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Yahoo Movies Get Personal

Yahoo Movies went wide on Wednesday with a personal recommendation service designed to help fans learn about titles that suit them.

Beginning today, visitors to Yahoo Movies who click on "My Movies" will see a "My Recommendations" tab leading to listings powered by ChoiceStream. Users can rate movies they've seen -- or banish them permanently from sight. They also can compare how the critics and Yahoo users rated them.

"In looking at ways to build out Yahoo Movies and make it more helpful, recommendations was the logical next step," said Jed Rosenzweig, director of production for Yahoo Movies, which already provided tools that let users rate and review movies. "This new service takes movie guidance to the next level."

The site lets visitors browse movies showing in theaters, those playing on local television and new releases on DVD or video. The site also pulls up reviews from "Fans Like You," that is, people whose preferences seem to match the user's.

"We'll go to the users that have opted in and allowed themselves to be included in the community feature. It searches for folks with profiles similar to yours, like-minded users. It's a great discovery tool," said Steven Johnson, CEO of ChoiceStream.

E-commerce opportunities abound, thanks to integration with Yahoo Shopping. Yahoo Movies users can quickly find show times and click to buy theater tickets online or order a DVD. They can watch trailers and clips, read news and even keep an eye on the box office gross, all content that's monetized by advertising.

ChoiceStream specializes in exposing more of a customer's content, in this case, Yahoo's database of more than 100,000 feature film and television titles. The company also powers Yahoo Shopping Gift Finder, which was launched in April.

Cambridge, Mass.-based ChoiceStream tapped into the local academic community to build its technology using "choice modeling," a different statistical approach to inferring information from a set of attributes, such as which movies someone likes.

When it comes to movies and television shows, the software automatically analyzes program descriptions, reviews and several third-party data sources to set up the lists of attributes that predict people's preferences.

"Our understanding of what drives your interest is quite potent when deciding what kinds of shows to promote," Johnson said. Users typically need to rate only three to five movies to begin getting recommendations that seem right, he added.

The movie recommendation service has been in public beta since early April. Rosenzweig said that Yahoo hasn't tracked usage of the movie recommendation technology during the beta period, but user comments show that the recommendations are more accurate and useful than those of other services.

"We've been able to recommend movies that users really want to watch," he said, "instead of offering recommendations that offer more of the same."