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Netflix Announces Second Data Mining Contest 56

John Snodgrass writes "Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer at Netflix, has announced on the Netflix Prize Forums that they are planning to hold a new data mining competition. The second competition will have some twists and is expected to be shorter in duration. It will feature two grand prizes, to be awarded in a 6 and 18 month time frame. A previous competitor still active on the board has already dubbed it: 'The Sparse Matrix: Reordered' and 'The Sparse Matrix: Factorizations.'"
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Netflix Announces Second Data Mining Contest

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  • It's a neat contest, but I'm really not sure how it helps their customers at this point. We're talking about the decision-making process human beings go through to decide how they wish to be entertained. I favor some movies just because I enjoyed them as a whole, and their algorithm will not be able to be granular enough to figure out exactly why I like something. On the other hand, having a suggestion system is very helpful. I'd would be pleased to be reminded of a summer comedy that I perhaps forgot a
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As someone who used to watch 3 movies a day for about 3 years straight, I still found the system to be useful.

      I thought I'd seen everything that was worth watching but if you're really dedicated to finding more quality films then any help is good help, and this is one of the better systems for finding new films (more accurate than trawling imdb but maybe not quite as fun)

    • by sarlos ( 903082 )
      Another factor affecting an algorithmic approach is the mood of the viewer. While this isn't as important when it comes to the mailed DVDs, it plays a huge role when considering their streaming content. I may pick Movie X to watch because the wife and I each had a hard week, but Movie X may be something that we'd never view under any other circumstance. A discrete system has a very hard time categorizing something as fluid as mood and could easily be led to make very inaccurate recommendations on the who
      • Well, I'm certain they could easily incorporate a 'What kind of movie are you in the mood for today?' question and a dropdown for the different options....
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bakkster ( 1529253 )

        I may pick Movie X to watch because the wife and I each had a hard week, but Movie X may be something that we'd never view under any other circumstance. A discrete system has a very hard time categorizing something as fluid as mood and could easily be led to make very inaccurate recommendations on the whole.

        If it has a hard time categorizing it, it's because you gave it bad data with your ratings. If the movie's a one-off thing, either don't rate it, or rate it down.

        That said, a sophisticated rating system should be able to recognize multi-modal distributions. I like some dumb comedies, some cerebral Science Fiction, and some action thrillers. A good system should pick out my trends amongst each of these to make suggestions within each genre, some crossovers, and really wouldn't be affected by the one oddba

        • by MikeURL ( 890801 )
          OK but the entire system is based on one input from me--my rating. It takes that and runs all kinds of other statistical correlations to find something similar that I may like. But the system knows absolutely nothing about how I classify the movie. I maintain that tags would improve the system substantially. If 5,000 people tag ESOTSM with "cerebral lovestory" that is a powerful cluster from which to drive a recommendation. What I would NOT do is give people "pre filled" tags to choose from. I'd leave
          • True, but it's possible for a sufficiently advanced algorithm to guess which movies might have shared tags (without naming them), between yourself and others, and make them recommendations. It could even be better than letting humans fill out the tags (which results in tag-bombing, such as on Amazon), assuming a sufficiently large data set.

            Think like this, you like Cerebral Lovestories such as ESOTSM. ESOTM is rated highly by yourself and 49 other people and low or not at all by everyone else. If 25 of

            • by MikeURL ( 890801 )
              Your point about abuse is well taken and one could, I suppose, HOPE that it would be limited due to the fact that every netflix account is a paying customer (at least I hope so). If I'm not mistaken one can make a lot of sockpuppets on Amazon. But yes, user entered data will always be open to abuse so that would require some vigilance on the part of Netflix.

              As for the algo I think you almost made my point for me. Yes, in the absence of overlapping correlations it is clear that a purely rating based sy
              • by Neoncow ( 802085 )

                According to these guys [blogspot.com], movie data's usefulness recedes as more sophisticated data mining algorithms are implemented.

                Since they are part of the winning team, there's a good chance they're right. (They could also be lying about it to throw off the competition, but I believe they are required to publish their method so we will find out.)

                Yes, this is an appeal to authority, but I only did it because the authority in question claims to have access to strong evidence.

    • The ratings apply to more than just movies. They can be used for anything can be rated. Music, toys anything.
    • Re:Usefullness? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sottitron ( 923868 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @11:58AM (#29011653)
      I used to think I was unique in what rare movies and music I liked until I met someone who had almost an identical collection to me. On top of that, we both had some of the same clothes. The reason netflix researches these data mining techniques is because our tastes really do cluster into groups. For some it might be because they like DeNiro films and Spaghetti Westerns. For others it might be that they like two screen writers - though they never know it. The payoff for getting this right if you are Netflix is that if a customer gets recommendations and he/she use those to fill your queue, then they are much less likely to cancel netflix anytime soon.
      • Everybody thinks they're unique. Really though, the range of human behaviour isn't all that wide. You can think of groups of people like circles in a venn diagram...Even very different people can have a great deal of overlap.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Helios1182 ( 629010 )

      Apparently recommendations are important, otherwise they wouldn't put that much money towards it. There are tens of thousands of movies you have never heard of, but chances are you might like some of them.

      • Then again watching a diverse selection of films isn't terribly advantageous to them. While keeping you happy is concern #1, offering a diverse and perhaps unusual selection isn't any better than keeping you happy with a string of blockbusters.

    • I'm not sure what the purpose of these data mining contests are. However, as a member who prefers instant streaming over my XBox 360 over waiting for the mailman to drop off a DVD, I hope the contest yields a better selection of instant playback material. Instant playback on Netflix currently suffers from a mediocre selection of obsolete, boring, B-grade movies. One can only watch Dolph Lundgren's "Retrograde" so many times before questioning whether or not the Netflix membership is even worth it.

      • the streaming selection on netflix is limited because netflix has to ink an often complex 'boradcast rights' deal with the studio for each movie in order to steam it. netflix has to compete with other broadcast companies (mostly the tv networks, but also companies like hulu, iTunes), and in many cases the deals are for exclusive rights over a given time period. none of this applies to shipping DVDs.

        I believe that adding movies to your 'watch instantly' queue allows netflix to prioritize which movies it shou

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @11:42AM (#29011379)

    There's nothing at all wrong with studying how the human automatic processes work, but "Psychology for Prizes" does have a very Neil Stephenson feel to it.

    The public eagerly jumping for the chance to teach corporate bodies how to better advertise to them seems a little preposterous. In a world where everybody's objective is openness and self-study for the betterment of humankind, this sort of thing would be laudable, but here it's a bald-faced attempt to fine-tune manipulation techniques.

    What would be cool would be if Netflix, upon offering you a suggestion, would also explain what reasoning they used to offer that suggestion to you. Open-source advertising. If every billboard had an explanation of the psychology behind it, we could learn much more about ourselves. The amount of free will that we use every day versus automatic behavior can only increase when the illusion of free will is broken down and examined.


    • The only reasoning that is used is "You liked [movie group A], other people who liked [movie group A] also like [movie B] so maybe you will too". There may be something in there to make the groupings by genre but I doubt it, when the first contest started Netflix reluctantly made genre information available after a couple teams asked for it.

    • by UCSCTek ( 806902 )

      There's a difference between getting people to make impulsive, thus irrational, decisions and providing targeted advertising that might actually be something the viewer wants and was not aware of. The latter arguably benefits the consumer, making people happier. I don't really see how Netflix is doing anything but this. I do agree on opening up ad psychology. Only the manipulative advertising stands to lose.

      • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:32PM (#29013235)

        There's always going to be an argument which makes a manipulative and self-serving action sound benign and cheerful. I remember watching a news piece about one of the top McDonald's CEO types heading over to Russia to try to establish the golden arches there. In a candid shot, he described McDonald's as a sort of angelic entity whose mission was to bring hungry children meat, bread and milk. I wondered if he had really convinced himself of that horseshit or if it was just a face he put on for others.

        It's all about spin. The problem is that when profit is the primary motivator, then you cannot ever trust a seemingly friendly face put forth by a company. They don't want to be your friend. They want you to think that they are your friend in order that you might feel comfortable in giving them your trust, money, time and energy.

        Now, if the Netflix guys are actually motivated not by profit, but by an over-riding love of film and the desire to share film with the world, then it's a whole different story. You do see this sometimes. I've known several owners of private shops who really love what they sell, but when you scale things up past a certain number of employees, even a founding love takes a back seat to the corporate need to grow profit share and absorb wealth. It's almost like a company only has a single soul which is shared by every participant in the company and thus gets stretched thin.


    • by blhack ( 921171 )

      I know that I personally *HATE* it when a company can offer me a service that I really want.

      Something like this really pisses me off, though, because netflix is coming into my house and forcing me to watch their "ads"...err..I mean "suggestions".
      I mean, it isn't like I signed up for the service and pay them a monthly fee exactly because they have a huge library of movies to me! The worst part is that they charge me every time I rent another movie! A move like this is just an attempt to get me to rent more

    • The public eagerly jumping for the chance to teach corporate bodies how to better advertise to them seems a little preposterous.

      Really? Makes perfect sense to me.

      You might carry around your Minority Report-inspired retinal-scanning tinfoil hat, worried about the evils that faceless corporations can inflict upon us if they know our buying habits and personal preferences. I'm a bit more pragmatic: they're going to try to make money, and selling me things I want is a pretty good way to do that.

      Here's the thi

      • I'm a consumer.

        Yeah? I'm a person.


        • by treeves ( 963993 )
          They're basically the same thing. A Venn diagram would show the set of consumers almost entirely within the set of persons and a small subset of the person set would be outside the consumer set - or they'd be equivalent sets - depending on your definition of "Consumer".
          • Definitions again. Allow me to clarify. . .

            I tend to think that to call oneself a "consumer" is the result of a stupendous and multi-generational maneuver of marketing which reduces the human to the status of a mindless eating machine with no other virtues or qualities of significant value. Sadly, for the most part, this is an accurate state of affairs, but I choose to deviate from that model. I refuse to see my purpose in the world as being simply to desire and work relentlessly towards the acquisition

            • by treeves ( 963993 )
              So the connotations of "consumer" lead you to shun its denotation. I can understand that. Alas, as with so many words, once it develops distasteful connotations, resistance is futile.
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @12:53PM (#29012537) Journal
    The purpose of this contest is to figure out who won the previous contest.
  • to take advantage of hordes of unemployed technologists than to get them to provide months of free work?

  • > Netflix Announces Second Data Mining Contest

    Oh thank god I've got another chance!

    I was gonna solve the previous one challenge, but never quite got around to it.

  • Seems like the only reason they keep coming up with such contests is their advertising value. Just my 2 cents.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.