Phasing Out Friends

April 5th, 2010 by Editor B

Phasing Out Friends

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.

(This last is being discussed on Movie Fans: A Netflix Community.)

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!

6 Responses to “Phasing Out Friends”

  1. Aaron Poehler Says:

    I think it’s a mistake to think creating a Facebook protest group qualifies as “being vocal” but it’s also a mistake not to cater to the most active users of a product, even if a small minority–the most enthusiastic users will ALWAYS be a small minority. That’s why they’re outliers, as well as (often) market leaders. Short-sighted to say the least.

  2. Chris Says:

    Aaron, the group on facebook is meant as a meeting place for fellow members to discuss options on what can be done. We are not so naive to think that Netflix is seeing our group and listening to our concerns there. Rather, we have discussed taking down our reviews, calling the company, etc.

  3. Eric Says:

    I had no idea the Friends feature existed. I would have been enthusiastically using it – the 200,001st user. It seems like a feature like that would keep growing as more people mention it outside Netflix to their friends. It could allow some fun amateur film reviewing, along with a way to see what people with similar tastes think of a movie before you rent it. Oh well – someone else will incorporate it into their social networking site.

  4. Sean Says:

    I like the idea of rating and friends, but I never bothered because my wife and I share her account. So if I were to write a review I thought it’d be under her name… Sucks that I find out there was a profiles option now.

  5. John Says:

    To Netflex Marketing:

    The sad misnomer about the “2%,” is that they are often the very people most-qualified to post movie reviews and are the very people who have contributed most to the success of Netflex. Secondly, the “Friends” “tab” was “hidden” from view, and I just started using it. By virtue, of similar tastes in film, I tend to follow a creditable person who has posted reviews, and know their idiosyncratic taste, and, hence feel confident that this movie will stand the most probable chance of resonating with me. Previously, using only a Netflix criteria, it was taking me over an hour just to find a mediocre film. Whereas, by virtue of the Netflix “friends” feature, I was able to find over 175 titles in just three weeks! When I called Netflex customer service to find out what was going on, and was briskly informed, I felt as thought I had a fist crushed into my stomach — whooping and gasping for air. The idea of substituting this for a social site was about as appealing as tin-foil on a tooth.

    Moreover, I am a widely-published writer. Not only has my work been published in the USA, but has been translated into several languages. There are those reviews that are poorly written, and are at — or near the top — by virtue of “getting there first.” Hence, since these reviews were the “only game in town,” they received considerable votes, creating the proverbial “Catch 22″ for better and more polished reviews.

    I have recently have posted excellent reviews, not by virtue my own subjection evaluation, but by the *immediate* votes that I receive. Because of Netflex’s inability to make the obvious adjustments, I watch my reviews where I have spent countless hours constructing, sadly drift into the back pages, and into obscurity, as they move farther, and farther to the back of the list. It is not uncommon to see 0 of 22 votes, ranked higher than 22 for 0 votes. How could such an egregious error take place? Is this a technology problem, or the result of people unable to distinguish good writing. Simply put, you currently have no system in place for those people who write a review later rather than sooner. Please understand that there are some excellent reviews at the top, but I happen to see an obvious holes attempt to fill it, it becomes an effort into futility.

    Thank you for addressing my concerns.

    John

  6. b.rox » Blog Archive » Dear Netflix Says:

    [...] feature earlier this year, despite vocal protests from many of your most loyal members. I was disappointed, but decided to hang in [...]

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