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Movie enthusiasts aided by U service to help film selection

DBy Mary Stegmeir

decisions at the video store can be made a lot easier thanks to a free movie selection service developed by a University computer science and engineering research team.

The service, at, uses collaborative filtering technology to provide personalized movie suggestions for its users based on films they have previously enjoyed.

“We take your taste in the past in movies and look at it in a group of several hundred people who tend to agree with you about movies,” said John Riedl, MovieLens faculty adviser and associate computer science and engineering professor.

“We’ve got 70,000 people as users, so no matter how eclectic your tastes are, we can find some people who agree with you,” Riedl said.

Movie preference profiles are based on user film ratings. To join MovieLens, a new user must rate a few of the approximately 6,000 film titles included on the site using a five-star scale.

“The more you rate, the better we know you,” Riedl said. “But we find we know you pretty well after you’ve rated a dozen or so.”

The average MovieLens user has rated 100 films, and a couple of film buffs have recorded scores for more than 2,000 movies, Riedl said.

The project’s film list includes new releases, videos and DVDs.

MovieLens, launched in 1996, also posts more than 7 million user movie reviews.

The research team is comprised of three faculty members and between 10 and 12 undergraduate and graduate students. The group focuses most of its attention on designing experiments for the program.

The National Science Foundation funds the program and requires new research be conducted continuously.

MovieLens student researchers design additional features to test the bounds of collaborative filtering. These options are made available to users on a trial basis. If the ideas generate enough positive feedback, the feature is sometimes added to the site permanently.

Currently, the team is preparing to launch a new version of the MovieLens Web site.

Sean McNee, a computer science graduate student working on the team, said the current Web site, which was “the latest and greatest in 1997,” is going to change with the times.

The MovieLens research team recently conducted a study to determine how to improve the Web site.

The new version, scheduled to launch within the next two weeks, is designed to improve the Web site’s navigation and will include extra features aiding users in the movie selection process.

McNee, who has spent four years on the project, said he is excited to unveil the new MovieLens.

“Movies are something people are really passionate about,” he said. “It’s really an incredible service for people who like films.”

Mary Stegmeir welcomes comments at [email protected]

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