The modern “what do you like?” systems are driving me nuts lately. Every time I turn around, there’s a website offering to help me socialize, and what better way to find new friends (and new recommendations for media to consume) than by accumulating a bunch of ratings for the media I’ve already consumed?
Friends (and hopefully, to some degree) passers-by can then peruse my virtual “media shelves”, see what I’ve rated and how, and either (a) get or (b) give recommendations for stuff that’s related to what they/I have already seen/read/heard and liked.
Web 1.0: Amazon Recommendations
I’ve got > 1000 ratings for graphic novels accumulated on Amazon.com – which was a great way for years for me to get recommendations on other books by the same authors, but even more importantly and gratifyingly – to get recommendations on other books by authors I hadn’t yet read. (I’ve always assumed some sort of Bayesian analysis that results in “people who liked your 4- and 5-star books also bought/owned/rated these items”.)
[I’d further tried to accumulate lists of ratings for music (for CDs I’ve purchased), but Amazon’s interface for this wasn’t nearly as sophisticated or predictive for music as it seems to be for books, so I’ve never gotten quite the same gratifying experience for music on Amazon.com.]
Web 1.0: Netflix Recommendations
I’ve got > 1000 ratings for movies accumulated on Netflix.com – which was a great way for years for me to get recommendations on other movies I’d like that have many of the same ephemeral qualities I enjoyed in the movies I rated most highly. (Netflix has had a highly-publicized contest – which recently wrapped up – to come up with new ways of improving user recommendations, which to me meant that they’d exhausted all the available research into Bayesian and other mathematical analysis of the huge aggregations of data on what people liked, didn’t like, watched and marked “not interested”.)
Long before I was a Netflix subscriber though, I was (and am) a diehard advocate for IMDB.com. [Hell, I was one of the lunatic adopters in the early days back when you had to submit queries to the IMDB via email. Yeah, imagine browsing your favourite actor’s movies [and forget about TV – that didn’t count] by submitting a cryptically-formed email message and waiting the minutes it took for their servers to generate a response. Fred Flintstone-style browsing.] I’ve occasionally submitted a rating for movie through that site too, though I haven’t gotten any real benefit from it (except the knowledge that I’m helping to build the geek-slanted ratings that are the killer data set available from IMDB).
Web 2.0: social + recommendations
In the past year or so, I’ve fallen deeply in love with Facebook, Twitter and all the most interesting integrations with these “social platforms”. With these platforms have come brand-new applications that allow you to rate movies/TV/books/music/whatever and not only get some kind of recommendations back from “the system”, but also to get much more specific and immediate feedback from those of your friends (or even “friends”) who’ve also signed up to use the application. They see what you’ve rated, then respond with comments/replies/their own ratings, and can make much more specific (and personal, though statistically less predictive) suggestions of other stuff they want you to see/read/hear.
I love these – and while I’ve experimented with a bunch of these apps, I’ve gravitated to those apps that appear to have the greatest critical mass. Not so much because I want a horde of strangers to help me find stuff, but because I’d like to reconnect with as many friends as possible and I hope they’re also at the apps I’ve picked.
So I’ve got ratings slowly accumulating at Goodreads.com, Flixster and a couple of others. Goodreads has a great mobile site that makes it dead-easy to post a rating “on the go” with very few excess clicks, and the Flixster iPhone app is awesome *and* easy. And there are dozens of other great sites where lots and lots of people are accumulating lots and lots of ratings data.
Problems: stale data, incomplete data, spread-too-thin efforts
After a while, I’ve noticed I’m spread thin across multiple places where these ratings are being accumulated. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the abundance of such great sites and platforms, that I’m finding it hard to keep my ratings “in sync” between multiple places at once. I have good intentions – and occasionally I’ll even follow through on those good intentions. 🙂
For example, I’ve got a ton of movie ratings in Netflix, but my primary interest for “sharing” movie ratings is moving to the Flixster app – mostly because it gives me a chance to get immediate feedback from a larger group of friends who catalogue their ratings and mini-reviews there via either Facebook or the iPhone app. However, while I’m getting immediate gratification for my posts to Flixster, it’s not doing me any good in terms of system-generated (Bayesian) recommendations for other movies I want to watch. And when I go to my Netflix queue to add movies, I sometimes forget whether I’ve seen something (since I haven’t always rated those movies I’ve seen recently).
Similarly, the primary place I currently capture my ratings for graphic novels is in GoodReads (usually via the mobile-optimized web site that I access from my iPhone). I’m not even getting any instant feedback from friends there, nor have I found any way to use the “crowd” of GoodReads users as a source for new recommendations. However, there’s no alternative in my Web 1.0 world: Amazon doesn’t seem to have any way to add ratings on the go. If you’re not going through their full browser, then you’re SOL. (The Amazon iPhone app doesn’t do squat here, and neither does the mobile browser version – it’s almost as if they don’t care whether their customers like what they bought.)
I’m now split between worlds, and I suspect the world of Facebook/social media and other Web 3.0 apps will only make this worse – there’ll be more and more sites that all want you to provide some “sticky” information, that lures in more users ‘cause there’s a “crowd” there, and yet those ratings won’t be re-usable elsewhere.
This Ratings Data Ain’t Portable, My Friends
Yeah. Twitter might have finally gotten religion that you “own” your Tweets, and Facebook *looks* like they’re convinced that you can and should have the ability to control your personal information/updates, but good luck trying to convince the thousands of little start-up apps out there, all hoping to lure you into their little walled garden and *keep* you there.
I expect that in 5-10 years, all these systems will be able to freely consume and re-use this data – the business world will have finally gotten over thinking this is their only “value add” (and will have found some even more sexy way to separate you from your money).
However, for the forseeable future, these multiple ratings systems will continue to live as non-interoperable data islands. That means heavy “data generators” like me will have to make some pretty dopey (and unavoidable) decisions:
- When you find a new, even-more-attractive place to catalogue your consumption and how much you enjoyed it, do you abandon all the invested effort you put into the last one?
- If you don’t want to abandon all that “legacy data”, how will you migrate it to the new system? Just devote a freakin’ weekend to the prospect of clicking like a spastic lab rat, replicating each rating from one system to the other? Or do you go even further down the rabbit hole and learn how to export the data (if that’s supported) from one and import to another – or go completely over the cliff edge into writing yourself some web-scraping scripts that pull the data by force out of systems that don’t have a supported import/export interface (API)?
- And if you actually *want* to maintain a presence in more than one system – e.g. if you find some ongoing benefit in having current presence in both Netflix and Flixster? Well gods help you then – you’re screwed into a life of regular repeated self-inflicted punishment.
I’ve really lost my mind – thinking there’s got to be some way to actually pull off (3) without feeling like a character in a Kafka novel (and no, I’ve never read Kafka, so don’t crucify me for a misspoken cultural reference).
How’s About a Ratings Sync App?
Yeah, why the hell not? Why not just burn the next years’ worth of weekends writing an extensible framework for us to be able to download, manipulate, upload and synchronize (i.e. manage and resolve the inevitable conflicts) the ratings data? Isn’t is just like me, to think of doing some thankless job like this, in the hopes that some morsel of thanks comes through from some other hapless geek like me?
Sure, what the hell.
In fact, I’ve invested a whole bunch of time into this harebrained notion already. Yes, I’ve written myself a bunch of code that attempts to provide an extensible, pluggable framework in which multiple “ratings” providers could be wired in, and between which synchronization could occur.
I actually dream that one day, users like me could:
- Fire up this app
- Connect to one of their ratings aggregating web sites
- Download all ratings for whatever “things” are rated on that site
- Select another compatible ratings web site (e.g. another books-rating web site if you just download book ratings)
- Configure a translation between the two web sites (e.g. one site rates 1-5, the other site rates 1-10, so map 1 = 2, 2 = 4, 3 = 6, 4 = 8, 5 = 10; or if you’d prefer, 1 = 1, 2 = 3, 3 = 5, 4 = 7, 5 = 9)
- Upload the translated ratings to the second site, thus synchronizing your ratings from one site to the next
This’ll require mapping out the APIs for each ratings-aggregating site, implementing an incredible flexible and robust local schema for the data, and figuring out all the different ways that different sites identify what to the human mind is an easy-to-identify product.
[And to think, this whole idea came about as a way to figure out how to migrate the ratings from my old Netflix account (to which I’ve still got access, but only just barely – due to the grace of an old housemate) to a new one that *I* own, and from which I could actually do Netflix Instant Watch in my own personality (and with my own IW queue). I’m seriously considering just paying them for their subscription for the rest of my life, so I never have to lose those 2956 movie ratings.]
Anyone out there got a better idea?
Anyone else crazy enough to want to help out with this?
Anyone out there want to see this app see the light of day?