Friday, October 27, 2006

The NetFlix Prize: The Process is as Valuable as the Product

I've written about the NetFlix prize in the past. This is a contest where NetFlix is offering $1mm to anyone who writes a better recommendation engine than they've currently got. I don't know if anyone is close to winning the prize, but something interesting is happening: by making the problem-solving process public, some amazing, unexpected things are starting to happen, and be widely known.

For example: it ends up that the movie most frequently rated on NetFlix is Miss Congeniality. That's right. This easily-forgotten bit of fluff has managed to compel more people to provide a rating than any other. For the sake of completeness, here are the top 5:
  1. Miss Congeniality
  2. Independence Day
  3. The Patriot
  4. The Day After Tomorrow
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean
So, this odd little fact about the world probably would have just sat, somewhere, on someone's desk. But: this is part of an open competition. So, some clever person decided to investigate and he put up, not only his findings, but also his method on the forums.

The result? Best case scenario crowdsourcing, where we learn not just from the final product, but from the process itself, which kicks off all sorts of interesting findings on its way to the goal.
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