Brumburgh’s botched reading schedule and 5-hour-a-day habit may be unique, but his explanation of what motivates him isn’t. Like other so-called super contributors, he believes he is serving an art form and all who see it. Integrity and accuracy are a matter of pride.
As of December 2022, IMDb contains pages for over 625,000 movies and over 230,000 TV shows. The site now also includes reference information on podcasts, music videos and video games, as well as trailers, original content, showtimes and watch lists. Together, these pages contain more than 484 million pieces of data, ranging from lengthy movie summaries to exact showtimes.
Anyone with an IMDb account can submit additions and edits to the site. But not all submissions are created equal. The site is governed by a charter of contributors, as well as 109 guidelines, from how to list countries (where the funding came from, not where it was filmed) to whether the wigs belong in the clothing department (which they aren’t). Contributions are vetted by IMDb, though the company is opaque when it comes to exactly what that process entails. A representative for IMDb would not say how many moderators and editors the site employs, or the extent to which they collect or revise content themselves — saying only that they “have teams and mechanisms in place to review the data to ensure it is as accurate and reliable as possible.
At least some of these employees, along with CEO Col Needham, are also actively involved in the IMDb community forums, and the contribution system itself is constantly reviewed and often amended through complaints, suggestions, and debate. The section of the forum devoted to “Data Issues and Policy Discussions” was undoubtedly the most active, with nearly 40,000 conversations. A popular post seeks support for “making organizational publicists an IMDB job category” rather than lumping the role with “other staff”. A typical staff announcement explains that, following a successful beta test with contributors, the site is now able to properly categorize submitted podcast series. These open negotiations about the site’s workings suggest a careful balance in favor of its model: it should allow as many new contributors as possible, but also encourage some of them to make prolific contributions. The top 10 users successfully submitted 22,910,419 items last year, accounting for nearly 5% of all data items on the site. To qualify for the year-end Top Contributors list, a user needs to generate at least 17,000 entries.
Contributors have varying tastes and areas of expertise, from punctuation to Indian soap operas — and it’s these interests, more than any company’s plans, that determine how the data on IMDb expands and changes from year to year. Les Adams, a Texan who publishes print, reckons his reform campaign to address America’s imperfect non-U.S. distributors could land him in the 2003 class List of Top Contributors. Christian is an editor and translator in Spain and the driving force behind Pegg1976, the sixth historical contributor to IMDb by the end of 2022. With nearly 3 million contributions, he corrects mistakes made by other users and missed by IMDb: accents, capitalization and, especially, character names.
Other Super Contributors work hard to ensure that content from their countries gets its due on the site. Dibyayan Chakravorty, a 31-year-old engineer in Kolkata, India, started adding content to IMDb when he saw that there were very few details about Indian content. (He has since become the most popular author in IMDb polls.) Miriam Vazquez Fraga, a journalist who ranks 17th on the list of all-time contributors, began adding stories about Spanish TV shows and Its cast information when she was a student in her spare time. For every Dibyayan and Miriam, there are others dedicated to reporting, say, a Romanian actor or a Filipino film.
Some contributors are called into more esoteric areas. When Joe Wawrzyniak isn’t working in retail in New Jersey, he’s trying to find information on film professionals whose names have never been on the lights or anywhere. Early stuntman, niche horror writer, dog actor. “It was interesting and challenging to mine these people,” he told me. He is a leader in the history of biographies, having written more than 3,000 biographies. To get his hands on little-known information, Wawrzyniak immerses himself in film and TV’s niche online communities and Facebook groups, such as that of 1980s extras, where he can contact actors and confirm details.
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