The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) was first published online in October 1990 (IMDb, 2015). During the 1990s, the functionality of the website expanded to include features such as votes awarded to individual films (out of 10). IMDb incorporated in January 1996, and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com in April 1998 (IMDb, 2015). Since then it has continued to develop to allow for greater online interaction and, with the advent of Web 2.0 technology, a large proportion of the website has transformed into a citizen review website where its users generate the online material by sharing their views on particular films. In addition, the website includes features such as updates on new cinema releases, film gossip, film screening times, critic and user reviews, quotes, trivia, box-office data, editorial feature sections and a ‘Watchlist”.9,10 Anyone with access to the internet can use IMDb for free and avail of its simple layout in terms of adding new threads within the message boards of specific films and/or participating in existing online discussions. It is described on the IMDb website as “….the #1 movie website in the world with a combined web and mobile audience of more than 200 million unique monthly visitors. IMDb offers a searchable database of more than 180 million data items including more than 3 million films, TV and entertainment programs and more than 6 million cast and crew members”.11
The main evaluation tools on IMDb are ratings, rankings and reviews. Each film on the website is given a rating out of ten which is an aggregate of votes cast by all reviewers of a given film. IMDb does not disclose the precise means of aggregation but assures users that it uses “a complex voter weighting system to make sure that the final rating is representative of the general voting population and not subject to…influence from individuals who are not regular participants”12 of the website.
Rankings also feature prominently as part of IMDb’s evaluation apparatus, albeit for a limited number of films. Users of the site can view, for example, ‘Top 250’ or ‘Bottom 100’ film lists, comprised of films that have received the highest (or lowest) ratings based on user votes. Rankings are also compiled based on particular genres, such as action, comedy, and animation. Furthermore, users can also compile their own lists on which other users can view and comment.13
Finally, IMDb users can read user and critic reviews. By becoming registered users of the site, they can leave their own user reviews on specific films, as well as a number of other user benefits including the ability to cast votes that impact film rankings, use the Watchlist feature, submit corrections and updates to the database, and personalize local show times and site preferences.14 Users can also perform additional account authentication by entering a credit card or mobile phone number which enables them to post messages on message boards, send private messages to other users, edit and add to IMDb’s frequently asked questions, parental guides, plot synopsis and character names sections.15
The focus of our study is to investigate how IMDb, and the various tools embedded within it, shape and guide its users’ deliberations and evaluations of particular film choices. We discuss our findings in the next section.