Back in the days when you used to have to walk into a video store to rent a VHS tape, I would go through the same thing every week. After spending what seemed like hours wandering, I would set my tape down on the counter. This was the clerk's cue to sigh heavily and shake his head. Then he'd quietly pick up my tape, walk away, and return with three or four completely different films. Over and over, this happened, introducing me to an eclectic mix of cinema which, without those helpful clerks, would have remained hidden.
When movies came to the online world, I always had hopes of rekindling that magic virtually, but more often than not, I wound up checking out the wrong video. Now, a new service proposes to change that, by bringing the video clerks back into the mix. Meet Clerk Dogs.
Much in the same way that the Amazon Mechanical Turk has reminded us that humans can often perform certain tasks far more efficiently than machines, Clerk Dogs aims to prove that video clerks can provide far more beneficial movie recommendations than algorithms.
Users enter their favorite movie titles and receive a selection of recommended movies. But if users want to get more specific, they can opt to use the "mash it" feature. Mash it allows the user to work with a sliding scale of movie attributes like violence, character depth, suspense, offbeat, and action.
This allows users to select movies that are similar to original selection, but not exactly the same. Maybe they're looking for something with less violence, more character development, and a little bit offbeat. Clerk Dogs starts providing recommendations.
Where do the clerks come in? According to Clerk Dogs, "former clerks, who understand why customers like movies, have analyzed all the characteristics of movies to create a database that is much richer and deeper than the collaborative filtering engines." The underlying data for Clerk Dogs is provided by the Muze database.
Does Clerk Dogs have a chance? It might. The founder knows a thing or two about movies and movie database services. Clerk Dogs is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Stuart Skorman, who also founded Reel.com, a movie site from the dotcom era - which always seemed to be running neck and neck with IMDB - that was acquired by Hollywood Entertainment in the late 90s.
Does it work? It has potential. I spent a few minutes testing the system and came away with some incredibly interesting recommendations. Some that, like the tapes the video clerks used to plop in front of me, I'd be willing to try.
Of course, if I want to see them, I'll have to go to Netflix or some other service to rent them. There's no rental service at Clerk Dogs. That's a bit of an extra step. But if it's a step that means I'll get a movie that I actually like, I'd be willing to do that.
Clerk Dogs is currently in beta. As such, its selections are constrained to crime and suspense genres, with other genres being added in the coming months. To test drive the selection process for yourself, visit Clerk Dogs and start testing it against some of your favorite movies.