Web Site Lightens Choices / System tailors movie and album purchases

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Tuesday, March 12, 1996 · Page E1
© 1996 San Francisco Chronicle

Web Site Lightens Choices
System tailors movie and album purchases

LAURA EVENSON, Chronicle Staff Writer

A new World Wide Web site takes the sting out of deciding which movie to see or album to buy by tailoring recommendations to your taste.

Called Firefly, the new service is the latest evolution of a computer program out of MIT that formerly was called HOMR and even earlier called RINGO. Initially, the service asked you to rate about 50 artists, ranging from Fred Astaire to Unholy Swill, and then recommended music that might be to your taste.

Last year, MIT professor Patty Moss and a few of her students used the technology to found Agents Inc., a Cambridge- based Web service that will add movies and advertising to the computer search program today. It plans to rate Web sites and books in the future.

In its latest incarnation, the site at http://www.ffly.com enables Web surfers to define and expand both their musical and movie-watching tastes. The new movie portion of the site asks a computer user to rate 40 movies ranging from ``A Few Good Men'' to ``Wall Street,'' then considers those ratings in recommending other movies that may be of interest from its database of more than 120,000 titles.

A user may also ask it to recommend movies based on favorite directors or actors. And if the user wants to see a list of movies by genre or era, Firefly suggests movies based on the user's previous picks.

For example, say you tell Firefly that you liked ``Manhattan'' and ``Casablanca'' but didn't care for ``Close Encounters of the Third Kind'' or ``Batman Returns.'' If you later ask to see a list of ``cult movies'' from the 1970s, Firefly would respond with choices including ``Taxi Driver'' and ``Apocalypse Now.''

``The idea is to encourage serendipity, so somebody browsing through the program will see not only the most obvious films, but a few that are off the beaten path,'' said Nick Grouf, chief executive and president of Agents Inc.

If Firefly's responses seem a little off the mark, you can always turn to e-mail or chat areas for recommendations from those with similar tastes.

Even better, Firefly users get to rate ads from companies as diverse as AT&T and Stolichnaya that appear on the bottom of their screens. A click of the mouse and presto! That Ma Bell ad is history.

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