More than just a Database

This week’s pattern as described by Tim O’Reilly is entitled “Software above the level of a single device”, which pretty much is a case of “it says what it does on the tin”. Describing that when designing an application that you design it for use on multiple platforms in mind the value of it is increased as its use can be extended to multiple contexts. At home on the computer, at home in front of the TV or even on the bus on the way to work, to name but a few examples.


IMDb didn’t do this. In fact it started out as merely a list on UseNet in 1990 of female actors whom Col Needham described to have “Those Eyes”, as in beautiful. Nowadays however, after becoming a website in 1993 and being bought by Amazon in 1998, IMDb is a great deal more than just a database of the details of Movies, TV shows, actors and celebs. It can do all that whilst also giving you up to date info on what’s just been released, what’s showing near you, or watch trailers, rate and review movies as well as post on message boards and create “watch lists”. So while not immediately setting out to be a world class web2.0 platform, IMDb has grown and flourished into an application that has over 100 million unique users each month and a solid and rapidly growing mobile presence.

As always let’s analyse IMDb against some of O’Reilly’s best practices. Bear in mind there are several others, however I feel these three best describe the effectiveness of IMDb as an application.

  1. Design from the start to share data across devices, servers, and networks
    as mentioned previously IMDb was not originally designed to do this, however through gradual iterations it has become a very powerful website. Sign in on any device with your facebook, google, amazon or IMDb account and it allows you to access all your preferences. past activities and the full functionality of the application. i.e. rating, watch lists, post on message boards etc.
  2. Location Aware
    Once signed in with your social media account of choice, you can easily find cinemas near you and see what times movies are playing and even watch the trailer for the movie you want to see.
  3. Extend Web 2.0 to devices
    IMDb does a great job at this, as practically the entire website’s functionality is available through the iPhone application (can’t speak for Android as I don’t have one), which is a phenomenal design feat. The only thing I can’t seem to figure out how to do is how to create a review of a movie/TV show.


These things considered, there are a few things that do limit IMDb’s functionality and some may say reputation.

One of the greatest (in my humble opinion) things that IMDb offer our American cousins is not available here in Terra Australis. As this article over at The Register states, unfortunately due to copyright issues full length streaming movies are only available state side.

User Ratings System
Now I’m not a huge stats fan but for some people this is a very important part of their decision making when it comes to which movie to see (as is expressed in this article over at Anyone can rate a movie on IMDb regardless of whether they’ve seen it or not and even before it has come out, so naturally results can at any time be skewed. However, as with many efforts in harnessing collective intelligence, the results are likely to improve over time. Perhaps IMDb just need to think of a better way to capture and represent these ratings?


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About andrewdcook

Project Manager/Animator/Beer Snob

9 responses to “More than just a Database”

  1. lauratracymaclean says :

    Hey Andrew

    Great post! I tend to google movies/tv shows and IMDB is one of the first links I come across. I think it’s a great review website and web 2.0 service.

    I quite agree with what you say about the ratings feature, if something has a bad review I tend to feel like I shouldn’t watch the movie. But some people seem to rate a movie quite harshly in my opinion like only giving it just one star and not explaining why! I can see the rating feature being a bit detrimental for the movie/tv show in this case but then again I guess it can also be beneficial for the movie/tv show if lots of users rate it highly.

    Anyway great post, good info about the copyright issues! Kind regards, Laura 🙂

    • andrewdcook says :

      Thanks Laura.

      I totally agree, IMDb is a great site and one that i use very regularly, especially since discovering all the location based tools it has to offer. When it comes to deciding which movie to watch I definitely take into account the user ratings and generally i take the middle ground between them and the critic’s score, but ultimately the trailer is what makes or breaks a decision.

      thanks for stopping by!

  2. jasonw2blog says :

    Hey Andrew,
    Nice and interesting post. Was interesting to find out more about IMDb background and history. From that it makes me think what will happen to IMDb in the future and how it will evolve;after seeing the drastic change after Amazon bought it. Whats your opinion of what will happen or how can IMDb be even better in the future?

    • andrewdcook says :

      Hi Jason,

      The one glaring issue that i think can be improved is the ratings system as it is obviously something that irks a fair amount of people. From a personal perspective however, i use trailers as my decision maker and this often fails to load, so really just cleaning up the usability of some of their features would make me happy 🙂 how about yourself, do you use the site and if so what do you find the most useful or needs the most improvement?

  3. bronwynsc says :

    Nice post, Andrew. I can see how IMDB goes a above a single device especially with the ‘location aware’ advantages and full functionality on mobile devices.

    I think the ability to ‘sign in on any device with your facebook, google, amazon or IMDb account’ makes it quick and easy to access from any device. I wonder if this will also improve the credibility of ratings if they know a little about who you are. What do you think?

    • andrewdcook says :

      Hi Bronwyn,

      I totally think that utilising a user profile can help improve the ratings system. But it needs to be done cleverly. For example a user’s comments and ratings could themselves be ratable. By that i mean other users should be able to thumbs up or thumbs down the ratings of other users, so the more thumbs up a user’s ratings have drives up their “credibility” score. Thus giving the ratings system another dimension by which to measure the credibility of the comments or ratings. what do you reckon, you got any other suggestions that can help improve on what they currently have?

      • bronwynsc says :

        Yes – I have seen the ‘push up’ and ‘push down’ on some comment sites. It means that the power of the people can move some comments around. They often use this in conjunction with requiring you to register/logon to their site so they know who you are.

        The downside of linking user profiles is the visibility it gives to your personal/professional brand. If you work professional as a conservative corporate banker (for example…) and volunteer as a rights activist you might get get some professional conflicts of interest. How do you think this will be handled?

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