Spout.com, the Flickrization of Movie Search


By Davis Freeberg

Last week I had an opportunity to interview Bill Holsinger-Robinson, COO of Web 2.0 upstart Spout.com as well as Spout’s Marketing Director Dave DeBoer. Spout, yet another site vying for your eyeballs, launched earlier this year and is focusing on redefining search for something near and dear to my heart, movies.

At the most basic level Spout has compiled one of the largest informational databases of films and movies on the internet today. While Netflix and Blockbuster might allow access to 50,000 to 60,000 films at any given time, through a partnership with the All Movie Guide, Spout gives access to rich metadata on over 200,000 films.

But Spout is much richer than simply another online movie database. Central to their strategy is to equip their users with many of the most interesting and productive tools to interact with both the database and other users. Groups, blogging, tagging and community are all central to how this database built to interact with movie geeks like me. After using the site for about two weeks, I’ve been very impressed with the functionality and the experience. Spout is the type of service that has several levels of enjoyment for users depending upon how much someone wants to put into the site.

One of the things I liked most about Spout is the rich array of data available on small niche films. Certainly there are already lots of places where you can find rich data on mainstream Hollywood movies, but what I liked about Spout is that by searching tags, groups, member favorites etc. Ii was able to find longtail content on films that I’d never heard of. The breadth of these small films is powerful. And if you don’t see a movie that you’re looking for in their database? No problem, you can notify them with the title and you just might see it in the future.

While initially, the rich search functionality was the appeal for me, I quickly found myself becoming more and more engaged with the database and it’s community. I started tagging my own films, creating contacts with other members and started to create groups to discuss things like my favorite aspects of Alfred Hitchcock films as well as a group on the worst movies every created. For the record the award for the worst film ever, in my book, goes to Gold Diggers: Secret of Bear Mountain.

I’m a TiVo junkie. I love that TiVo recommends shows to me to watch. My TiVo does not think I’m gay. My TiVo does not suggest Spanish programming to me. My TiVo actually has done a pretty good job at getting to know me. Tom is always complaining that his TiVo doesn’t get him but then again I’m not the one watching so many episodes of HBO’s G String Divas and then “pretending” like I had no idea how they got on my TiVo recorded history page.

Although most Web 2.0 properties these days include simple things like tagging, groups, contacts, etc. I was also particularly impressed by the recommendative and suggestive tagging technology offered by Spout.

As you add contacts, Spout will start to suggest tags that your contacts have used when you are tagging a film. This is helpful because it can help to build a consensus among some of the more obscure sub genres, it’s also nice because it helps you to think more critically about the many number of ways that you could classify a film.

And of course what great Web 2.0 company these days would be complete without blogging tools. Like other sites Spout offers you blog space for your film blog with a lot of cool functionality. The film blog will automatically place an image of the film that you are discussing in your posts and through the blog search features offers a way to find reviews films from an average moviegeek’s perspective instead of having to rely on critics that never seem to have the same tastes in film. (Roger Ebert eat your heart out) By sorting through other member’s blog posts and by looking through their movie lists, I was able to find some real gems.

Dave and Bill told me that some of the longer term plans for the site revolve around trying to use the site to promote and actually distribute independent longtail films. This is super exciting, but could take time for them to develop. I love the idea that a site and it’s members could in the future become popular enough to actually distribute films. And Spout certainly comes to the table with a filmmaking perspective in mind having been originally founded by four filmmakers. Spout is particularly interested in attracting other filmmakers to the site.

As Spout’s membership increases, they should be able to effectively leverage the tools they’ve created to reach out to sub-audiences in a way that many independent filmmakers have trouble with today. Whether it’s tagging the film with the “guilty pleasure” tag or putting the film into the “hide from girlfriend” tag, filmmakers have the ability to define their films beyond the traditional clichés confined to 30 second Hollywood pitches that have dominated the film industry for so long.

As a movie hound, I love searching, discovering and critiquing movies. Above and beyond just watching films, I want to interact. I enjoy discussing memorable scenes, finding new upcoming directors and seeing films that Hollywood isn’t willing to tell me about. In the past, I’ve primarily relied upon Amazon’s Internet Movie Database and Netflix for finding the niche long tail content that I crave, yet I’ve noticed some pretty significant weaknesses in the way that Amazon and Netflix allow you to explore movies. Netflix for example limits their subscribers to only 500 movies in their queue. While this works from a DVD rental perspective, it makes their site less then ideal for exploring content because if you find a movie that you think you might like, you have no way to tag it so that you can go back and add it later. The IMDB offers some excellent reviews and some very detailed commentary, but doesn’t provide a good way for users to search deeper then an actor’s name or a film’s genre. The limited tagging that IMDB has implemented is really designed more with the hardcore user. Spout on the other hand allows me to have access to limitless lists that I can sort, filter and define in any way that I like. This is a pretty cool thing.

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  1. mattbg says:

    It’s a nice idea, and I’ll probably browse it every so often, but I won’t use it until it’s been bought by Amazon and integrated into IMDB.

    I already maintain personal information in two online movie databases (IMDB and the online rental service that I use), and I don’t need to have the hassle of keeping track of a third.

  2. I think that there are different benefits for all types of users. IMDB is a great resource for films, but it’s pretty bad if you want to explore new films. Spout’s tagging system is designed more for you to go to your favorite films and then explore other films that might have similar sub characters that you enjoy. As a casual user of Spout you’ll probably get the most benefit by using the user generated content to find you favorite films.

    I don’t have an IMDB account and with Netflix capping me at 500 discs, there is a real benefit for me to use the service more extensively. By keeping track of lists, I can build a queue outside of Netflix that is independent of any “Netflix Reccomendation” that could be based more on profits and less on refined search.

    If you take the service one level further and participate in the groups and blogging, you’ll find that Spout offers a community benefit for those most involved. While this isn’t appealling to everyone, there are a lot of people who find that common movies can create great friendships.

    I think the key to Spout is to decide what your needs are and to use it appropriately. If I want to find new films I can use Spout and if I need hard facts and history about a film, that the IMDB will be the first place I go.

  3. mattbg says:

    Davis, I like the idea of Spout, but I’ve already had a browse through at some of the tags and I don’t know if it’s going to work.

    The tags that really do work are little more than genre tags

    The things that really attract people to movies at a deep level can’t be expressed with keywords, or at least not keywords that can be shared amongst other people. You might absolutely love one particular “coming of age” (tag) movie while being indifferent to others. I don’t find tags reliable. If it can’t be done with music (Pandora, Last.fm, etc. don’t work, IMO), movies are an even bigger challenge. You need a combination of refined tags, and the more refined your tags become, the less likely someone will use the same descriptive words.

    I wonder how much better tags are as compared to just finding a collection of movie reviewers who have very similar tastes to your own, and using their movie ratings as a guide?

    I’ve already seen tags like “pretentious” and “pudding boobs” being used to tag movies on Spout. What good is that?

  4. Julie says:

    Funny, I barely notice the tags when I’m on Spout, see them more as interesting word-poems or wall art. But I do get caught up reading the lists of people whose tastes are similar to mine. In just a few visits my “I want to see it” list is so much bigger and better and more interesting. That’s addictive. I do work with Spout, so perhaps understand the site better than the casual visitor. But I know they’re user testing to make its best uses more obvious. Maybe Netflix should just hand over their million-dollar bounty to these guys?

  5. That is a handful of inspirational stuff. In no way knew that opinions could be this varied. Thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer you such helpful information here.

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