According to the latest statistics published, the Internet movie database, IMDb (with a small “b”) for friends, listed more than 5.9 million films, 4 million episodes of television series, and the filmography of more than … 113 million people connected, directly or indirectly, to the audiovisual and cinematographic industry – from the adapted author to the latest starlet.
A prodigious success for a database created on paper in 1987, and whose evolution illustrates both the history of computing and that of cinema and related industries over the past thirty years.
It was indeed in 1987 that an English film buff, Col Needham, posted on Usenet – a network of pre-Internet forums – a list, entitled “Those eyes”, of actresses with beautiful eyes. Other moviegoers, with hobbies relatives, soon post comparable lists on the same forum.
Partnership with Amazon
On October 17, 1990, Col Needham, who is a computer scientist in addition to loving the cinema, places on Usenet an embryo of software which allows the members of the group to create a database and to do research there: IMDb, which is ‘then called rec.arts.movies, was born. It lists about 10,000 films. In 1993, Needham “migrated” to the web, and the number of voluntary contributors increased significantly. He recruits “data managers”, paid by advertising now present. It was in 1996 that the Internet Movie Database Ltd was born.
The business model remained fragile and, in 1998, after unsuccessfully seeking funding from the film industry (which must now regret it), Needham sold his company to Jeff Bezos, already CEO of Amazon, but who , at the time, “only” sold books and was not yet the multi-billionaire owner of an Internet giant.
Powered by volunteers
Today, IMDb continues to be powered by volunteers, but the company employs between 150 and 200 collaborators to manage this “monster” to which the term “big data” seems to fit like a glove. And it must be recognized that the partnership with Amazon.com has not distorted the original spirit, even if, of course, commercial links with this partner (DVD, goodies, etc.) are present wherever possible. In addition, IMDb has been able to diversify its sources of funding by launching, among other things, IMDbPro, which, as its name suggests, offers additional services to ” professionals of the profession as Jean-Luc Godard says.
Interested in its origin only in cinema, IMDb has gradually identified video games and, of course, television series – which, since 2006, are treated episode by episode. Therefore, the notion of “movie” must be put into perspective, and IMDb can be considered as a kind of gigantic diachronic table of the evolution of audiovisual media, since Leaving the Lumière factory in Lyon (and even before) until the last blockbuster.
Of course, the tool is not free from flaws, foremost among which, despite its British origina pronounced Americanocentrism which means that, for example, the best film of all time acclaimed by Internet users has been, for several years, The Shawshank Redemption (The escapeesin French), an adaptation of Stephen King which, on this side of the Atlantic, is not remembered.
But if IMDb is an exceptional tool, it is above all because it has taken full advantage of the notion of link which, let us remember, is ontological to the web. We can thus navigate from a film to the filmography of its director of photography, from there to other films, etc. The search possibilities are very important, which allows everyone to find out if their favorite actor and actress have played together, etc. Even if the size and the detail of the credits vary greatly according to the release date and the geographical origin of the films, one remains fascinated by the incredible amount of information offered, which includes summaries, critical opinions, release dates, recipes, etc.
IMDb, and this is one of the reasons for its insolent success (250 million unique visitors per month), has been able to reconcile the imperatives of long-term funding for a database that is complex to manage and the concern to preserve its autonomy, and on the other hand find a balance between a contributory tool and centralized management, unlike for example Wikipedia. It is therefore easy to forgive its brilliant creator, Col Needham, who still lives in Bristol from where he still manages his (big) baby, the fact that his five favorite films are all American…