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© 2011 By: Dov Trietsch. All rights reserved


Ranking is quite common in the internet. Readers are asked to rank their latest reading by clicking on one of 5 (sometimes 10) stars. The number of stars is then converted to a number and the average number of stars as selected by all the readers is proudly (or shamefully) displayed for future readers.

SharePoint 2007 lacked this feature altogether. SharePoint 2010 allows the users to rank items in a list or documents in a library (the two are actually the same because a library is actually a list). But in SP2010 the computation of the average is done later on a timer rather than on-the-spot as it should be. I suspect that the reason for this shortcoming is that they did not involve a mathematician! Let me explain.

Ranking is kept in a related list. When a user rates a document the rank-list is added an item with the item id, the user name, and his number of stars. The fact that a user already ranked an item prevents him from ranking it again. This prevents the creator of the item from asking his mother to rank it a 5 and do it 753 times, thus stacking the ballot. Some systems will allow a user to change his rating and this will be done by updating the rank-list item.

Now, when the timer kicks off, the list is spanned and for each item the rank-list items containing this id are summed up and divided by the number of votes thus yielding the new average. This is obviously very time consuming and very server intensive. In the 18th century an early actuary named James Dodson used what the great Augustus De Morgan (of De Morgan’s law) later named Commutation tables. The labor involved in computing a life insurance premium was staggering and also very error prone. Clerks with pencil and paper would multiply and add mountains of numbers to do the task. The more steps the greater the probability of error and the more expensive the process. Commutation tables created a “summary” of many steps and reduced the work 100 fold. So had Microsoft taken a lesson in the history of computation, they would have developed a much faster way for rating that may be done in real-time and is also 100 times faster and less CPU intensive.

How do we do this? We use a form of commutation. We always keep the number of votes and the total of stars. One simple division gives us the average. So we write an event receiver. When a vote is added, we just add the stars to the total-stars and 1 to the number of votes. We then recomputed the average. When a vote is updated, we reduce the total by the old vote, increase it by the new vote and leave the number of votes the same. Again we do the division to get the new average. When a vote is deleted (highly unlikely and maybe even prohibited), we reduce the total by that vote and reduce the number of votes by 1… Gone are the days of spanning lists, counting items, and tallying votes and we have no need for a timer process to run it all.

This is the first of a few treatises on ranking. Even though I discussed the math and the history thereof, in here I am only going to solve the presentation issue. I wanted to create the CSS and Jscript needed to display the stars, create the various effects like hovering and clicking (onmouseover, onmouseout, onclick, etc.) and I wanted to create a general solution with any number of stars. When I had it all done, I created the ranking game so that I could test it. The game is interesting in and on itself, so here it is (or go to the games page and select “rank the stars”). BTW, when you play it, look at the source code and see how it was all done.

 Next, how the 5 stars are displayed in the New and Update forms. When the whole set of articles will be done, you’ll be able to create the complete solution.

That’s all folks!



Posted on Monday, November 21, 2011 4:04 PM | Back to top

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