Netflix's $1 Million Contest: Highly Recommended

So, when it's late at night and you can't fall asleep, have you ever wondered how Netflix knows what movies to recommend to you? I know I have. Netflix has a system called Cinematch that picks movies it predicts you'll like, but Netflix wants to get better at predicting what you'll like. No, they really want to get better at it - to the tune of $1 million.

Netflix is offering that prize to anyone who can improve the Cinematch algorithm and make it 10% more accurate. Sounds easy, right? Well, the contest started in October 2006 and no one has claimed the price yet. In fact, it's become quite the little hacker community of computer and statistical wizards working on it. Over 30,000 teams worldwide are working on the problem.

Every day, teams are submitting their attempts to the Netflix Prize page and Netflix can instantly compare it to Cinematch - and then they can see how they're ranking against the competition.

What's the hang up? Seems like Napolean Dynamite is the problem.

Most systems use responses from users ranking films they've liked and easily recommend similar films. However, quirky flicks like Napolean Dynamite defy the algorithm. It's a fascinating dilemma that The New York Times looked into in depth.

Shoot. I think Netflix should hire a few loyal movie fans to watch every movie in their database and put together their own matrix. I'll do it for a million bucks. -Leslie Shapiro

The New York Times