Q: Why is there a Seven-Sponge Rating System? That's a strange number to pick!
A:Like most things in life, the answer to this is complicated. Basically three minions debated this point and came up with the system. Here is their discussion. It started when Tracers decided to revise her review of Matt Suggs after listening to the album more.

Tracers: Hey Postlibyan, knock that review down to 3.5 stars.

PostLibyan: I was reading this article on McSweeney's about rating systems. The person in the article was debating the merits of various systems. He did not want to rate a book 3 and a half stars. I think he's right. we need absolute values here. Either it's a 3 or a 4.

Tracers: I'm not sure about that -- 3 is mediocre; 4 is good. What about something that's not really good per se, but is not "an average album"? I like the half rating because it indicates gradiation.

PostLibyan: If it's not "good" then why isn't it average? Look, if we really want to be wishy and washy, then we can start putting decimal points, and well, we can rate an album "2.999999" sponges. But that's ridiculous! Think about it, most people who look at the review want to know really quickly where it falls -- is it bad, average, good, or excellent. For details they read the review. So you can either round up and then qualify in the review, or you can round down and explain why it might be good for certain people in the review.

Tracers: Okay then, but I still like the half rating because it indicates gradiation.

PostLibyan: Using only whole sponges you have a gradation, and granted it is a "block gradation" but there it is. The minor, subtle points about an album are best communicated in an elaborate description as opposed to in a numbering schema. Malimus, we appear to have an impasse. Any opinions?

Malimus: Hrrrmmmmmm. If we all can accept the final statement from above, namely that there are four different kinds of releases/things in the world (bad, average, good, and excellent), then i think we can come up with a reasonable solution. PostLibyan is a proponent of the non-fractional grading system while TJWalden wants some gradiant variation in the scale. Both of these functions can be maintained with a single, 7-sponge rating system. 1 sponge = bad, 3 sponges = average, 5 sponges = good and 7 sponges = excellent. For those in-betweeners you have the 2, 4, or 6 ratings. This accomplishes the complexity of a Matt Suggs-ish release which might be better than merely average (3 sponges) but not quite good (5 sponges). But we don't have to worry with a half-sponge icon nor do we have any fractional in our grading system. Expanding the range from 5 to 7 gives an extra layer of complexity, which, if we're really about honest and truthful criticism of cultural artifacts, is probably a good thing. Granted, most everyone else uses some variation of the 5-star system, but we don't really have to do that. Going to 10 sponges would merely rename the half-sponge increments as whole integers, and i think that's too many sponges to be dealing with in a single review. I like the oddness of the 7-sponge system, myself. Or perhaps a 6-sponge system with 1-3-5 being badd-average-good (2-4 serve as the intermediary ratings) and with 6 sponges being reserved solely and completely for releases that, six months after they've lost their "newness" still floor the listener/viewer.

Tracers: This I can live with. I just don't like the fact that I have 2 ratings, then average, then good, then excellent. I like to be able to nuance the fact that it's possible to try something which makes it inherently different but not end up with something good. And I've decided I like 7 -- just cause it's weird. Or is that odd? Of course it means we have to re-do our existing reviews, but I can live with that as well.

PostLibyan: Malimus, i think that you are missing my point here. Basically, when you get down to it someone reading a review wants to know, "Yes, EvilSponge tells me i SHOULD spend my money on this" or "No, EvilSponge warns me against wasting my cash on this tripe." Really, the only distinction we need is a purely binary one.

Malimus: (tsk, tsk) And thus we arrive at the root of the problem: PostLibyan's inherit desire to write the world as a dichtomy of 1 or 0, rather than embrace the natural complexity of base reality and it's variant dialogic nature.

PostLibyan: But Malimus, at the end, a review is binary in a very real sense. Should you purchase or not? There is no "purchase 3 out of 5 of the album", it's all or nothing....

Tracers: But everything isn't black and white. People only have a finite amount of money. I recognize your point, but respectfully disagree -- by making things so simplistic you are in essence saying a=good, b=throw it in a blender. That's a nice way to look at the world, perhaps, but I prefer to see my choices as which one should I throw in a blender first? The apple, the orange, or the grapefruit?

PostLibyan: Yes, but no amount of sponge's are going to correctly convey the whole subtlety of "if you are a lonely, 30-year old Cocteau Twins fan with a guitar, cats, and a beer habit, then you will LOVE this CD; but for everyone else it is skeet". (BTW, i estimate that we would need a 43 Sponge system to accurately display this kind of nuance.)

Tracers: Only 43? Would the above rating constitute 26 sponges?

PostLibyan: Look, the rating system is NOT the way to convey complexity. It is for a quick look -- "Oh, they highly rate the Dirty Three album -- i wonder why? I'll read the review to find out!" OR "Wow, they only give XTRMNTR an average rating -- i should read to find out why!"

Tracers: Exactly -- i think no-one is disagreeing on the reactions readers will have to the ratings -- it's just how many ratings we need to have in order to get the message across. Which review to read first? "Hrrmmm....I see 5 reviews for bands I've heard of....it gives the Crooked Fingers 5 sponges, so maybe I should read that review first." And then we can get hate mail from everyone who wanted to turn it into skeet.

PostLibyan: Yes, and if you were really interested in using EvilSponge.org as a filter to tell you which to buy or which to turn into skeet, you would READ the whole review, wherein there could be a comment like "if you are a lonely, 30-year old Cocteau Twins fan with a guitar, cats, and a beer habit, then you will LOVE this CD; but for everyone else it is skeet". If you just look at the numbers, then you are going to be very disappointed -- and necessarily so. Remember that each release is, to a certain degree, reviewed and rated against the background of its genre. I might rate the new Face to Face LP as a 5Sponge album, but if you don't like Punk, then the new Face To Face isn't going to appeal to you no matter how many sponges it's rated. You need to read the review to see "Oh, this is a great PUNK disc. It will even appeal to some other people, but since i only listen to alt.country, i won't really like it!" On the other hand, when Malimus eventually writes up his 7 sponge Praise for the new Drive By Truckers release, it might get lotsa sponges, but that doesn't mean that Mike Ness (or me) should go out, buy it, and expect to enjoy it. Read the review!

Malimus: Well, this assumes the basic idea driving the reader is "should i buy this?" I'm not sure that's the case in all circumstances. I, for example, often read reviews solely to decide "should i name-drop this album in conversations and thus look spifforific to all the little indie-rock hotties, or should i maintain an aloof posture of casual indifference and snootiness?" Quite often the review substitutes for the actual purchase, see.

PostLibyan: Whatever Malimus. I can't help you with picking up chicks! However, i see the necessity for some abivalence in rating albums: this release being more worthy than that. It just seems that no matter what our scale, there will always be those releases that fall in-between the integers. You just have to take a stand and pick one! It doesn't really matter which one you pick -- the interested parties will read the whole damn review anyway. You should explain the rationale in the review and not rely on the fact that this release is awarded 4 sponges "Average-Good" rather than a 3 sponges "Average". That is my point. As to your proposed 7-sponge rating system, i don't like this, but the masses have spoken. Of course, perhaps we are not REALLY a democracy. Perhaps i am just allowing you the chance to voice your opinions and then, later, i will use my Totalitarian HTML Editing Skills to make the grading scale go MY way.... Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! [You, know, Stan Lee was RIGHT: power does corrupt!]

Malimus: So, are we at an agreement here? As PostLibyan has pointed out, i have quite a few backlogged reviews to do and i'd like to do them with whatever ratings system we're going to be using.

PostLibyan: We are now up to a 7-sponge Rating System:
1 = CRAP
2 = Better than crap, but still weak
3 = Average
4 = A little better than average; really for some fans only
5 = Good quality stuff
6 = Pretty damn good in fact
7 = MUST HAVE status
So there you go... if there are no disagreements i will forward this to our "other" reviewers for thie absorption on the morrow. The important thing is that i no longer have any "Half Brendan" graphics running around!

Brendan: Here here!

Malimus: And in the end, isn't this the entire issue? Pragmatism, dammit.

PostLibyan: Actually, i would classify the desire to be rid of "half sponge icons" as an aesthetic choice, not a pragmatic one. Pragmatically, the graphic is already on the server...

Malimus: Half-sponges are ugly.

Brendan: No more ugly than those miniscule humans grawling around on the ground, looking like the leader of The British Empire during their fight with the Nazi's!

PostLibyan: You think babies look like Queen Elizabeth II?

Brendan: NO! Like Winston Churchill you ninny! Don't make me chastise you...

PostLibyan: Sorry, Your Squishiness.


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