Netflix embraces profiling


— 2:46 PM on August 14, 2013

It was a dark and stormy night when I first joined Netflix in January 2007. Or light and breezy. Who knows? I can't remember three days ago. The membership was a (requested) Christmas gift, and there was much rejoicing throughout the Fox household, which, at the time, was two-fifths its current size. Back then, you could set up separate DVD/Blu-ray queues for different family members and alternate which queue your next disc was sent from. My wife, the hottest of all Megan Foxes, and I took advantage of this feature. Meaning there was almost always at least one movie in the house one of us had no interest in viewing.

And then Reed Hastings drove a stake through the heart of marital movie bliss and banished this feature to the junk pile of Betamax tapes and HD-DVDs. Boo. Hiss. So my wife's profile sat there for years. Still clickable, but with nothing in the queue and no way to add anything to the queue (although now such additions would be of the streaming variety, as we had given up the disc rentals after the Great Qwikster Flambé of 2011). So lonely. So forlorn.

Eventually, my wife pulled a double and spawned two offspring at once just to prove she was still a tough, Iowa farm girl at heart even though she doesn't know how to take a pork tenderloin from piglet to deep fryer. These spawn were then followed by a third and surgically guaranteed final Fox, and our Netflix Instant Queue ranneth over with the evil that is the whiny, Canadian scourge known as "Caillou." Sigh, eh.

Then, earlier this very summer, Netflix announced that they were bring profiles back—up to five per account. They finally rolled out this much-requested feature beginning August 1, with the caveat that it could take up to two weeks for profiles to propagate amongst the user hordes. Naturally, my account was on the tail end of receiving the upgrade, but it did show up Monday evening. Which is when the fun really began. Which is sarcasm. Because while Netflix did add profiles with individual queues, they did not create any way of moving or copying movies between queues. It took me the better part of 90 minutes (I did save the best part for a chocolate bar) to re-look up every kids show in our main queue and add it to the new Kiddos profile. Because coding a way to move things between MySQL databases is apparently beyond the technical acumen of folks who figured out how to send "Tommy Boy" though space and time. Also, I have no idea if they use MySQL databases. Maybe they outsource queue-keeping to small, Nepalese villages where they write everything down by hand in between getting schooled in the art of shot taking by Marion Ravenwood.

Anyway, I'm happy the profiles are back and that my queue is now free of magical ponies. Although I did keep Pingu around because he's like an aquatic fourth Stooge. But the whole queue-shuffling experience led me to notice (or revisit) some of Netflix's other UI and UX shortcomings. For example, after creating the Kiddos queue and marking it as a profile for chitlins under 12 (an actual good idea), I still, while logged into said profile, received suggestions for adult movies. Like a documentary called "After Porn Ends." And searching for kids shows would also bring up adult suggestions. These occurrences are spotty, so maybe they're still working out the bugs. Let us hope.

Still in the kids vein, if you mark a profile as being for the under-12 set, you can't add movies to it that are NR, or Not Rated. Which nixes more than a few Discovery and NatGeo documentaries, as well as some hardcore Charlie Brown specials. Yes, Netflix, you may actually have to use a little human judgment instead of IMDB data to assess the ratings veracity of your content. So please do us all a solid and change "Horseland" to NC-17. Bunch of trollops.

Netflix.com doesn't work correctly with Chrome; it doesn't let us access the Instant Queue while in the Kiddos profile. It works fine in Firefox and Safari. I don't know where the blame lies for this one, but I'll go with Google since Sergey Brin sounds like a rejected Bond villain. So you're off the hook for now, Reed. Not that we stream much within a browser anyway not counting the nine hours I'm at work.

In general, the Netflix UI blows whether on a computer, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV. On an iDevice, forcing me to side-scroll through my queue while being subjected to dubious "suggestions" is not my idea of well-played proactive content pimping. It's just annoying. And as readers of this blog know, no one understands annoying better than yours truly.

And here's an idea, when A-level fare arrives, let me know. Most of your "new releases" are straight-to-streaming clunkers like "I Was a Teenage Teenager" that don't really qualify for front-page treatment. If you don't have enough quality new releases to push, well, get back to work on those licensing agreements. The "Backyardigans" are sorely missed in southwest Omaha, by the way.

In the end, I'm still fairly happy with Netflix. Hard to argue with spending eight bucks a month for so much content in spite of the exceedingly high signal-to-noise ratio. Their push into producing original content is a worthwhile endeavor, even if the new "Arrested Development" episodes were critically ravaged (we still haven't managed to watch them). After all, I managed to watch the entire run of "Battlestar Galactica" in about 10 weeks. Which is pretty frackin' awesome. I just wish they'd put a little more thought and polish (because I prefer thought to spit) into their interface. And figure out a way to stream Junior Mints.

Later,

Fox

   
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