Meet the Superusers Behind IMDb, the Internet’s Favorite Movie Site
Brumburgh’s botched book project and five-hour-a-day habit may be unique, but his explanation for what motivates him is not. Like other so-called supercontributors, he believes he’s working in service to an art form and everyone who sees it. Completeness and accuracy are a source of pride.
As of December 2022, IMDb contained pages for over 625,000 movies and over 230,000 TV series. The site now also includes reference information on podcasts, music videos, and video games, plus trailers, original content, showtimes, and watchlists. In total, these pages hold over 484 million pieces of data, from a lengthy synopsis of a movie to its exact run time.
Anyone who opens an IMDb account can submit additions and edits to the site. But not all submissions are equal. The site is governed by a Contributor’s Charter, as well as 109 instructional guides, from how to list countries (origin of financing, not location of filming) to whether wigs are part of the costume department (they’re not). Contributions are reviewed by IMDb, though the company is opaque when it comes to what exactly that process entails. A representative for IMDb wouldn’t share how many moderators and editors are employed by the site, nor the extent to which they may gather or revise content themselves—only that they “have teams and mechanisms for reviewing data to ensure it’s as accurate and reliable as possible.”
At least some of those staff, as well as CEO Col Needham, are also active in the IMDb Community Forums, where the contribution system itself gets continually scrutinized and is often revised through complaints, suggestions, and debate. The section of the forum dedicated to “Data Issues & Policy Discussions” is far and away the most active, with almost 40,000 conversations. One popular post seeks support to “MAKE THE UNIT PUBLICIST AN IMDB JOB CATEGORY” rather than lump the role in with “Additional Crew.” A typical staff announcement explains that the site is now able to appropriately categorize podcast series submissions after a successful beta test with contributors. These public negotiations about the very functioning of the site demonstrate the careful balance supporting its model: It should allow as many new contributors as possible but also encourage some of them to contribute prolifically. The top 10 users successfully submitted 22,910,419 items last year, or nearly 5 percent of all data items that exist on the site. To make it on the end-of-year leaderboard of top contributors, a user needed to have produced at least 17,000 entries.
Contributors have varied tastes and areas of expertise, ranging from punctuation to Indian soap operas—and it is those interests, more than any company plan, that dictate how the data on IMDb expands and changes each year. Les Adams, the Texan with the pressbooks, estimates that his crusade to fix incomplete non-American distributors of American films probably got him on the 2003 Top Contributor list. Christian is an editor and translator in Spain and the man behind Pegg1976, the sixth all-time contributor to IMDb by the end of 2022. He’s made almost 3 million contributions, correcting errors that other users make and IMDb overlooks: accents, capitalization, and, particularly, character names.
Other supercontributors work to ensure that content from their country gets its due on the site. Dibyayan Chakravorty, a 31-year-old engineer in Kolkata, India, began adding to IMDb when he saw how little Indian content had detailed information. (He’s since pivoted to become the most popular author of IMDb polls of all time.) Miriam Vazquez Fraga, a journalist who’s 17th on the all-time contributor list, was a student when she began adding information about Spanish television shows and their actors in her spare time. And for every Dibyayan and Miriam, there’s someone else committed to covering, say, Romanian actors or Filipino films.
A few contributors are called to even more esoteric fields. When Joe Wawrzyniak is not working his retail job in New Jersey, he’s trying to find information on the masses of film pros who never had their name in lights—or anywhere, really. Early stunt actors, niche horror writers, dog actors. “It’s a lot of fun and quite a challenge digging up info on these people,” he told me. He’s the all-time leader in biographies, having written over 3,000 of them. To get information on the lesser-knowns, Wawrzyniak is enmeshed in niche online communities and Facebook groups for film and TV, like one for 1980s extras, where he can contact actors and confirm details.