There’s been a little pushback against changes in recent years to the Internet Movie Database: a few thoughts on a huge resource for film fans.
The first time I logged onto the Internet Movie Database – known more commonly as IMDB of course – it wasn’t even called that. It was a very different-looking beast called the Cardiff Internet Movie Database, so known because it lived on the servers at Cardiff University. It was a revelation, even back then.
Back in the early 1990s, the alternatives were the huge annual books of movie reviews from the likes of Time Out and Leonard Maltin, or the Microsoft Cinemania CD-ROM. I have fond memories of each of them, and still remember my jaw dropping when I used Cinemania for the first time. It felt radical, but it was of course, just the beginning.
For it was clear from the onset that IMDB had potential to be special, and so it proved. I first used it back in 1994, and it grew fast, with more and more information being added to it at an astounding rate. Very quickly, it became the kind of resource you knew you could never work without once you’d tried it, and word spread. To the point where it soon got the attention of Amazon, who snapped it up in 1998.
Like many at the time, I held my breath a bit: would Amazon just turn it into an annex of its business, and use IMDB to sell us stuff? Well, no. Instead, from the outside looking in, it gave it the resources and the space to grow, and for many, IMDB rightly became and remained an invaluable go-to resource. One that, like the rest of the industry, has had to adapt as things change and evolve.
We’re now a year or two away from its 30th birthday, and I’m hugely appreciative for its existence. I think it’s easy to overlook and be sniffy about what we get for free, and the amount of information at our fingertips with a resource such as IMDB is the kind of thing someone might once upon a time have tried to charge us thousands for (I do pay to use it, I should note, but that’s optional on my part).
However, against that, I’ve spotted a growing murmuring or two that things have gone a little awry with the service. Or, more fairly, that the people behind it are making decisions about what to do with it, that go against what longer-standing users think it should be for. IMDB, after all, stands for Internet Movie Database, and if you look at the site today, it’s far, far broader than that. Arguably, it always was. It reflects television, games, reality TV, indies, shorts, unfinished work… it’s a staggering resource. I confess I did a double take when I realised on the main search bar that you no longer query the database for actors or directors, but instead the default is ‘Celebs’. But still, the functionality there hasn’t changed, as much as I might bristle at the change of word.
Still, what we’ve seen over the last year or two is a move towards IMDB being a broader resource not just in the material it stores, but in the way it presents it. I wonder if the thinking there is that the hardened users of the service need no persuading to return, and instead the onus is on a recruitment drive. I have no insight there, that’s just how it appears to me. Yet the last redesign of the service’s interface did seem to drop the nerdier stuff a level lower than before. Inevitably, that’s not been something I’m so keen on.
Search for a movie now, for instance, and – whilst this is nothing particularly new – you now have to scroll down and click to get the full cast and crew for the production. You get a smattering of the ensemble – visually presented, which is helpful – and credits for writers and directors. But that’s your lot.
Furthermore, and I assume IMDB has huge swathes of data to back this decision up, the default detailed options now are ‘Cast & Crew’, ‘User reviews’, ‘Trivia’ and ‘IMDB Pro’. I can confirm that the IMDB Trivia section of most major films continues to start off strong and then, er, ‘begins to stretch’.
But the frustration for me, as a long time user, is the stuff I tend to really want is buried a level down under ‘all topics’. That’s where you’ll find more detailed breakdowns of story and plot, of filming and production information, release dates and who was behind the film in question.
The bigger problem on top of that is how unwieldy it now feels. That in days of old, it was a lightning quick way to find things out.
Now you have to battle the internet curse of auto-playing videos (does anybody want these on any site?), and of huge promos for other things. I have no problems with adverts on sites, to be clear. The assumption that everything should be magically free with no ad support to help it be so is a baffling one. But the overall effect of how things are implemented is that, for me at least, it’s made IMDB harder to use.
Against that, anecdotally I know that more and more people are finding Wikipedia the go-to to find simple things like a cast list, a release date, and key information about a film. It doesn’t always go quite down the same rabbit holes as IMDB, but it’s much faster, and much cleaner in the way it’s presented.
I miss, inevitably, the little bit at the bottom of the front page that recommended links away from the IMDB to interesting articles its editors had found online. Those are long gone though, and nothing really ever came back to replace that hand-picked feel of curation. Instead, the onus of the front page now is on key promotions and watchlists.
Likewise, the IMDB messageboards are long gone. There was a point where every show and film had a board, but inevitably, the human resource of moderating those boards took its toll. Ironically, it’s owned by just the kind of company that could afford to do this, but perhaps the toxicity of online discussions over the past few years in particular meant it felt it wasn’t worth the bother. Still, I think online communities are rare and valuable, and there’s the kind of value to them that can’t be assimilated into a cost analysis.
There’s little of the hand-picked feel of IMDB now, and it’s clear too that the internet mantra of ‘we must pivot to video’ has played a part. I’d still contend it’s a one-of-a-kind resource that we’re lucky to have, and to get it for free (although I’d recommend the Pro membership: I’ve had a lot of value out of that) is quite something. Furthermore, the newly-launched IMDB TV is making some amazing films available for free, supported by ads.
It’s just that old thing: it’s perhaps not quite as valuable and indispensable as it once was. That, and it feels slightly harder to find things than it once did, just as an alternate resource has come in to fill the gap. I’ll always appreciate, be hugely thankful for and support IMDB. Thing is, I’ve just found myself starting to use it less.
Lead image: BigStock
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