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  • Saturday, April 29, 2006


    Netflix and Their Darned Bad Artificial Intelligence

    Ever since our very excellent local video/DVD store moved to a town at least half an hour away and in a direction I never travel during the course of my normal errands, I've been bereft of a good place to get my movie fix. I half-heartedly went to Hollywood Video but I rarely discovered anything good. Oh, they have plenty of copies of the mainstream hits and semi-hits but I routinely felt a lack of serendipity, the discovery of a gem amongst the popular trash. Our old store was full of them, such as Meet the Feebles, one of Peter Jackson's early films. (I doubt I'm being original by describing that film as the bastard child of the Muppets crossbred with Scarface starring Al Pacino.)

    So in an effort to find some way of feeding my appetite for explosions and zombies (er, I mean foreign art films), I signed up with Netflix. Now I've only been on the site less than a week so this might not be a definitive evaluation but I think their A.I. for suggestions stinks. Unless it's just that there are much fewer things on DVD than I thought or their selection sucks.

    Netflix allows you to rate films you've seen and, from those ratings, will then generate recommendations for you. Unfortunately, their weighting of these recommendations tends to favor popular films and award winners. What's wrong with that, you ask? What's wrong is that I tend toward an inverse relationship with popular films: The more popular the films are, the less I want to see them. I'm rarely in sync with the zeitgeist of film popularity.

    In an effort to improve the recommendations, I rated a bunch of films. This didn't seem to help. I realized what my problem is: I was hoping that Netflix would begin recommending more obscure films, those gems I mentioned earlier. I was hoping that the recommendations would reflect the "long tail" effect but I've seen little sign of it. The list contains a depressingly large number of Adam Sandler and James Bond films but few obscurities.

    For example, I understand the original 1954 Japanese version of Gojira is out on DVD. (That's Godzilla to English speakers.) This is the version without Raymond "Perry Mason" Burr giving his wooden narration. I hear it has a stronger anti-nuclear message. I would think such a film is exactly perfect for a service like Netflix: a cult favorite which would probably rent regularly. No, it won't rent in massive quantities but, on the other hand, Netflix doesn't really need to conserve shelf space. How much space does a DVD without a case take? Not much. However, Netflix doesn't seem to have it in stock.

    I realize this is probably more bitching and moaning about inconsequentialities than you really wanted to hear. Sometimes I don't feel like writing serious stuff. And, as the saying goes, it's my blog and I'll bitch if I want to. If my worst current problem is Netflix, I'm really doing quite well, thank you.

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