The Award for Outstanding Performance Goes to Internet Movie Database


We awarded the Internet Movie database a Model of Excellence  in 2003, and it is still a standout in terms of innovation and best practices.  

The Internet Movie Database (often called by its acronym IMDB) originally started in the UK as a non-profit undertaking, and it may well be the earliest and most successful example of crowdsourcing – well over a decade before the term was even coined. Very simply, the IMDB was a site for movie buffs worldwide to build an enormously detailed database of every movie ever made. And we are talking about a serious level of detail. Want to know who was the hairstylist for the co-star of an obscure French drama from the 1950s? Well, IMDB was the go-to source. What also made IMDB interesting was that from its inception it was a true database, and despite the inherently unruly nature of crowdsourcing, there were enough committed volunteers to take on the unsexy work of removing duplicate entries and normalizing the data.

In 1998, IMDB was quietly acquired by Amazon and turned into a for-profit company. There are some great best practices to be observed here. Taking over and commercializing a site built by tens of thousands of unpaid, die-hard movie fans was a risky proposition. The backlash could have killed the business in short order. But Amazon left IMDB alone, infusing it with editorial resources so the database got bigger and better every year. Better data, less work and all free. Not much here to get upset about!

But Amazon (surprise!) wasn’t in this to be charitable. First, it started marketing to the substantial audience of IMBD users with links to its site. Like the movie? Great. Amazon can sell you a copy.
Amazon’s next move was sell sponsorships to movie studios eager to promote upcoming releases. From there, Amazon launched a subscription-based Pro version of the database that offered enhanced searching and even deeper content to movie industry professionals for research purposes. The core site remained free, meaning Amazon was a pioneer with the freemium model, well before that term had become popular. 

Is Amazon now resting on its laurels? Absolutely not. To support both its Kindle and Amazon Prime offerings, Amazon has launched a service called X-Ray, powered by IMDB. Amazon also selectively licenses this new data capability. What X-Ray does is link movies to the IMDB database, so users can visually identify actors in the film, find movie trivia, explore the movie soundtrack and much more, right while watching the movie.  It’s not all software magic, by the way. Amazon is doing a lot of the necessary linkages manually, but it already has thousands of movies coded. Also of interest, it’s touting its “X-Ray Enabled” badge that if it plays its card right, could someday become a differentiator for new movie releases.

Endless innovation. Strong support of its core e-commerce platform. Deft handling of often prickly enthusiast community. Endless monetization. This is where data is going!