In my continued following of the Netflix prize story, I've uncovered a few additional facets of the event that are interesting.
My previous posts regarding this topic are here:
First, there's an entire community of prize contestants hanging out in a forum that Netflix sponsors. You can visit the forum here and read through some of the commentary that participants are talking about. It's interesting reading if you are a follower of this story. I didn't notice any overt recruiting efforts going on, but I'm sure they are.
Second, I decided to contact the current leading contestant, as listed on the Netflix Prize leaderboard. I reached out to the leading team wxyzconsulting.com. It's interesting that they are gaining substantial marketing exposure through their position on the leaderboard.
I asked them some questions, here is how they responded:
1. What made you decide to enter the contest? What motivated you?
We've been in the machine learning and personality discovery area for a long time. We are exciting about the Netflix opportunity since it provides us a real scenario to test and proof our innovations. Another major reason is, Netflix competition enables such a worldwide platform that we can benchmark ourselves with other top researchers in the world.
2. I've noticed that wxyzconsulting.com is a new web address as of October of 2006, I presume you formed the company after you entered the contest? What's the history with this venture?
Actually, the .com was formed at the same time as we entered the contest. The reason to have wxyzconsulting.com is, we hope we could find some consulting opportunities by showing our expertises in this field. But we rethinking our goals and targets given the very positive responses received from various sources.
3. Are you the same Yi Zhang that teaches as UCSC? (http://www.cse.ucsc.edu/~yiz/ )
You're right, yes, Yi is the professor in UCSC and she is one of the partners.
4. Have you garnered any consulting business from your status as the frontrunner on the leaderboard? You've had a fair number of hits to the web site since launch just a few short months ago (16,000+ hits to their website).
We're in talks with some companies for possible consulting opportunities. And yes, as the frontrunner of Netflix contest, we do get good exposure.
5. There's been a lot of discussion regarding "gaming the game"; in other words, delivering solutions with a strategy attached to ultimately win the $1M, as opposed to simply solving for the best solution and submitting your results along the way. What is your opinion on this, and how does that tie into your motivation for entering?
Gaming is reasonable given the structure of this game. But gaming itself cannot guarantee the No.1 position. It is the innovation that will make the ultimate difference among so many contesters.
6. Can you verify that your Los Gatos address (the home town of Netflix) is purely coincidental?
Pure coincidence-:) And thanks for your remind, I just realized that Los Gatos is the home town of Netflix.
7. How big is the team that you are working with to solve the puzzle?
Very small, the core technology team consists of only two experts. We're individuals who interest in this field. And we don't have any assistants or computing labs around.
8. Do you think this contest has generic implications for how talent is employed to get work done? Is this a new paradigm that you think will be replicated in the future?
The contest itself is not new at all. topcoder.com, Google and many others have been using such paradigm already. But we do think the problem Netflix wants to solve has huge potential.
9. What do you make of this 'open-source-like' approach to solving a business problem?
We think it has very good potential. The contest at least demonstrates some level of problems big companies are facing right now--- in house R&D usually lacks of real innovation.
10. What would you do with the money?
Well, the money is still in Netflix's hands. To be honest, we have not thought of it yet. We're still 100% focusing on keep innovating and improving.
11. What's your favorite Starbucks beverage?
12. Why do you go by Tiger?
My English name is Tiger. In Asia, people think tiger is the king of the jungle. And we want to be the king of the personalized discovery.
13 Anything else you'd like to add?
We think Netflix competition itself is a strong indication that the industry is moving from search to a new era -- discovery. The recommendation is one important piece of the personalized discovery service. We believe we can do much more with our innovation and technology.
It is pretty cool that after a few short months, the teams have made significant improvements on Netflix's own algorithm, and seem to be moving forward at a brisk pace.
This story is worth continued coverage.