The Internet Movie Database

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The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), owned by Amazon.com since 1998, is an online database of information about movie stars, movies, television shows, television stars and video games. It celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on October 17, 2005.

Overview

The IMDb has a comprehensive amount of information on works, including basic details such as actors and directors, plot summaries and reviews, as well as more esoteric information such as trivia, continuity errors and other goofs, soundtrack listings, aspect ratios, and alternate versions. Actors, directors, writers and other crew members have their own database entries, listing the movies and programs they worked on, and often also featuring biographies. The expanded database found at akas.imdb.com can be used to find movies from the title under which they were released in many different languages and countries.

The IMDb also reaches beyond being a database for movies and video by offering daily movie and TV news and running special features at various movie events such as the Academy Awards. IMDb also has an active message board community: there are message boards for each database entry, which can be found at the bottom of the relevant page, as well as general discussion boards on various topics. It has also expanded to provide the sister site IMDbPro, offering additional information to business professionals, such as contact details for people in the movie business, movie event calendars, and more. IMDbPro is not specifically designed for use by the general public, and its content is not free.

Any person with an e-mail account and a web browser that accepts cookies can set up an account with IMDb, then submit information and cast votes to rate various titles. For automated queries, most of the database can be downloaded as (compressed) plain text files and the information can be extracted using the tools provided (typically using a command line interface). IMDb interfaces

Statistics

November 12 2005:

  • Titles: 474,270
  • People: 1,900,859

See: IMDb Statistics

History

In 1989 Col Needham and others were participating in the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies, discussing movies and exchanging information. They produced FAQ lists on actors, actresses and directors credits and biographical information on movie makers who had died. In late 1990, they had FAQs on almost 10,000 movies and television series. On October 17 1990, Needham posted a collection of Unix shell scripts which could be used to search the 4 FAQ lists; thus, IMDb was born. At that time however, it was known as the rec.arts.movies movie database.

By 1993, the database had been expanded to include trivia, biographies and plot summaries, and a centralised e-mail interface for querying the database had been created. Later in the year, it moved onto to the World Wide Web (a network in its infancy back then) under the name of Cardiff Internet Movie Database. The database resided on the servers of the computer science department of Cardiff University in Wales. Rob Hartill was the original web interface author. In 1994, the e-mail interface was extended to accept the submission of information, meaning that people no longer had to e-mail the specific list maintainer with their updates. Over the years, the database was run on a network of mirrors across the world with donated bandwidth.

In 1995, it became obvious to Col Needham and the rest of the volunteers that the project had become too large to continue to maintain through donations and in their spare time. The decision was made to become a commercial venture and in 1996, IMDb was incorporated in the United Kingdom, becoming the Internet Movie Database Ltd. The shareholders were the people maintaining the database and revenue was generated through advertising, licensing and partnerships.

This state of affairs continued until 1998. The database was growing every day, and it was again reaching a critical point; revenues were being spent on equipment, and shareholders were finding it difficult to reconcile the fact that for all their hard work they themselves were getting very little income. Offers had been made by major businesses to purchase the database, however, the shareholders were unwilling to sell if it could not be guaranteed that the information would be accessible to the internet community for free.

It was at this point that Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com appeared. A deal was made, allowing the IMDb to have the ability to pay the shareholders proper salaries for their work, while Amazon.com would be able to use the IMDb as a resource in their business of selling DVDs and videotapes.

IMDb continues to expand its functionality. In 2002, it added a subscription service known as IMDbPro aimed at entertainment professionals. It provides a variety of services including production and box office details, as well as a company directory. Subscriptions are priced at $12.95 per month, or $99.95 per year (price on 5 April 2005).

User voting

The IMDb uses a weighted voting system for determining the satisfaction viewers got from the movie. This is given in stars: when voting on a movie, a user picks a whole star rating from 1 to 10. The numbers displayed on the screen are displayed with one decimal place of precision (i.e. 6.8) and the numbers displayed on a voter-weighted list of an actor's fimography are listed with two decimal places of precision (i.e. 5.21). This may serve as a tiebreaker: for instance Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were both listed as 7.6 as of July, 2005. However, in the hundreds place they come out as 7.60 and 7.59, respectively, when viewed on the author profile.

The received votes will be weighted according to the demographic distribution in order to compensate the fact, that IMDb's user are not representative for the demographic structure found in the real world. Furthermore additional weighting measures are taken by the IMDb, which are kept secret to prevent "vote stuffing".

For the Top 250 a separate rating is calculated, based only on the votes of regular voters, and used to determine the best 250 films. To appear there, a film additionally needs at least 1250 votes from regular voters. The rating shown in the Top 250 list is the separate rating mentioned above, whilst the rating shown on the movie's page is the "normal" rating, for which votes from all users are taken into account. That's why a film with a lower (normal) rating can be ranked above a movie with a higher rating, and why the rating given in the Top 250 is not necessarily the same as shown on the movie's page.

Top 250

One popular feature of the IMDb is the Top 250, a listing of the top 250 feature-length films of all-time as voted by the registered users of the website. Only theatrical releases running longer than 60 minutes are considered for determination; short subjects, documentaries, miniseries, direct-to-video and made-for-TV movies are ineligible. Users are given the option of rating a movie from "1" (lowest) to "10" (highest).

The listing is notable for being comprehensive and sometimes startling. Consistently represented on the listing are old movies (e.g., Nosferatu (1922)) and new movies (e.g., Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)), popular movies (e.g., The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with more than 170,000 votes) and esoteric movies (e.g., La Battaglia di Algeri with fewer than 3,000 votes), and movies from a cross-section of genres (e.g., film noir—Double Indemnity; comedy—Some Like It Hot; romance—Casablanca; fantasy—The Princess Bride; science fiction—Blade Runner; musical—Singin' in the Rain; western—The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; animated—Shrek; anime—Spirited Away; etc.). The listing also carries surprising movies which were not necessarily widely popular hits but which have developed broad followings among more devoted movie fans (e.g., The Shawshank Redemption,The Usual Suspects, Donnie Darko and Memento). The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption are consistently ranked numbers one and two on the list, respectively, and are the only movies with ratings of 9.0 or higher on the list.

How successful these criteria are in producing an unbiased list is debatable. For instance, newly released movies commonly find their initial ratings artificially inflated by fans who are more likely to see a movie first and develop a love-at-first-sight impression of it, which is contrary to the commonly held belief that a truly great movie should hold up to repeat viewings. It is not unusual, therefore, to find a movie placed among the Top 250 shortly after its release, even as high as the Top 100, only to fall from the list as more people see the movie and fans see the movie repeated times. Another common criticism has been that it is merely a popularity contest and does not therefore reflect any objective knowledge about the history or art of movies (For example, the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest Movies" lists Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time. However, it is typically outside of the top ten on the IMDB's list and almost always lower than all three of the films of The Lord of the Rings). In practice, however, many of the movies atop critical yearly and historical best picture lists appear high on the Top 250 as well (for example: the vast majority of films on AFI's list are also on the IMDb list, many placing very highly; there are four movies in common on the lists' Top Tens), raising the question of whether the opinions of the critics and movie-goers are all that different after all.

Bottom 100

The IMDb also has a Bottom 100 feature which is assembled in roughly the same way (there is a 625 vote minimum, rather than 1250). Films that frequently make the top (or from another perspective, bottom) of these lists are Manos: The Hands of Fate and Future War. This rating system has succumbed, however, to films achieving cult status. For example, Plan 9 From Outer Space is often regarded as one of the worst films ever made, but it is common not to see this film on the list at all. Some IMDB users often find movies to be so incredibly poor that they find it unintentionally humorous and worth watching. It also appears to be evident that some users have guilt in calling a film "the worst" and prevent commonly bashed films from entering the list. There have also been many concentrated attempts to inflate voting to influence placement of movies on the Bottom 100 list; one such effort involved giving Manos a perfect score of 10 to push newer movies down to the #1 spot.

Message Boards

One of the most popular features of the Internet Movie Database is the Message Boards that coincide with every database entry, along with 47 Main Boards. These boards allow registered users to share information about the movie/actor/writer, and discuss and debate about the movie/actor/writer.

The Main Boards are wide discussion forums that pertain to certain aspects of film discussion. They divide into the categories Trivia! Trivia! (various aspects of detailed film minutia), Awards Season (various movie awards winners and nominees), FilmTalk (Talk about film in general and specific films), TV Talk (television shows, new and old), Shop Talk (film professions), Genre Zone (a number of established movie genres), Around the World (global cinema), Star Talk (celebrities and film professionals), General Boards (miscellaneous and non-film-related topics), and IMDb Help (anything pertaining directly to the site itself). As the IMDb expires older posts from all message boards variably, it is difficult to precisely measure traffic according to individual board, but the The Sandbox and The Soapbox are amongst the highest traffic boards on IMDb. The Soapbox is a general purpose discussion board, where users can go for "their more heated discussions". The Sandbox is a general purpose, anything-goes board designated for test messages and off-topic posts.

Copyright issues

All volunteers who contribute content to the database retain copyright to their contributions but grant full rights to copy, modify, and sublicense the content to IMDb. IMDb in turn does not allow others to use movie summaries or actor biographies without written permission. Using filtering software to avoid the display of advertisements from the site is also explicitly forbidden. Only small subsets of filmographies are allowed to be quoted, and only on non-commercial websites.

Caveat emptor

The ability of the software to filter content is limited; to a certain extent, staff members gauge the validity of contributed data based on the past reliability of the contributor. Submission policies have been restricted over the years, and approval of new titles to be added has become more cautious, but some listings of unreleased titles and unauthenticated data, particularly in bit roles, persist in the existing database. The added restrictions have made it more difficult to add information to the database, and this has been controversial with long-time users of the IMDb. For example, the editors will generally not allow the addition of new program entries (films, TV series, documentaries, etc.) unless a website featuring said production is provided, making it difficult for users to add older or obscure titles.

See also

External links

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