Thursday, February 3, 2011

IMDb: A Product of the Web 2.0 Era

IMDb’s Mission: “provide useful and up to date movie information freely available online across as many platforms as possible.”

While most companies of the Web 2.0 era weren’t founded until 2001 or later, IMDb was founded in 1990, even before the first web browser. It began as a series of scripts published by Col Needham, founder and CEO, on a Usenet bulletin board called Users could search a list of credits while discussing movies and sharing knowledge with other movie fans. Users took the most popular topics and created an FAQs section. This large list was divided into four smaller lists of actors, actresses, directors, and late movie makers. In October 1990, these lists contained over 23,000 entries referring to almost 10,000 television shows and movies.

The first web version of the database went live in 1993, but only on the servers at Cardiff University in Wales. The database was becoming extremely popular, and in 1995 adopted the name we know it as today: Internet Movie Database or IMDb. It was becoming so popular, in fact, that the amount of information being submitted was becoming too much to handle for the section managers, and the capacity and equipment necessary to keep the site running were becoming too expensive for the donors. This rapid growth caused IMDb to incorporate in January 1996, and become Internet Movie Database, Ltd. At this time, IMDb was becoming widely popular in the U.S. 

In 1998 purchased IMDb and kept it in the same format, continuing to provide free content to users. Unlike the other larger companies that showed an interest in IMDb, basically said, “we want you to keep doing what you’re doing.” Some changes took place over the years to improve the functionality of the site: the site was redesigned, more information was added (and is still being added), and the information was organized in a more efficient way. In 2008 more features were added, and it became the IMDb that we know today.

Mass Customization
IMDb uses a mass customization strategy. I had to create an account to discover this. Before doing so, I was only able to view the standard database that is available to everyone. Making an account is free though, so I figured it was worth it, especially since I’m a frequent visitor. After creating an account I was prompted to update my preferences, which allowed me to pick and choose what is displayed. The different options allow me to tailor the database to meet my needs. I can choose to:
  • Display credits in a certain order
  • Hide theater showtimes and television listings
  • Change the display options to customize the view of my messages board
  • Alter my search preferences to have results appear in a different order than the default
With an account I have the ability to create lists of pretty much anything that I would like (favorite movies, TV shows, etc.). I can also create my own small database, which allows me to sort movies into their own categories based on criteria chosen by me. Just in case I forget or want to reference anything that I’ve done, my account gives me the ability to view all of my history of anything that I vote on, review, etc. Creating an account and customizing it really makes the IMDb experience more personal. Although you have to edit your preferences manually, it really allows you to cater your account to meet your needs.

Principles of Wikinomics
IMDb demonstrates the openness principle of wikinomics. Since IMDb began, volunteers were uploading information to improve the database. It would be impossible for the people running IMDb to provide all of the information. The database is much more than just character lists and plot summaries. Visitors can find anything from photos of their favorite stars to what celebs were born on their birthdays. Contributors send in content to be reviewed by section managers. Content on IMDb is a little more controlled than on sites such as Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap. Contributors can’t simply change content that has been posted; the IMDb staff controls the data on the site.

The Community section of the website is dedicated to the contributors. The Message Boards section was added in 2001, and is one of the most recent additions to the database. While there are only 12 categories of message boards listed in this section, there is a message board for every movie or show title as well as for every actor. This totals to almost 4 million message boards on the database. Visitors are welcome to rate television shows and movies, and the collective ratings show up on the individual movie and television show pages. Visitors can also make their own lists and post them. The lists can be whatever they would like. Some of the most current lists include top films from different years, favorite TV shows, best-looking actors, and so on. This section of the database contains almost 35,000 lists.

Perhaps the most important part of the Community section is the Contributor Zone. The Contributor Zone contains all the necessary information to help IMDb improve the database. A link to the Contributor’s Blog is provided, which discusses changes that will be made to the database, new information they are looking to add, etc. This allows contributors to tailor the information they provide to what the section managers are looking for. Also in the Contributor Zone is a list of current research projects that they are looking for help with. By alerting contributors of information they are looking for at IMDb, people who may be experts in certain areas can lend their knowledge and help complete projects faster. I think the most important section of the Contributor Zone is the list of top contributors. By recognizing the people who are providing the most information, IMDb is hopefully persuading them to keep doing what they are doing. The volunteers play a huge part in keeping IMDb current, and I know that if I was a contributor I would appreciate the credit.

The contributions also demonstrate the sharing aspect of wikinomics. Volunteers upload content for other visitors. The contribution of the volunteers allows IMDb to update information at a much faster rate than if only the staff created the content. Also, a major factor of IMDb, and an element of sharing, is the free usage. Visitors can use the database for free and, if they choose to do so, can create an account for free. Without sharing, IMDb wouldn’t have nearly as much content as it does.

As I said before, IMDb is different than a lot of Web 2.0 websites because it was founded over 20 years ago. Because of this, IMDb doesn’t employ the other principles of wikinomics: peering and acting globally.

IMDb uses a hierarchical approach. CEO and founder, Col Needham, runs the database. The staff of IMDb consists of people to manage the data and improve the site. It’s organized in such a way that some people have more power than others, resulting in a hierarchical approach rather than collaboration without a formal hierarchy, better known as peering. This chain of command can be contributed to the time period in which the site was created. This was the way businesses were run in 1990, so it was only natural for IMDb to use this approach.

IMDb is multinational, not global. On the IMDb homepage, you can scroll down to the bottom and find a list of all of the other pages that are available: IMDb Germany, IMDb, Italy, IMDb Spain, IMDb France, and IMDb Portugal. By clicking on one of these links, the language is changed from English to the selected country’s language. From what I can tell, some of the information displayed on the English homepage transfers over to the others. Every day IMDb lists five stars that were born on that day, and those stars appear on every country’s homepage. I’m a little surprised that they don’t change what celebrities they display based on the country. However, a lot of the information does change. The displayed articles change along with the Box Office list (what movies are making the most money). It was also interesting to see some of the movie title changes that take place with American movies in other countries. “No Strings Attached” is known as “Sex Friends” in France.

Effectiveness of Business Model
I think that IMDb has an effective business model. The fact that it’s lasted over 20 years says something about its success. It is pretty amazing to me that it lasted through the first web browser and into the Web 2.0 era. Starting so early helped IMDb succeed. By the time Web 2.0 came around, the database was ready to go for users. Ways to upload content were already set up, along with an easy-to-use site design. I think that selling the company to was a very smart move. It was a win-win for both companies. IMDb was struggling to make enough money to update the database as frequently as desired, and was in the process of beginning to sell VHS tapes and DVDs on its website. By buying an online movie database, gave itself a great way to direct people to its website to purchase movies and TV on DVD. On virtually every movie and TV show page there is an option on the right hand side to either watch it now on Amazon video on demand, or to buy it from Amazon. For a company that sells over 600,000 movies and TV series this is a great way to get fans to purchase them from and not another seller.

IMDb provides an unbelievable amount of information to visitors at no charge, sticking true to its mission statement. Considering just how much information is contained in IMDb, it’s pretty unbelievable that the site is so organized and easy to navigate. This is a huge plus for gaining visitors, because information is so easy to find that they just keep coming back for more. I think most of us agree with when it comes to IMDb. We want you to keep doing what you’re doing.

Komaromi, Kurt. Web 2.0 Wikinomics Presentation; February 3, 2011
Komaromi, Kurt. Web 2.0 The Digital World Presentation; February 3, 2011