Thursday, February 12, 2004

research note II: attack of the clones

My comrade in positivism in Sheboygan, WI recommended a follow-up study to my earlier scientific exploration of the What to Rent website. What she encouraged me to do specifically was to simply log into the site twice and pick exactly the same personality profile, etc., and see to what extent it duplicated the same movie list. What I did was, using the new user account REPLICANT1, first try to repeat the exact choices I made last night in the "Wouldn't do it" experimental condition. What I discovered quickly was that it was giving me exactly those movies that had been recommended under any of the three conditions tested last night. I had it keep generating movies until it recommended something that hadn't been recommended last night, which took all the way to its 13th suggestion (of 15 total generated last night).
REPLICANT1 recommendations, in order: 1. Rushmore; 2. 25th Hour; 3. The Royal Tennenbaums; 4. The Hustler; 5. Reservoir Dogs; 6. Chasing Amy; 7. Igby Goes Down; 8. Rocky; 9. Lost In Translation; 10. Punch Drunk Love; 11. Boogie Nights; 12. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; 13. Gattaca [first movie not in set of movies recommended yesterday]
Conjecture: The three experimental conditions last night were run concurrently. Perhaps the website, through its sinister web-cookie-insertion technologies, actually did not treat SCIENCE1, SCIENCE2, and SCIENCE3 as three separate users after all, but just as the same user. Anyway, let's shut everything down and then start over with brand new user REPLICANT2.
REPLICANT2 recommendations, in order: 1. Rushmore; 2. Rocky; 3. 25th Hour; 4. The Royal Tennenbaums; 5. The Hustler; 6. Reservoir Dogs; 7. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; 8. Lost In Translation; 9. The Insider [recommended yesterday, although not in the list above; alas, this is where the server connection aborted, and the study had to be, at least for now, abandoned]
The second list is similar, but not identical, to the first list, which means that it is also similar to the movies generated last night. To be sure, What to Rent really thinks I'm itching to see Rushmore again. I should also note that every movie in the above list that I have seen (~2/3) I liked, to varying degrees. That, the degrees to which I liked them are completely (or, perhaps, mildly inversely) unrelated to the order in which they were recommended by the site.

Update, Friday morning: From a reader in Schwartzman, WI: "I just did my profile on the What to Rent site, and guess what my number one recommendation was? Yes, indeed, Rushmore! None of our other top tens matched. Makes me wonder who is financing the site and why are they so desperate to rent copies of Rushmore to unsuspecting patrons."

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