IMDB - The Internet Movie Data Base
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is an online database of information about actors, films, television shows, television stars, video games and production crew personnel.
by Amazon.com since 1998, the IMDb celebrated its fifteenth
anniversary on October 17, 2005. As
of June 21, 2006 IMDb featured 796,328 titles and 2,127,371
The IMDb website consists of the largest known single accumulation of data on individual films (including complete cast and crew listings), television programs (including complete cast and crew listings), direct-to-video product and videogames reaching back to their respective beginnings, and worldwide in scope.
Wherever possible, the information goes beyond simple screen or press credits to include uncredited personnel and companies involved, either artistically or technically, in the production and distribution, thus aiming at completeness of detail (even including filming locations of productions). Furthermore, IMDb tracks projects in production, and even major, announced projects still in the developmental stage. Simultaneously, a collateral database of all persons identified in the product database exists, including biographical details and information about other aspects of their professional lives not covered by individual entries in the database (theatrical appearances, commercial advertising appearances, etc.).
Information is largely provided by a cadre of volunteers and by the users but the information is subjected to approval by staff (70% of the staff is dedicated to this task) with expertise in various areas of film history, with the actual staff largely used to screen and edit the voluminous amount of material submitted daily, and to track information from industry resources on current and planned projects and contemporary personalities only.
The IMDb also offers ancillary material such as daily movie and TV news, and running special features about various movie events such as the Academy Awards. IMDb also has an active message board system: 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.
IMDb is a free site, which requires only registration to access its complete range of data and activities. Any person with an e-mail account and a web browser that accepts cookies can set up an account with IMDb, then research covered product, submit information and engage in other site activities. (Site visitors not wishing to provide registration information can, however, view and search the database.) 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).
It has also in 2003 spun off a private, subscription-funded site, IMDbPro, offering the entire IMDb contents plus additional information for business professionals, such as personnel contact details, movie event calendars, and a greater range of industry news.
The database originated from two lists started as independent projects in early 1989 by participants in the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies. In each case, a single maintainer recorded items emailed by newsgroup readers, and posted updated versions of his list from time to time.
The other project, started by Chuck Musciano, was briefly called the "Movie Ratings List" and soon became the "Movie Ratings Report". Musciano simply asked readers to rate movies on a scale of 1 to 10, and reported on the votes. He soon began posting "ballots" with lists of movies for people to rate, so his list also grew quickly.
In 1990 Col Needham collated the two lists and produced a "Combined LIST & Movie Ratings Report", and at this point the ball really started rolling. Needham soon found himself starting a (male) "Actors List", while Dave Knight began a "Directors List", and Andy Krieg took over THE LIST, which would later be renamed as the "Actress List". Both this and the Actors List had been restricted to people who were still alive and working, but retired people began to be added, and Needham also started what was then (but did not remain) a separate "Dead Actors/Actresses List". The goal now was to make the lists as inclusive as the maintainers could manage.
In late 1990, the lists included 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 four lists, and the database that would become the IMDb was born. At the time, it was known as the "rec.arts.movies movie database".
On the Web
By 1993, the database had been expanded to include additional categories of filmmakers and other demographic material, as well as trivia, biographies, and plot summaries; the movie ratings had been properly integrated with the list data; and a centralised email 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 email interface was revised to accept the submission of all information, meaning that people no longer had to email the specific list maintainer with their updates. However, the structure remained that information received on a single film was divided among multiple section managers, the sections being defined and determined by categories of film personnel and the individual filmographies contained therein. Its management also continued to be in the hands of a small contingent of underpaid or volunteer "section managers" who were receiving ever-growing quantities of information on films from around the world and across time from contributors of widely varying level of expertise and informational resources. Despite the annual claims of Needham, in a year-end report newsletter to the Top 50 contributors, that "fewer holes" must now remain for the coming year, the amount of information still missing from the database was vastly underestimated. Over the next few years, the database was run on a network of mirrors across the world with donated bandwidth.
As an independent company
In 1995, it became obvious to the principal site managers that the project had become too large to maintain merely 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, with Col Needham the primary owner as well as identified figurehead. The remaining shareholders were the people maintaining the database. 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. Most revenues were being spent on equipment, and there was not enough money left over to pay full time salaries. The system was also suffering noticeable slowdowns both in accessing the site and in having new data posted. Offers were solicited and received from 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.
As a subsidiary company
In 1998, Jeff Bezos, founder, owner and CEO of Amazon.com struck a deal with Col Needham and other principal shareholders, to buy IMDb outright and attach it to his corporate empire as a subsidiary, private company. This gave IMDb the ability to pay the shareholders salaries for their work, while Amazon.com would be able to use the IMDb as an advertising resource for selling DVDs and videotapes. Volunteer contributors were not advised in advance of even the possibility of IMDb - and their contributions along with it - being sold to a private business, which created some initial discord and defection of regulars.
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. Most information contained in the IMDb database proper continues to come from volunteer researchers, whose only incentive, since 2003, is that if they are identified as being one of "the top 100 contributors" in terms of amounts of hard data submitted, they receive complimentary free access to IMDbPro for the following calendar year.
On 26 January 2006, the long-awaited "Full Episode Support" came online, meaning the database now supports separate cast and crew listings for every episode of every TV series. This was described by Col Needham as "the largest change we've ever made to our data model", and increased the number of titles in the database from 485,000 to nearly 750,000.
At present, the database entries for TV series are in a state of flux, as listings are migrated from series titles to individual episodes. The maintainers anticipate that it will take a couple of months for data to settle down and bugs to be ironed out.
User Ratings of films
As one adjunct to data, the IMDb offers a rating scale which allows users to rate films by choosing one of ten categories in the range 1-10, with each user able to submit one rating. The points of reference given to users of these categories are the descriptions "1 (awful)" and "10 (excellent)"; and these are the only descriptions of categories. Due the minimum category being scored 1, the mid-point of the range of scores is 5.5, rather than 5.0 as might intuitively be expected given a maximum score of 10. This rating system has also recently been implemented for television programming on an episode-by-episode basis.
In adopting this method, IMDb is following its widespread usage; the method is the same as rating in the range of a half star to five stars. When used in reviews by a single reviewer, the method has some basic utility given a rating is usually given in the context of a qualitative appraisal of the film. The simplicity of this method makes it popular, but in terms of psychometric, statistical, and other criteria, the method suffers shortcomings.
The use of filters and weights for individual films
IMDb indicates that submitted ratings are filtered and weighted in various ways in order to produce a weighted mean that is displayed for each film, series, and so on. It states that filters are used to avoid 'vote stuffing', the method not being reported to avoid attempts to circumvent it.
Lists in which films are ranked
The IMDb Top 250 is intended to be a listing the top 'rated' 250 films, based on ratings by the registered users of the website using the methods described. Only theatrical releases running longer than 60 minutes with over 1300 ratings are considered; all other products are ineligible. Also, the 'top 250' rating is based on only the ratings of "regular voters" (IMDb does not define this term). In addition to other weightings, the top 250 films are also based on a weighted rating formula referred to in actuarial science as a credibility formula . This label arises because a statistic is taken to be more credible the greater the number of individual pieces of information; in this case from eligible users who submit ratings.
The IMDb also has a Bottom 100 feature which is assembled in the same way. A disproportionate number of "Bottom 100" films were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as a result of an MST3K website encouraging all its users to register with IMDb and vote "1" on films featured on the show, during IMDb's early years. It should, of course, be noted that MST3K was a show specialising in showing bad movies.
The top 250 list comprises a wide strata of films, including major releases, cult films, independent films, critically acclaimed films, silent films and foreign films. Nevertheless, there are issues associated with compiling such lists of rankings which arise from the shortcomings of the approach to ratings.
One of the most used 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, discuss and debate information about the movie/actor/writer. They were not originally part of the IMDb, but were added only after its purchase by Amazon.com, some time in the year 2000.
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), Video Games (talk about games consoles and video games in general) 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 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.
Over the last 5 years the George W. Bush, Michael Jackson and Soapbox message boards (and, to a lesser extent, the Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ message boards and other message boards for political and religious personas) have been major targets for heated debate, ranting and trolling.
Registered users also have access to "my movies," which is a database that can be created by any registered user. The user can sort the content of that database according to several criteria, such as vote history.
Despite its popularity, IMDb still has its share of critics. Some of the more common complaints leveled against the site include:
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.
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