I remember back in 2004 I had a revelation on how Netflix could enhance its service by adding social features. I thought it was a such a good idea I contemplated writing to them to make the suggestion. I never actually contacted them, but I was pleased as punch when they actually did roll out a “Friends” feature later that year. As I mentioned some time later:
What I like about the system is that you can see how your friends rated different movies.
After returning a DVD to Netflix, I get a message prompting me to rate and review the movie, and I usually take note of how my friends rated it. It’s a little piece of information I enjoy seeing. (Even more so, I like the idea of leaving notes about movies that friends can see, but in my opinion Netflix never quite got this right.) But recently I noticed this little piece of information has gone missing. Upon further investigation, I’ve learned that Netflix is phasing out the Friends feature.
According to Wikipedia:
In March 2010, as part of a redesign of its movie-details pages, the Friends feature began to be phased out. Users could no longer see their friends’ ratings on movie pages, and what remained of the friends section was moved to a small link at the bottom of each page. The initial announcement about the redesign on Netflix’s official blog made no reference to any changes to the Friends feature. Hundreds of angry users posted negative comments, and the feedback prompted Netflix’s Vice President of Product Management, Todd Yellin, to post a follow-up statement. While apologizing for poor communication about the changes, Yellin stated that the Friends feature would continue to be phased out, citing figures that only 2 percent of members used the feature and the company’s limited resources to maintain the service. Online efforts by some to save the feature continued, including the launch of a Facebook group. Netflix users have also began using the movie-reviews section of the website to post comments protesting the changes.
Netflix has approximately ten million active subscribers. If only 2% of those customers use the Friends feature, then that’s still approximately 200,000 people, which seems substantial. As the folks who’ve started the Facebook protest group have noted, that 2% may tend to represent the most dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic portion of the customer base.
I see this as an interesting philosophical question. Is it practical to maintain a social feature if it is used by a minority of customers? How big — and how vocal — does that minority have to be to make catering to them worthwhile, from a business sense?
But I think it’s an even more interesting practical question. Social media is pretty hot right now. I believe this Friends feature adds significant value to the Netflix experience. If the numbers are truly disappointing, I’d think Netflix would do well to improve its implementation rather than junk it. It seems counter-intuitive to phase out a social feature of a popular website in 2010.
I also see some parallels between this issue and the plight of The Missing 1200, Saints season ticket holders who have been “disenfranchised” by remodeling in the Superdome.
It will be interesting to see if either group prevails against the Corpocracy. They sure keep us busy fighting for crumbs, don’t they? Meanwhile our nation continues to unravel.
Oh, and if you use Netflix, friend me!