Saturday, October 22, 2011

An IMDB Rant

I suspected that this day was coming, ever since IMDB changed their default layout to adopt a clunky, graphics-heavy design that was a pain to navigate. But only yesterday, while doing research for the anime article, did I realize that Wikipedia has become my default website for looking up basic information about films and television shows. IMDB has more complete information, such as pages for every credited member of the production, no matter how obscure, release history for foreign markets, and lists of guest stars for individual television episodes. But as a reviewer/blogger, nine times out of ten I find that Wikipedia has everything I'm looking for, and it's presented in a far more accessible format. Wikipedia also features far more comprehensive plot summaries, production notes, and summaries of critical reaction. And information about unreleased and in-progress projects? There's no comparison.

The Internet Movie Database, beloved source of Hollywood statistics and an early example of the internet's ability to transform reams of random information into indispensable websites, long ago became more than a simple database. It has its own news aggregator, offers streaming videos, maintains influential film and TV rankings, and hosts millions of user reviews. Unfortunately, IMDB doesn't do any of these things particularly well. In fact, it does a lot of things notoriously badly. The majority of the site's content comes from user contributions, the same as Wikipedia. However, the levels of quality control and fact checking are much poorer. People in industry circles love griping about IMDB errors and the difficulty of getting anything corrected. I'd be more forgiving if the site were non-profit or fan run, but IMDB has been part of Amazon since 1998, and really ought to have more professional content standards.

And then there are the message boards, which have only bare-bones functionality and don't archive posts beyond a certain numerical threshold. And the useless clutter of video clips and pictures at the top of each page, which massively increase load times, and actually displace the basic credits and filmography information on some pages. And the distracting ad banners and omnipresent Amazon marketing widgets, cheerfully reminding you that you can purchase whatever you're looking up over on, even for entries like the the experimental short "Rose Hobart," that was never commercially released in any form. (The Amazon page in that case just defaults to a list of their best sellers). The ability to rate things quit working for me several versions ago. And the video content just mirrors what's being offered on other sites.

Want any kind of production specs or development information for upcoming projects? Better pony up some cash for an IMDB Pro account. I find it puzzling that the site offers so little information about in-progress films that fans are buzzing about, even when that information is already public knowledge. Compare the starkly minimalist IMDB page for "The Dark Knight Rises" with the paragraphs and paragraphs of summarized development and production news already on its Wikipedia page. The IMDB page does generate an individual newsfeed for the film, but it's way too broad, pulling in any story that references one of the actors appearing in the movie, or any other "Batman" media. There's no editorial eye at work, no feeling of direction or oversight, making it a far less valuable resource.

IMDB is still a very good site for more general information about movies and actors and such, but the problem is that these days it's no longer the only source. Back in the 90s, IMDB became hugely popular because it was a unique of index every actor and actress and director with everything they had ever worked on. Now that's no longer the case. You can get filmographies, cast lists, and production information from a lot of different sites. In addition to Wikipedia, there's also Box Office Mojo, which offers financial analysis of the box office, and usually has most of the fancier stats. There's also a recent challenger, Inbaseline, a no frills database which caters to industry needs, and has titles that are missing from IMDB like this one.

There are still things in IMDB that I like, such as the simplified format of the TV listings and the movie showtimes. The user submitted reviews can be invaluable and smaller features, like the lists of quotes and trivia, can be a lot of fun. However, since the site's godawful redesign last year, I've been avoiding IMDB unless I can't find the information I need anywhere else. Like too many other made-over Web 2.0 sites, it tries to do too much and sacrifices its core service in the pursuit of too many other agendas. The old site was nerdy and basic, but it was also convenient, clean, and easy to use. The current IMDB is none of these things.

It's a lamentable headache.

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