Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rating Systems and Other Trivial Matters

As I have addressed many times in this blog, I am a huge fan of Netflix. And one of my favorite features about the service is how spot-on the recommendation service is. I can't tell you how many times I've been interested in a movie that Netflix said I would give a 3-Star or lower rating, watch it anyway and wound up disappointed. On the flip side, I will receive movies that I don't remember why I ever added them to my queue in the first place and which don't sound terribly compelling, but Netflix suggests that I will think it is a 5-Star film, and damn if I don't end up loving it.

So, as well as the Netflix system work, I do have one issue with it, or rather, with how I use it. According to the Netflix Ratings Legend, giving a movie 5 stars means that I "Loved it", 4 I "Really Liked It", 3 I "Liked It", 2 I "Didn't Like It", and 1 star means that I "Hated It". I have rated almost 1300 films using this system, and a pretty clear trend has arisen. It is very top-heavy. My average rating is 3.8. I have given 407 movies 5 stars. And that's compared to only 186 movies with less than 3 stars.

If were to watch every movie ever made, or a true random sampling of movies, I sure that my average rating would balance out to a healthy 2.5 and fit under a pretty little normal curve. But the fact is that I don't watch films at random (though it does seem like it some times). I usually watch movies that I'm pre-disposed toward liking. At this point, I am fairly comfortable with my tastes, and before I even watch a movie, I can guess within a star or two what my eventual rating will be. So, of course I normally only watch movies that I think I will like.

If you look through my 1 and 2 star rated movies, you will mostly find bad action/comedy movies by the likes of Steven Segal, Rob Schneider, or Frank Stalone, which I generally can't stand but that my stupid friends drug me too at some point. Only a very small percentage of these are movies that I actually wanted to watch and completely missed the mark on.

Notice above that I said that I was "disappointed" by a 3-star movie. According to Netflix this means that was supposed to have liked the movie. That's the issue. Because of Netflix's monstrous catalog, I am no longer content watching a movie that I merely "like".

So, movies that I self-select start at 3 stars. This basically changes how I use the Netflix Rating System from a 5-Star system to a 3-Star. Instead of "Like It", "Really Like It", "Love It", to me now it is closer to "Ok, but kinda disappointing", "Pretty Good", and "Great".

Among my 1 and 2 star rated movies, I basically have no strong feelings. When it really comes down to it, I'd no more rather re-watch a 2-star movie than a 1-star. But on the other end, there are clearly tiers among my 5-stars. I may "love" both The Godfather and Shaun of the Dead, both by my definition of the word love and by the fact that I've given them both five stars. But I would never pretend that there wasn't a difference in how I feel about the two movies. The problem is that only I know what that difference is, to Netflix they're both the same.

If I were to redo all of my ratings, I would merge all of my 2-star movies in with my 1-stars. I would then slide all of the other categories one star down (3's become 2's, 4's become 3's, 5's become 4's). Finally I would go back through the list of now 4-star movies and select the ones that I thought were truly great, and bump only those back up to 5-star status.

So why am I not going to do this (at least anytime soon)? Well, first and foremost, this would be a pretty time-consuming project. Free time is not something that I have an overabundance of. Secondly, like I said in the opening paragraph, I think that the recommendation system works really well. I'm a little afraid that if I change something that's working, it might break it.

Therefore, instead of changing my Netflix movie rating system, I am instead applying the lessons learned above in a new project, which I will discuss very soon in this very space. In fact, this post was originally supposed to be about that new project until my preamble about Netflix ran into its second page. So come back sooner than my more normal 10 day / 2 week update schedule to hear about that.


Blogger Brickell said...

I've had the same problem with both Netflix and iTunes 5 star ratings. There are very few movies that I absolutely hate, so most of my ratings, like yours, tend to be 3 stars or better. My approach to the ratings is based on whether I would want to watch the movie again, if I would want to buy it, or if I would recommend it to a friend. 5 star movies in my book are generally movies that should be Academy Award nominee/winners (whether they are or not is another matter) or cult classics or movies that struck a particular chord within me. 4 star movies are movies that I wouldn't mind seeing again and would purchase if I didn't have to shell out the money to do so. For example, The Departed is a 4 star movie for me. Since it started coming on HBO and Cinemax, I've watched it again at least twice, but I didn't think it is a timeless classic or that it should have been up for Best Picture mainly because of the crappy ending (although the acting was superb). 3 star movies I'll watch if they come on TV provided I'm bored and that there is nothing else on TV. Those definitions probably coincide with yours for the most part. Just thought I'd give my perspective on the whole rating thing.

10/05/2007 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You inadvertently caught on to what I'm going to be discussing next time. I have recently started rating songs in my iTunes library and am doing it a little differently.

Oh, and you didn't catch my its/it's snafu in this post, and with a little bit of Soviet revisionism, you never will . . .

10/05/2007 11:42:00 PM  

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