Ah, the infinite wisdom of a search engine. Google anything and you'll get, say, 100 million results in about 0.45 seconds. The magic of the Internet!
But that's just step one. Searching for something is easy; finding the right information is not. And for years, the Los Angeles-based screenwriter Ted Smith struggled to find what he needed—the release dates for films, mostly, as well as the schedules for home releases, trailers, and TV series—in one place. He'd scour the web, searching IMDb, then Rotten Tomatoes, then TV.com, and so on, without finding one site that included everything. So last January, he built his own hub of release dates into a site. He called it "The Projection List."
The Projection List is, put simply, a well-designed spreadsheet. It looks like this:
It's minimalist in design and in purpose. All it's meant to do is gather and update release dates. "I knew people, including myself, were frustrated with the way release schedules were presented up to this point," Smith said, "so I knew people would like it."
Smith, as the one updating the spreadsheets, still does plenty of research to sustain the site, by visiting the same sites he did before and keeping an eye on industry news for dates to add to the list. Projecting dates that haven't been announced takes an extra step: For those, Smith works backwards, revisiting the schedules of studios and franchises in the past to estimate when trailers and films will be released in the future.
Take Spectre, for example. Smith projects that the full trailer—not just the teaser—of the next installment in the James Bond franchise will debut on September 4, 2015, in front of Sony's Jane Got a Gun or Kitchen Sink. To peg down the date, Smith looked at the schedule for Skyfall and previous Bond films, calculating the amount of time between teaser and trailer dates for the franchise before making his projection. His prediction could be completely off-base, but that's just fine by him.
"I'll be the first to admit it's kind of ridiculous predicting trailers, and people have called me out on it," he admitted, "but that's one of the most popular parts of the site, and I've been following trailer releases for years."
What makes the Projection List remarkable isn't just Smith's arduous research; it's the fact that nearly four months after its debut in January, the site still hasn't tried to be anything else. There's no news shared, only an added date here or there, and even the social-media links are tucked away into the top right corner. The most the List will do going forward, Smith told me, is place some modest studio-related ads to occupy the white space.
Which, all in all, makes the site a fascinating case study of how a sophisticated single-serving spreadsheet can function as website. So far, it attracts several thousand visitors a day (Smith said most visitors return because they've bookmarked the site), and it does so by making sure not to be complicated in any way. "I don't want to take over or to step on IMDb's toes," he said. "It just felt like a no-brainer—it was just shocking to me that [a centralized list of release dates] didn't exist."
Well, it does now, even if it means Smith has to do most of the heavy lifting of compiling and updating the sheets. But in that sense, the List itself is more like iTunes than IMDb. Its organization and design make the site a bit like Smith's own library of dates, categorized the way he likes it.
That'll start to change, though, as Smith said he plans to add more customization tools, which will allow visitors to see only the films and TV series they're interested in tracking. He's also working on building an app out of his massive database and he'll possibly add some bare-bones information on the projects he tracks—perhaps a short synopsis, top-billed cast and crew, and film posters. Perhaps those elements are covering the same ground IMDb does, but for Smith, building the List is not about the content—it's about feeling less frustrated with wading through the infinite recesses of the Internet for clear, uncomplicated information. A hundred million Google search results can only do so much.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/imdb-but-not-quite/388273/