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Friday, January 3, 2014

Netflix Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 2:18 PM

Today's must-read for anyone who watches movies: Alexis C. Madrigal's "How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood," which breaks down how Netflix categorizes and recommends movies based on absurdly tiny bits of minutia. Netflix turns art into a business into a science, and it's weeeeeird.

In 2006, Yellin holed up with a couple of engineers and spent months developing a document called "Netflix Quantum Theory," which Yellin now derides as "our pretentious name." The name refers to what Yellin used to call "quanta," the little "packets of energy" that compose each movie. He now prefers the term "microtag."

The Netflix Quantum Theory doc spelled out ways of tagging movie endings, the "social acceptability" of lead characters, and dozens of other facets of a movie. Many values are "scalar," that is to say, they go from 1 to 5. So, every movie gets a romance rating, not just the ones labeled "romantic" in the personalized genres. Every movie's ending is rated from happy to sad, passing through ambiguous. Every plot is tagged. Lead characters' jobs are tagged. Movie locations are tagged. Everything. Everyone. (Via.)

That's just the tip of the iceberg; Madrigal goes deep to figure out how Netflix works, and it makes for a totally bizarre, totally fascinating read. (And Raymond Burr plays a role, for some reason.) Now Netflix just needs to figure one last thing out: That I will never, ever choose the dumb "Netflix for Kids" option. You don't need to ask me this every time you start up, Netflix! I promise, I will never in my entire life choose "Netflix for Kids."

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