Netflix Recommendations: Deep or Random?

Michael Giberson

I know that Netflix’s recommendation engine has some serious computation behind it, and it often offers up interesting and useful suggestions. But occasionally it puzzles me, and I wonder if it is incredibly deep in its analysis or simply somewhat random.

Case in point:

Suggested: American Experience: Into the Deep

American Experience: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World
Because you enjoyed:

It Might Get Loud


The Last Picture Show


So let’s get this straight, because I enjoyed a documentary about rock guitarists from different generations, and a classic Kurwasowa movie about a masterless samurai, and a black-and-white period piece about growing up in a small town in Texas, the artificial genius of Netflix thinks I’d enjoy a riveting documentary on the history of whaling in the United States?

Well, actually, it does sound kind of interesting …

Also, if they have any films about a rock-and-roll samurai sushi chef coming to a small town in Texas, I’d want to see that too.

7 thoughts on “Netflix Recommendations: Deep or Random?

  1. I think these recommendations work on what other people like who like the same movies as you do. So we both like Casablanca and Annie Hall, because I like Blade Runner, you might like Blade Runner.

  2. Or from Netflix’s standpoint: You both ORDERED Casablanca and Annie Hall, and because one of you ORDERED Blade Runner, the other of you might ORDER Blade Runner.

  3. Really points out the power of understanding usage versus content. The movies are connected because of what people do not what is in them. That’s also a much simpler computational and coding problem to solve as well.

  4. Well netflix does have your ratings, though I don’t know how many people bother to rate things or to what extent they rely on them in their algorithms.

  5. Just last night I was wondering exactly the same thing. I went into Netflix and rated a whole bunch of movies. Then Netflix says “And now …” with a 15-second countdown to … a bunch of very weird recommendations, almost none of which seemed very sensible at all. Sure some of them looked kind of interesting, but I had the same sort of “WTF?” reaction. I liked the “The Big Lebowski” and “Fargo” … I like buddy comedies and quirky movies and music … why didn’t it suggest “O Brother Where Art Thou” — which I saw outside Netflix and did not rate? Seems like a gimmie. Hmmm.

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