Netflix Recommendations…Huh?

I love Netflix. It took me a little while to decide to try the DVD rental system out, but now I wouldn’t live without it. My wife and I don’t get TV reception. We don’t have cable or a satellite dish. All we have is Netflix (and a few TV shows my mother tapes for us). But that is all we need. Living in rural Vermont, we would have to drive a lot more to get to the local Lackluster Video and we don’t have the time or inclination to do that. Nor any reason too, with Netflix available.

But there is one thing about Netflix that has me scratching my head: It’s their recommendations. I just returned the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. Somehow Netflix has decided from my three-star rating (out of five) that I would also enjoy these films:

  • American Experience: RFK
  • Bruce Springsteen: Video Anthology
  • A short cartoon feature called The Man Who Planted Trees
  • Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

What? It’s true, I may in fact enjoy these films (although I have no interest, at this point, in renting any of them). But how does a neutral rating of an action-packed spy thriller suggest I want to watch Bruce Springsteen, or a bio of Robert F. Kennedy?

For the longest time, no matter what movie I was rating, Netflix was telling me that I would enjoy the first season of the 1950s TV series Superman. Rate a Woody Allen flick… Superman. Rate a season of How I Met Your Mother… Superman.

Truth is, I don’t know why they bother with these suggestions. I’ve never seen one and said, yes, I want to view that DVD. Never.

I heard a story on the radio a few months ago that Netflix was having a contest, inviting computer programmers to come up with an algorithm that would improve their recommendation process. Apparently, no one has claimed that prize yet.


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