Interview: Meet the Goodfilms Team

Finding a new film that would interest you can be difficult. So many new movies come out each year, but then, the majority wouldn’t be ones you’d necessarily want to watch. Plus, there’s so many classic movies that you might really like, but would never hear of without searching for them.

We got the chance to talk to the Goodfilms team, who are working on developing their app to help people find movies they’ll love easier. Following is our interview with them, where they talk about how they can give better recommendations for movies, their thoughts on Netflix recommendations, and how they use web apps to build their app.

Disclosure: Goodfilms is founded by two former staff of Envato, the company that owns and operates AppStorm.

Could you tell us a bit about your team: when did you get started, where are you located, and what makes you excited to work on Goodfilms each day?

Right now Goodfilms is just Glen (@glenmaddern) and I (@johnbarton). We’re based in Melbourne, Australia (specifically, in the spare bedroom at Glen’s apartment in Fitzroy). Glen got started around the middle of last year as a bit of a hobby project, then joined the AngelCube startup incubator. While Glen was going through that process, he and I would catch up over drinks every week or two and bounce ideas back and forth, and then eventually I got sick of suggesting things from the sidelines and jumped in with both feet.

For me personally, thing that makes me excited to work on Goodfilms every day is the warm feeling I get when I see people finding new films to watch they never would have heard of otherwise. I find watching films propagate through my social network really interesting and exciting. I’ll have two friends with a few degrees of separation between them end up watching the same film because of the way people’s ratings flow through everyone’s social connections.

Glen and John of Goodfilms

Why why Goodfilms? What what the inspiration behind creating it?

That’s a big question. The original inspiration was that Glen just needed one place to keep a list of all the films his friends were telling him that “he had to see”. I used to keep a spreadsheet of top rated IMDB films and which of them my friends had seen so that I could organise our group movie nights.

The fact that Glen and I both had to come up with our own solutions to keep up with what our friends had seen (and want us to see) made it clear that there was an unmet need for a web app to help with where your friends and movies overlap. The next piece of the puzzle was the rating system we use (the two axes, quality and rewatchability) – none of the existing film review sites gave us anything to differentiate between the critically acclaimed “masterpieces” and the really enjoyable “guilty pleasures”. We took those two ideas, smashed them together, and boom – we’ve got Goodfilms.

The Goodfilms top-secret master plan

Goodfilms right now shows movies recommended by other Goodfilms users that you’re friends with on Twitter or Facebook. What about films friends just mention on Twitter or Facebook? Could Goodfilms in the future surface those too?

I think that in the future we will probably start using data like that to feed into our system, but for right now we’re focusing on getting as many people to rate films using our two axis system. There’s certainly a bit to learn from the data around incidental mentions, but we’re getting the biggest bang for buck is finding out where different people put the same film on the graph.

Netflix famously held a contest for a better movie recommendation algorithm, and then didn’t put it to use. How will you crack the code for recommending movies better than other services?

It’s really funny you bring up the Netflix recommendation competition, because this is something Glen and I have talked about over and over again between us. Fundamentally, Netflix needs a very complicated algorithm to recommend films because their data “quality” is low.

We did some research a little while ago into existing rating systems and found a big public dataset called MovieLens, which includes 10 million film ratings. Of those ratings, two thirds were between 3 & 4 stars. When you’ve got data that looks like that, devoid of any further context, it’s a very difficult problem to solve. By working from a two axis rating system we get a lot more interesting information to work with. We then can combine that data with other data we’ve got about how films work their way through the social network, we should be able to make some fairly solid recommendations.

Could you share a bit about your development process with us? Are you using any cloud services like Amazon EC2 in Goodfilms?

Our development processes are fairly ad hoc given there are only two of us contributing to the codebase. We’re generally shipping code to the live site once or twice a day. For bigger projects where we need to keep a closer eye on the code changes we sometimes use Github pull requests to make code review a bit easier.

It’s a Ruby on Rails application, and we’re using Postgres as our main datastore. We’re currently hosting the site on Rackspace Cloud Servers (Rackspace’s EC2 equivalent). It can be a difficult choice sometimes whether it’s best to host your app on traditional servers or on cloud infrastructure. Luckily for us, we have very light disk IO requirements, which is a pretty common roadblock to cloud hosting, so we’re free to take advantage of the pricing in the cloud.

What do you think about the state of video streaming and digital video purchases online today?

I think the state of online streaming was best summed up by The Oatmeal with their Game of Thrones comic. Hilarious comics of internet piracy aside, I think it’s a really interesting time for online streaming. Apple have definitely shown with their success with music in the iTunes store that if you straight up compete with piracy instead of ignoring it that there is money to be made. Between them and Netflix (and Amazon and Google) things are getting better, but the market is still really fragmented.

We’re hoping to be part of the process that makes it easier for people to do the right thing. We figure that for a lot of time-poor users, if you’re catching up with what your friends are watching, and you find a new (or old) movie you want to watch, if it’s easier to just click through and watch legally you’re probably going to do it.

If there was one thing you could change about the movie industry online, what would you change?

Personally, and it’s not just a movie industry online thing, but online’s a big part of it, is that I’d like to see film distribution and release timelines shaken up. I’m constantly finding out about new films that sound great, and then find that it’s not coming to a cinema near me, or won’t be available in Australia on dvd for another year, or is locked up in an exclusive content deal with a service that can’t stream to Australia. I’d be happy to spend money on these films if I could, but the opportunities just don’t come up.

Thanks to regular social media, and hopefully in the future because of Goodfilms, it is a lot easier to find where the demand for niche films is, and to really target the delivery and marketing of them. That the film industry still only interact with “regions” when the internet has flattened them all out is pretty annoying.

What web apps does your team use daily?

Github! Github and google everything – gmail, analytics, docs, etc are the main ones.

We’re also using NewRelic for server performance monitoring, Wormly for uptime checks and sms notification, gauges for extra analytics, Airbrake for error logging, Verifyapp for UX testing, Xero for our accounting… and I think that’s about it.

Could you share anything about your future plans for Goodfilms?

Well, it’s pretty clear that a recommendation system is part of our future (given it’s mentioned right there on the homepage), but we’re not 100% sure when we’re going to make that our prime focus. We’ll be pushing more on our integration with the online streaming services so that you can always find a good film to watch. We’re also going to be spending a fair amount of time on our UX to make rating and sharing films as pleasant as possible for the users.

Beyond that, we start getting into the secret master plan territory and I’ll be keeping my mouth shut.

Thanks, Goodfilms team!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to the Goodfilms team, and especially John, for taking the time out of their busy schedules to do this interview with us. Goodfilms definitely looks like a nice option for finding new movies and sharing your thoughts on your favorite films with your friends, so be sure to check it out. We’ve got an in-depth review of Goodfilms coming up here on Web.AppStorm soon as well!