2012: Search and Movie Advertising

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

One of the previews before Quantum of Solace this weekend was for 2012. It was a good teaser of a surreal apocalyptic scene, but what struck me was their Internet tie-in. Where many movies have scrambled to find a domain, or setup shop on studio or social networking sites, they simply offered “Google Search: 2012″.

That seemed to be a pretty bold claim of their search engine prowess, since even casual SEO gurus like myself will write blog entries just to see if we can bump them :) Yet none of the first page results are an official movie site; they seem to be leaving it to the existing pages to build buzz with speculation on what will happen in 2012. (The political pundits must still be hungover; there weren’t any partisan predictions, either.)

Will it work? Would you go see a movie based on the strength of apocalyptic Internet speculation?

The Dating Wisdom of Coming to America

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Coming to America is one of those very quotable movie that any self-respecting guy can spout lines from, and even 20 years later it proves some aspects of dating are timeless:

Semmi: But where in New York can one find a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture? A woman suitable for a king.

Prince Akeem, Semmi: Queens!

They got one point right: go to the city. Much to my chagrin, the greater population of cities and larger proportion of young people means more options no matter how you go about dating.

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The Break-Up

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I saw The Break-Up again this week, and have to add it my list of 3 Favorite Dating Movies for two reasons:

  1. It shows the darker far side of a relationship, and the seemingly illogical ways people try to hurt one another in the name of trying to bring a relationship back together. In reality, it’s all to easy to get caught up in perceived slights and feeling unappreciated while missing the bigger picture.
  2. It’s not a black and white break-up, but a more realistic mix of emotions. They know they aren’t right for each other, but can still have a fondness for the things that did work and the fun times. There’s a couple of those longing glances across the room in the movie, and the last scene shows it’s still there months later.

30 Days

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

I enjoy Morgan Spurlock’s work; both Super Size Me and 30 Days provide a fresh, provocative look at modern issues. It got me thinking: how would each of us cope if we had to live a lifestyle opposite to our own for 30 days?

Nice computer!The first step in this thought experiment is figuring out what that personally meaningful opposite is, be it a belief, lifestyle, or position on a certain issue. For me, I think something that shapes my life significantly is the regular use of computers. It’s how I earn a living, communicate with friends and family, and even meet women. How would I fare if unplugged for a month?

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Netflix 2007 Annual Report

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

The red envelopeNetflix is one of the few annual reports I bother to read as an investor. Last year’s has some interesting bits.

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Spam is a Universal Langauge

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

The amount of spam I get on the blog has been going down, and most continues to be caught by Akismet. A German trackback spam slipped through today, though, and even through it was in German, I could tell it was spam. The use of short, phrases in bold and something about a free film transcended any language barriers.

This could actually make for some hilarious sci-fi parodies; imagine if they had to negotiate all every tense intergalactic situation metaphorically using home mortgages and natural male enhancement?

Revelations from the Netflix Prize Winners

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Brian pointed out that the AT&T Research Labs team that won this year’s Netflix Progress Prize ($50k out of $1M) for improving movie recommendations had published a number of papers on their winning strategy. It’s interesting reading, and this paper is fairly approachable if you skip the statistics in the middle.

Their final approach combined 107 different model, and though the majority provided only incremental improvement, the total effect propelled them to an 8.43% improvement over Netflix’s own proprietary algorithms. (Wikinomics fan can take a moment to cheer another success for open collaboration.)

One interesting sidenote:

The distribution of movies-per-user is quite skewed. Figure 4 shows this distribution (on a log scale). Ten percent of users rated 16 or fewer movies and one quarter rated 36 or fewer. The median is 93. But there are some very busy customers, two of which rated over 17,000 of the 17,700 movies!

This confirms my previous findings on participation and the 1-9-90 rule. The team also made use of additional models which considered simply the presence or absence of a rating for a movie from a particular user.

Overall, it seems that Netflix and the recommendation community have gotten a lot of mileage out of the prize in an area that will continue to grow:

Because good personalized recommendations can add another dimension to the user experience, e-commerce leaders like Amazon.com and Netflix have made recommender systems a salient part of their web sites.

If such systems interest you, I’d recommend O’Reilly’s Programming Collective Intelligence. Reading - and working through it’s examples - really opens your eyes to how simple these algorithms can be and how commonplace they’ve become.

On Location

Monday, August 6th, 2007

I saw Shooter over the weekend, and one of the things that made it enjoyable was how much of it was shot on location. Part of the story takes place in Philadelphia, where I can appreciate that they did more that just get a few wide aerial shots before returning to LA. It definitely adds to the dramatic tension when you can really sense the reality of a scene, be it in the city or on top of a glacier.

Also, for those who like their “mild drug references” slightly aged, the lead character stocks up on whippets for some homebrew bullet removal surgery.

Netflix By the Numbers

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Netflix handily tells you how many movies you’ve rated (1862 for me), and with the Number Netflix History Rows Greasemonkey script, you can tally how many of those you’ve rented. My count is 472 since August 2000, which make me a little less of a movie junkie than the first number :)

Too Much Censorship or Not Enough?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

I was watching the classic Airplane II, and can’t believe it got away with a PG rating. Things have changed a lot since 1982; these days having a handful of topless shots and a woman asking about faking orgasms in the opening sequence would probably get you an R from the puritans at the Motion Picture Association, or a PG-13 at the very least.

Not to mention the detailed list that now follows the rating, though sometimes that doesn’t tell you quite enough. Take Failure to Launch: they tell you there’s nudity, but not that it solely consists of Terry Bradshaw’s naked ass! IMDB, on the other hand, tags it a bit better with “naked man”.

It’s odd that we’ve gotten less permissive about nudity in the movies and while violence is still quite accepted. And now back to Airplane, with one of it’s better lines:

Steve McCroskey: Jacobs, I want to know absolutely everything that’s happened up till now.
Jacobs: Well, let’s see. First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes. And Prince Charles started wearing all of Lady Di’s clothes. I couldn’t believe it…