software is the latest "next big thing" to get technophiles
excited and VCs interested. What exactly it is, few
can describe. In some respects, it is nothing new at all,
but rather a means of connecting and defining previously disparate
elements. Mindjack editor Donald Melanson takes a look at
one group that has taken this idea and run with it, before
the idea ever had a name: film and DVD enthusiasts.
Recently, I compiled a personal top twenty list of my favorite
films - not exactly something that was high on my list of priorities.
But I happened across a website called Your
Movie Database, which promised to match my taste in movies with
other users', based on our respective lists, hopefully resulting
in some good film recommendations. Instantly upon completing my
list I was matched with five other YMDB users who, for the most
part, did indeed share my taste in movies.
The system is still rather crude. There's no place, for instance,
to write reviews of the films on your list; or a means for rating
films not on your list. But for its intended task of matching your
interests with others', it succeeds.
Your Movie Database is just one example of a trend that is
at least partly tied to the breakneck growth of DVDs: online, ad-hoc
networks of film information based on individual users' tastes and
recommendations. The trouble is, few of these networks are connected
directly with each other, limiting the full potential of this mass
of disconnected information.
For instance, I keep a database of my
DVD collection with a software program called DVD Profiler.
It lets me rate and review each DVD and, if I wish, publish my collection
on the DVD Profiler website. Members of online film communities
like DVD Talk use tools like
this to share their collections with other members of the community
(they often include links to their collections in the signature
of their posts). This is, in a sense, a makeshift reputation system.
If I see someone that has Kurosawa, Goddard, Fellini and Ozu films
in their collection, I'll pay more attention to them than to someone
with the complete works of Michael Bay.
Yet there is no built-in function to DVD Profiler (or any of
the other similar programs as far as I can tell) that matches your
collection with other users'. Nor is there an ability to comment
on other people's collections. The software simply produces a static
Combining something like DVD Profiler and something like Your
Movie Database would be a start, but only that. Consider a few more
Amazon's been in the recommendation business for some time
now, and they're frighteningly good at it. For every item I add
to my wish list, Amazon recommends at least two others that I usually
end up adding as well. DVD Profiler has a wishlist option, but does
not make recommendations based on the titles already in your collection.
Something that is technically possible. Just think of the Amazon
Associate referral fees that could be generated.
Rotten Tomatoes tracks movie reviews from hundreds of professional
film critics. Such a system combined with a YMDB/DVD Profiler hybrid
could easily find critics that share your taste in movies. Better
still, match Amazon-style automated recommendations with recommendations
from critics and other people that share your taste. All this information
already exists in various disparate online repositories, it just
needs to be connected.
Much of this relates to what my colleague Josh Ellis calls
tribes". Taste tribes are groups of people, usually internet-facilitated,
who provide recommendations to each other either directly or indirectly.
These groups, however, usually work with ad-hoc or makeshift systems,
such as the numerous disconnected online film tools I've outlined
above. It works, but it could be facilitated much easier if the
proper tools were available.
I wrote at the beginning of this article that all of this is
at least partly tied to the rapid growth of DVDs. What makes DVDs
so different that seeing movies at the theatre or on VHS, you may
ask. I modestly propose that DVDs have done nothing short than change
our relationship with movies.
As important as the DVDs themselves is how quickly the technology
has been embraced by the general public. Already, "DVD"
has entered the vernacular as the word for watching a movie
at home. Compare that to CDs, which took well over a decade for
the name of a particular technology to become the dominant term
its medium. And many people still refer to a particular piece of
music as a record or album, even if what they are referring to is
on a CD.
Much like CDs, however, the emergence of DVDs has spurred people
to build personal libraries of movies. Something that was relatively
uncommon with VHS, and confined to home theatre buffs with Laserdiscs.
For those who don't want to own dozens or hundreds of DVDs, Netflix
makes renting an effortless and instantly rewarding activity. This,
combined with the numerous special features and supplemental materials
on DVDs effectively makes for more informed film viewers.
There are a number of positive side effects to such a rapid
adoption of a new technology. One is the excitement experienced
by users of the latest technology. They want to use it not only
because of the content, but because of the technology itself. This
excitement can manifest itself in a number of ways. Most importantly,
people want to share their newfound knowledge of the technology.
One of example of this is self-made commentary tracks for DVDs.
Unlike the tracks included on DVDs, which are either by the filmmakers
themselves or a film scholar, most of these amateur tracks are from
people who are simply fans of the film. As far as I can tell, Roger
Ebert was the first to suggest this a couple of years ago. Shortly
thereafter, people started sharing personal commentary tracks on
the internet. Today, the website DVDtracks.com
contains dozens of commentary tracks recorded by users on their
own computers, some of which are actually quite good. This is yet
another level of the amateur film criticism seen on sites like Your
Movie Database. Just as blogs made everybody a publisher, these
technologies can make everybody a critic.
We've yet to see the full potential of this confluence of film
and technology, but it is clear that we will likely never look at
movies the same way again.
Melanson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Mindjack. He
keeps an irregularly updated weblog at melanson.ca
and writes about movies at melanson.ca/movies.