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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

FilmCrave: A Question About Social Media Userbases

FilmCrave is a new film-based social networking site. By "new," I mean it looks like it's only been up for a week or so, judging by the number of users and film ratings involved.

But I'm addicted to it. Here's why:

1. I Love Film

And when you love film, you also love to talk about film with other film-lovers, and find new films you might enjoy. (You also feel obliged to defend your favorite films from the slings and arrows of others.)

All of which means I, as a film lover, am going to spend copious amounts of free time on a site that allows me to customize my film-loving experience.

The IMDb is a great encyclopedic resource, but it leaves a LOT to be desired in the social networking / semantic web side of the equation.

YMDb is essentially the tip of the film-based social media iceberg.

Flixster is a big, slick, well-designed social site built around film, but despite using it extensively for all of one day, I've never felt the need to go back to it. It failed to generate an emotional response in me, much less any kind of brand loyalty.

For now, FilmCrave has my attention.

2. Points Systems

Every time you rate a film on FilmCrave, you earn a point. If you write a short film review (240 characters or less), you earn 3 points. Long film review (over 240 characters)? 5 points.

The more points you have, the higher your status on the site and the more bells and whistles you can unlock. Right now, the only difference between user levels is how many films you can have listed in your Top Movie List -- 25 movies at entry level (or "Aspiring Actor," as it's called), all the way up to 50 movies at "Director" level (of 500 points). But, presumably, more features will be added as the site grows.

In the meantime, who doesn't love earning points?

3. Ground Floor Adoption

Admittedly, the newness of the site may have a lot to do with its appeal. It's great to find something that can only get better over time, while still offering enough value to keep my attention in the short term.

In addition, there's a peculiar sub-reason why finding the site so early in its lifecycle is compelling: at this stage, every vote REALLY counts.

This actually bridges into a second topic related to FilmCrave in general, and social networking in particular:

A Social Network Is Only as Useful as Its Median Average User

There's a reason Facebook is perceived as the high ground of social networking sites, whereas MySpace is ridiculed as the intellectual ghetto: Facebook was built for Ivy League college students first. The rules and culture that evolved there were directed by high-end users.

Meanwhile, MySpace is a wild west mentality that rewards brash individuality, not intelligent discourse.

I mention this because FilmCrave is an example of a topic-based social network (in this case, movies) that can very well become a victim of its own popularity among specific subsections of its own population.

Right now, the bulk of the users appear to be young, populist filmgoers. Because of the small member base -- likely only a few degrees of separation from 24-year-old creator Alex Olson -- a predilection for specific types of movies (specifically '80s films and action films) is understandable.

But let's compare FilmCrave with the IMDb for a moment and see where the differences in userbase lie.

The top-rated films on FilmCrave (as I write this) are:

1. Fight Club (1999)
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
3. The Matrix (1999)
4. Pulp Fiction (1994)
5. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
6. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
7. Se7en (1995)
8. Memento (2001)
9. Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981)
10. The Godfather (1972)

Meanwhile, the top-rated films at the IMDb are:

1. The Godfather (1972)
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
6. Schindler's List (1993)
7. Casablanca (1942)
8. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
10. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

# of films in BOTH Top 10s? Four (Shawshank, Pulp Fiction, Empire and Godfather)

# of films in the FilmCrave Top 10 older than 1980? One (The Godfather, 1972)
# of films in the FilmCrave Top 100 older than 1980? 35
# of films in the FilmCrave Top 100 that are foreign? 2

# of films in the IMDb Top 10 older than 1980? Five
# of films in the IMDb Top 100 older than 1980? 51
# of films in the IMDb Top 100 that are foreign? 13

As you can see, the FilmCrave userbase trends both younger and less cosmopolitan than the IMDb userbase -- no great surprises there, given its starting point.

What will determine the end value of FilmCrave is how well (and, honestly, whether) the site is interested in attracting film lovers of all stripes.

Thus, in the interest of helping FilmCrave (and ALL social media sites) open its doors as wide as possible -- should it choose to do so -- I offer:

5 Tips for Creating Inclusive Social Sites

1. Let the Users Build the Site

I'm a fan of foreign films and classic films. Some of my favorite films -- especially the foreign titles -- aren't even listed in the FilmCrave database. What I need is a way to add films to the database so they can be fairly represented as choices for other users.

There's a reason recent American films will receive disproportionately high ratings compared to foreign films or classics -- they simply aren't there. Allowing the users to include new films in the database -- perhaps in tandem with IMDb, Netflix, etc. -- would remove the onus of hand-selecting the films (and potentially alienating some users, due to neglect) from Alex and his fellow coders and empower the users to build the site in all directions.

(Speaking of which, allowing users to create their own Top X Lists, using any criteria -- Top 10 Canadian Films, Top 10 Michael Caine Films, Top 10 Films Starring a Washed-Up TV Celebrity -- would be a nice touch.)

2. Be Aware of Language Barriers

You can tell a site has been coded by someone under the age of 30 when a half-star rating is explained in the alt-text as "This movie sucked donkey balls"... Establishes the devil-may-care attitude of the creators? Sure. Invites intelligent discourse on WHY some films are better than others? Not so much...

3. Be Open to Conflicting Opinions

Watching one episode of On the Lot should be enough to make anyone fear for the future of our American film industry. But it's obviously not an isolated problem, as Alex's own reviews of the following films depict:

Lost in Translation: "Hmmm. Why is this good or even interesting? I guess maybe people look at some movies and try and relate the characters while I look at movies to look up to characters. I couldn't do either in this one. It is bad, but not recommended."

Singin' in the Rain: "Beautiful and entertaining at times, but some times I was let down so much that I decided I didn't like it. Maybe further views can help out this film, but I am afraid it is dated?"

Amelie: "I do not understand this film. To me it was boring and a little bit romantic. There were a few scenes that were ok."

I'm not trying to paint Alex as a film snob's pariah -- he's as entitled to his opinions as anyone else. What I'm interested in is in seeing how scalable a venture FilmCrave will be when it's being created by someone whose opinions and evaluations of films seem to be borne from such a narrow-minded point of view -- not just in regard to film, but in regard to other people in general.

Granted, it's up to fans of these films (and others) to vote for them and explain their merits in OTHER reviews -- which is precisely the reason the site works. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out Alex is purposely "gaming" his own system by writing purposely incendiary slams on popular films. But still... it makes one wonder about the bigger picture.

4. Realize Not All Users Are American

Like many sites, FilmCrave allows users to list their hometowns and current cities -- but they're all presumed to be living in America. There's no field for anyone living outside the USA. (No wonder there are so few foreign films in the database...)

5. Make Information Exchange as Easy as Possible

To rate a film on FilmCrave, I can either search for it in the search bar, locate it on someone else's ratings list, or... yep, that's it. I can't search by director, actor, genre, plot, location, keywords, year, etc.

The easier it is to find what I want to talk about, the more talking I'll do. If you want your users to talk, give them 80 ways to reach their goal, not one.

******

I realize I'm being presumptuous by offering FilmCrave (or anyone else) this list. What I'm presuming is that they'd like as wide a userbase as possible, as opposed to one that drills deeply (i.e., primarily American '80s & action film lovers).

It's my suspicion that no one creates something that's open to the public without wanting to include ALL of the public... it's just that, sometimes, we forget there's a larger component to the public than just our own point of view.

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4 Comments:

  • Greetings, I am one of the 3 creators of Filmcrave. It is great that you have taken such an interest in our site. We launched our Site on Sunday night and are currently beta-testing it, so yes we are very, very new.

    We plan to make many of the features you are asking for such as: Creating custom list names, allowing users to suggest new films to be added, add support for non-US members, and benefits for higher point members.

    The primary top movie list will hopefully keep getting better and more accurate with more members. But it is nice to see what our members have as the top 100 films so far.

    We will also try to keep everyone up to date with any changes on myspace.com/filmcrave

    Thanks for all of your input!

    By Blogger Josh, at 2:50 PM  

  • Thanks for checking out our site. Your assumptions are correct about the reviews and the site in general. Keep the suggestions coming!

    By Anonymous Alex, at 9:11 AM  

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