What is Letterboxd? The Social Media Platform Going Mainstream

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Early final decade, Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow, internet designers based mostly in Auckland, New Zealand, have been looking for a ardour challenge. Their enterprise, a boutique internet design studio known as Cactuslab, developed apps and web sites for varied shoppers, however they wished a challenge of their very own that their group might plug away at when there wasn’t a lot else to do.

Buchanan had an thought for a social media website about motion pictures. At the time, he mirrored, he used Flickr to share images and to share his style in music. IMDb was a database; it wasn’t, in essence, social. That left a niche within the discipline. The end result was an app and social media community known as Letterboxd, which its web site describes, aptly, as “Goodreads for film.”

After it was launched on the internet convention Brooklyn Beta within the fall of 2011, Letterboxd steadily developed a modest however passionate following of movie followers keen to trace their movie-watching habits, create lists of favorites, and write and publish opinions. In 2020, nevertheless, the positioning’s progress was explosive. Letterboxd has seen its person base almost double for the reason that starting of the pandemic: They now have greater than three million member accounts, in keeping with the corporate, up from 1.7 million presently final 12 months.

And it’s not simply extra customers. It’s extra use: “We’ve seen more activity per member,” Buchanan mentioned in a current Zoom interview. “Our metrics are up across the board.” Their revenues have elevated, from promoting and optionally available paid memberships, which give customers added options. The firm is not simply Buchanan and von Randow’s facet challenge, and over the past 12 months, they’ve introduced on a number of full-time employees.

The pandemic has ravaged the film trade, as theaters have remained principally shuttered and high-profile would-be blockbusters like “Tenet” have drastically underperformed. But for Letterboxd, all that point at home has been a boon. “We love talking about movies,” mentioned Gemma Gracewood, Letterboxd’s editor in chief. “And we’re talking even more about what we love lately because we’re all stuck indoors.”

In the start, Letterboxd primarily attracted movie obsessives: hard-core cinephiles, stats fanatics {and professional} critics seeking to home their revealed work underneath one roof. Mike D’Angelo, a longtime contributor to Entertainment Weekly and Esquire, used Letterboxd to retroactively log each film he has seen, by date, since January 1992. In addition to importing his outdated opinions to the platform, he makes use of the positioning as a type of diary for extra off-the-cuff musings.

“If I’m writing a professional review, I’m writing for a general audience,” he mentioned in a current telephone name. “Whereas on Letterboxd, I don’t worry about pro forma things like plot synopsis. I make jokes and references you would have to have a fairly deep film knowledge to understand. I find it much more liberating.”

That freedom offers writing on Letterboxd a type of wild-west high quality. What rises to the highest of the positioning’s web page for hottest opinions ranges wildly: There are obscure memes, diaristic essays and sprawling screeds full of pseudo-academic jargon. You would possibly discover political disquisitions written with breathless zeal: “As the most destructive action in the world, as the source of more war, death, and exploitation than anything this world has known since chattel slavery was born, imperialism is the highest, most vile, most horrifying aspect of capitalism, and we oppose it.” (That is, after all, a overview of “Wonder Woman.”) Or you would possibly discover a single cryptic sentence, resembling one of many website’s hottest opinions of the film “Joker”: “This happened to my buddy Eric.”

The unedited, anything-goes spirit of Letterboxd could be off-putting: D’Angelo confessed he finds it “maddening” when writers “use all lowercase” or refuse “to use normal grammar or punctuation,” which on the positioning is commonly. But the dearth of guidelines or construction also can result in some fascinating, unconventional criticism, and gives a platform to voices which may in any other case not be heard. On Letterboxd, you possibly can uncover not solely new motion pictures to observe, however new critics to comply with.

Sydney Wegner, a single mom in rural Texas, began utilizing Letterboxd in late 2012. Under the username @campbart, she has written vivid, free-form opinions (nearly solely in lowercase) of sci-fi, horror and motion motion pictures, together with a heartfelt piece about “Minions” that reads like a poetic ode to her daughter. “I wrote that way because that’s what I like to read,” she mentioned lately. “I find criticism very boring unless there’s a personal aspect to it.”

Wegner mentioned she “never intended to write professionally,” however as her account started to realize followers, she quickly discovered herself fielding requests for paid work as a critic. She has appeared as a visitor on movie podcasts, performed introductions for movie screenings and been commissioned by editors at a number of movie overview web sites, resembling Film Freak Central.

Lucy May joined Letterboxd in 2015, and right this moment she is one in every of its hottest customers, with almost 60,000 followers. The 26-year-old lives together with her household in her hometown in Illinois, the place she works at a movie show, and in her spare time watches motion pictures and writes about them at size on Letterboxd.

Although May mentioned she is “first and foremost a fan of film,” and never knowledgeable, she nonetheless now considers herself a critic. “I would call myself a Letterboxd-era critic,” she mentioned. She finds this “modern wave of criticism” on Letterboxd fascinating, “because a lot of the old rules are being thrown out the window.”

“There’s now less shame when lower ratings are handed out to acclaimed older films, and there’s more love to go around for things like rom-coms,” she mentioned. “I find that honesty on Letterboxd fascinating. I didn’t go to school for writing or anything like that, but I do call myself a critic in that sense.”

Letterboxd’s explosion in progress is certainly trending younger. On the app, which the corporate experiences is how 75 p.c of customers entry Letterboxd, the biggest demographic is 18- to 24-year-olds. “There’s been an enormous growth in younger members,” Greenwood mentioned. And she mentioned that when drawn to the platform, these youthful members usually quickly discover their tastes beginning to evolve. “They’re coming on having watched ‘The Princess Switch: Switched Again’ and discovering ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,’” she mentioned.

That shift towards a youthful person base means Letterboxd is lastly beginning to broaden exterior the hard-core movie-buff area of interest — and the greater than one million new customers in 2020 signify lots of people “who aren’t strictly cinephiles,” Buchanan defined. The progress has introduced the platform to a brand new stage of success, and Buchanan sees even larger potential. “There are tens of millions of Netflix users, for instance. We know we’re not going to appeal to every single Netflix user, but we also know that the appetite for film content is growing.”

The surge in progress means that whereas the movie trade has in some ways been devastated by lockdown orders and the scourge of the pandemic, movie tradition itself remains to be thriving. We could not be capable of go to the films, however because the success of Letterboxd exhibits, we nonetheless wish to discuss them.

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