In summer of 2006, Netflix had the idea to engage the machine-learning community to help improve their Cinematch technology, thus opening the door to thousands of development teams from around the world to take a crack at improving their already very successful movie-matching algorithim. The incentive? A million dollar prize to the top development team.
Serving as a central hub for the contest is a website called netflixprize.com that allowed new teams to sign up, provided an up-to-date leaderboard of the top teams, accept contest submissions and enabled community discussion.
To build this site rapidly, Netflix contracted with local development firm Internet Simplicity.
With the expected turnout, a high level of automation was needed. Results submitted through the netflixprize.com website needed to be seamlessly sent to Netflix's internal judging servers, and then automatically posted back to the netflixprize.com website after the scoring was done.
The site also had to be able to support a heavy load, prevent automated submissions and signups, monitor the large file downloads and handle a variety of use cases surrounding contest rules, team registration and member management, terms and conditions acceptance and more.
Throughout the development process, Internet Simplicity met with the Netflix Cinematch team to report updates on progress, refine application functionality and work with the Netflix system administrators to coordinate on the technology handshake of Netflix's technology and the Netflix Prize application.
The end result was a complete prize-management system set up and integrated on Netflix's infrastructure, load-balanced across several servers and ready for prime-time.
Netflixprize.com went live on October 2, 2006. The news prompted articles in the San Francicsco Chronicle, the New York Times, popular tech-news sites like Slashdot and Digg and appeared in blogs across the Internet and all over the world.
Within hours of launch, the site sustained a severe pummeling but, thanks to the tested design and the prudent Netflix sysadmins who handled the server infrastructre, it held up without a hitch.
Within in 4 days of launch, over 7,000 teams were signed up to participate from countries all over the world.
Approximately one year later, the site coordinates the actions of more than 20,000 teams across 158 different countries.
Needless to say, the contest has been a success for Netflix, with hundreds of prize-submissions coming in every day, and a development community that is committed to improving on the Netflix Cinematch system.