Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood

Alexis Madrigal, the Atlantic:

After I filled him in on what we’d done, I waited to hear his reaction, wondering if I was about to have my Netflix account permanently canceled. Instead, he said, “And now you want to come in and talk to Todd Yellin, I guess?”

Yellin is Netflix’s VP of Product and the man responsible for the creation of Netflix’s system. Tagging all the movies was his idea. How to tag them began with a 24-page document he wrote himself. He tagged the early movies and guided the creation of all the systems.

Yes, of course I wanted to meet Yellin. He had become my Wizard of Oz, the man who made the machine, the human whose intelligence and sensibility I’d been tracking through the data.

At our interview, Yellin turned to me and said, “I’ve been waiting for someone to bubble up like this for years.”

No mention of whether Yellin was stroking a cat on his knee.

Madrigal went real deep into Netflix’s specific genre tagging hierarchy, though. It’s incredible how much time they’ve spent to get those genres; then again, it’s a tiny investment to create recommendations which approach an ideal.