Thursday, November 15, 2007

Netflix, IMDB, and (Me) group movies: Netflix uses user ratings and groupings to sell

Wednesday, Nov. 14, CNN ran an AP story about the online movie rental business “Netflix Offers $1m Coding Prize”, story here.

The story involved improving Netflix ‘s campaign to increase DVD rental rates by software that associates movies into groups and recommends them to customers based on customer rental history and ratings that customers have given to movies that may be similar. Programmers will be rewarded by how well their systems perform in increasing rentals.

I use Netflix, find it convenient and find that most titles arrive in the mail the next day. Titles from other processing centers still come quickly, and often show up as returned the next day even when mailed to the West Coast. Blockbuster has a similar service, as well as retail stores, which I have not yet explored. In March 2004 I actually applied for a job with Hollywood Video but became a substitute teacher then instead.

Netflix has also did some theatrical distribution (with its Red Envelope brand as a distributor) of a few small independent films dealing with social issues, such as "Saint of 9/11" and "A Crude Awakening" (the latter about oil production).

The interesting concepts here are grouping and reviewing movies. Netflix groups movies into many categories and subcategories (just look at the site). IMDB (run by Amazon) classified movies by generous use of keywords which, when clicked, give all the movies in history for which that keyword applies. (The keywords for horror movies can be interesting). A movie can fit into more than one classification.

I have the three-movies-at-a-time plan with Netflix, and about 15% of the rentals come from their recommendations. The rest, I know I want to rent. There is enormous variation in how quickly movies come out on DVD. Some come out immediately (Bubble) or quickly (Pathfinder); others have never come out at all (Camp Out). Usually they appear on Tuesdays.

California teacher Rafe Esquith made some recommendations for movies (suitable for public school) for schools in his book, and I found that I had never seen almost half of them. I also found waits on Netlfix for some of them. Apparently, when a book like this comes out, it stimulates interest in specific older movies.

IMDB, Amazon, and Netflix, and many other sites allow and encourage visitors to review movies, and the reviews can be anonymous. Amazon will group reviews by reviewer screen name. IMDB also has message boards to discuss movies, actors, writers, directors, etc. and also has major news item stories. But the best message boards in the entertainment business were probably those on Project Greenlight during the first two contests, and on TheWB for each WB show (the boards for Smallville and Everwood were especially spirited). Since TheWB became CWTV I haven’t found the boards as interesting.

But on my own websites ( which was preceded by, and this blog) I have manually, and somewhat crudely, grouped movies (and television shows sometimes) into separate review pages, with referrals to other pages for movies that fit onto more than one. I set this up in 1998 manually with HTML when the technology available was much cruder. I still use it. I place movies that relate to a common social or artistic issue or vision on one page. Unclassified movies from major studios go on my “tidbits” page. I pick a few of them and regroup them for more discussion on this blog. Examples of social issues could be “mandatory family responsibility” (having to raise other people’s children), as in Raising Helen and Saving Sarah Cain, or even “the dead hand” (The Bachelor, The Ultimate Gift). An example of an artistic issue could be screenplay structure, as with Keane or Mustang Sally.

I’ve discussed the concept of expanding knowledge management (beyond Wikipedia and also beyond e-commerce sites) on my main blog, by aggressive use of databases and by combining concepts found in wiki encyclopedias and compendiums with e-commerce. Stay tuned.

Additional Note:

A WJLA story at 11 PM on Nov 15 reported on a suburban MD man Jim Judy who runs a website called Screenit (for subscription) that gives detailed breakdowns of each movie as to specific items of potentially objectionable content.

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