Letter to IMDB

Dear IMDB Staff,

I have experience in online virtual community design, having done so for Fujitsu and other major corporations. Although I’m no longer consulting, I just wanted to point out that the feature you’ve added that allows people to vote whether a review is “helpful” or not is not only redundant, it’s counter productive. I know this feature is popular on Amazon, but people don’t use it the way many designers think they do. Users more often use it to express agreement or disagreement with a review, rather than whether it helped them decide to see the movie or not. In terms of virtual design additions, message boards are far more helpful in that regard — and you’ve added those, which is terrific design work. Studies have proven that virtual communities with persistent identity increase “stickiness” to a site, and message boards remain above and beyond one of the best features to this end.

Where this feature is counter productive is that it allows users to “punish” negative reviews of movies they like. If you analyze Amazon, you’ll see that negative reviews (low number of stars) get a significantly higher percentage of “unhelpful” votes — in some cases 90% higher — even if they are well-developed and reasonably well written. This discourages honest reviewing and will in the long run drive users away from IMDB as a source of reviews. Consequently, IMDB will lose “stickiness” to other sites like Rotten Tomatoes. Users can already in a fraction of a second determine if a review is “helpful” or not if it’s under written, contains spelling errors or contains too many negative words. A load of “unhelpful” votes discourages reading, which I assume IMDB doesn’t want.

While I understand the reasoning behind this feature change — most likely to enhance user participation and increase self policing of reviews — it does not, in fact, have the effect imagined, I’m sorry to say. I’m very disappointed to see that IMDB has adopted this feature, as I feel it will adversely affect IMDB’s reputation the way it currently does Amazon.

Thanks for your consideration.

Best regards,

Maria Alexander

(I know I’m behind and that this feature has been around for a bit, but dammit someone had to write that letter.)

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