Netflix embraces profiling

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

Comments closed
    • destroy.all.monsters
    • 6 years ago

    I’m trying to imagine what it would be like for me to have kids now in this situation. I had a tv when I was raising kids and they’d watch their programs and I’d mostly watch with them – in part because it’s important to spend time with the kids in whatever ways works.

    I had no interest in Dragonball Z or many of the other programs the kids were into initially but I grew to like them or at least know enough to have a conversation with the kids about them.

    I have no tv now but living in a world where everyone is watching something else seems a bit colder to me.

    E2A: I watched Avengers on Netflix which was new to me (and thought it was amazing). Loved Lillyhammer.

      • Voldenuit
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]I have no tv now but living in a world where everyone is watching something else seems a bit colder to me.[/quote<] You can create a profile for your family as a group, then you'll get suggestions that match your collective taste.

      • demani
      • 6 years ago

      We don’t watch separately- but it makes it easier for us each to find things we like. Post bedtime it’s nice to hit the couch and not have to scroll through the 18 kids shows that always showed up first. Just being able to separate makes it simpler (and then when we watch something “grown-up, my daughter doesn’t accidentally run across the suggestions that brings up; even Avengers [can’t believe they canceled it] would suggest DC stuff she shouldn’t be seeing).

    • mnecaise
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]Instant Queue ranneth over with the evil that is the whiny, Canadian scourge known as "Caillou." Sigh, eh.[/quote<] I know how you feel brother. "Timmy Time" is running in the background right now...

    • Voldenuit
    • 6 years ago

    We have 2 profiles at home – one for me and one for my wife. Netflix has been doing a spookily good job of guessing what I would like and how much I’d like it with their star-rating guesses.

    • TheMonkeyKing
    • 6 years ago

    I’m pulling my hair out (and I don’t have that much left) of trying to get Netflix to work with XBMC. The original XBMC Flicks add-on was hit or miss to begin with but it least got the search feature to work for me.

    You’d think Netflix would want as wide a distribution as possible to contain competitors.

      • swiffer
      • 6 years ago

      I ended up throwing Win8 on our media center PC just so we could use the HTML5-based Netflix app alongside XBMC instead of the horrid Netflix Silverlight-based web UI. The hardware acceleration (helpful with an AMD E-350 machine) and ‘SuperHD’ bullet points in the Netflix Win8 application were good enough reasons for us to upgrade.

      That, and metro makes for a pretty good across-the-room UI.

        • demani
        • 6 years ago

        Ah- good to know about the E-350 benefits. I will upgrade my sisters box, she would appreciate the better quality.

      • mcnabney
      • 6 years ago

      Yep, profiles breaks Windows Media Center. You have to run it in a browser window.

    • tanker27
    • 6 years ago

    Been using it for about a month now and Thank Gawd….Now I dont have to be embarrassed by my recommended feed which is full of Kid shows and not any good ones like Gravity Falls. Its also good now that my son has a profile it locks him to age appropriate shows.

    Now if the could only work it how where I have to log into my profile that would be great.

      • apkellogg
      • 6 years ago

      This is something I would love. Or the ability to at least set a default profile on the iPad and other devices so my son’s is the default, instead of having to trust him to pick his.

        • tanker27
        • 6 years ago

        yeah…….

    • asdzxc57
    • 6 years ago

    Nice read. I like the Netflix advertisement on the same page too. Don’t bite the hand that is feeding you.

    • gamoniac
    • 6 years ago

    Nice review, Jason. Although I am surprised that you didn’t mention the profile selection issue in non-PC devices.

    I was all excited and tried the new feature right away… then I found out I can’t select a profile in my Blu-ray players, Xbox 360, Windows 8, and my Android tablet. They only shows items in the profile that was last selected on my PC. I realize this is device manufacturers’ responsibility, not Netflix’s. Nonetheless, it became our problem.

    Our profiles were a bit messed up too. Netflix somehow decided to place all our movie queue items into the new kid’s profile I created, instead of keeping them on the default profile.

    Basically, two hours wasted. I deleted all my profiles except for one.

    • Game_boy
    • 6 years ago

    The main demographic for magical ponies is nerds now. You don’t even know.

      • gamoniac
      • 6 years ago

      What’s up with that? My friend told me the same thing about those 20+ years old kids in his computer science department following that show. I am baffled, but hey, to each their own.

        • Liron
        • 6 years ago

        What is up with that is that their writing team is absolutely brilliant, despite the obvious limitations caused by the source material.

          • gamoniac
          • 6 years ago

          Interesting. It seems to have its own cult following. I will probably sit down for an episode with my daughter just for fun. I try to keep an open mind πŸ™‚

          • derFunkenstein
          • 6 years ago

          The new TMNT on Nickelodeon is like that. Very well-written and funny, very well-produced and acted as well.

          • NeelyCam
          • 6 years ago

          Actually I have to second that. In spite of thinking that watching MLP would be a near-death experience, it turned out to be rather entertaining

            • gamoniac
            • 6 years ago

            Now I have to really check out “MLP”, although now my wife thinks there are just a bunch of weird people on TR…

            • demani
            • 6 years ago

            Yeah-it’s one of the only ones besides Phineas and Ferb that doesn’t make me want to claw my eyes out (like the above-mentioned Caillou; and yes, Pingu has something right about it too).

            Unfortunately, my wife found someone giving away the Backyardigans on DVD- so we have that FOR LIFE. Actually, there are a few I like, though most are pretty bland.

        • Bensam123
        • 6 years ago

        4chan tardinisms… It’s trendy so people watch it; Atleast it’s trendy on 4chan.

        • dashbarron
        • 6 years ago

        You have discovered Bronies: it’s not too late for you to turn back.

        [url<]http://www.reddit.com/r/mylittlepony/[/url<]

      • steelcity_ballin
      • 6 years ago

      [url<]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygMNv95T8AY[/url<] We know. We all know.

    • Dashak
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]Hard to argue with spending eight bucks a month for so much content in spite of the exceedingly high signal-to-noise ratio.[/quote<] Your meaning is pretty clear, but don't you think the signal-to-noise ratio would be "exceedingly [i<]low[/i<]" instead?

    • Walkintarget
    • 6 years ago

    Much as I was hoping to enjoy the profiles, it broke Netflix when using it on my HTPC. See the ongoing thread for details:

    [url<]http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_7-pictures/netflix-profiles-windows-media-center/89ade050-4e17-48b2-930e-7926222ce640[/url<] The only 'fix' is to delete all profiles except the original account profile and forget about profiles for a long time.

    • Generic
    • 6 years ago

    “Profiles On Netflix”

    About. Damn. Time.

    • Deanjo
    • 6 years ago

    [quote<]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. [/quote<] It's even a bit more annoying the Apple devices. What moron decided that you simply can't browse titles by alphabetical order, or just HD content, or even a simple "View all" without having everything categorized and let me scroll through the entire damn library until I see something interesting. On those devices you have to resort to doing a search by title or you will miss 90% of Netflix content.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 6 years ago

      They give you suggestions. These suggestions more often than not are clicked on because of how hard it is to do the things you are asking for here.

      Soooo… it’s like MAGIC! (TM pending).

        • Deanjo
        • 6 years ago

        Lol, I think I’ve had the same suggestions for a year now. What makes it even worse is that they still show as suggestions of items I have already watched. From an end user perspective, that comes across as a very limited library. I wish they also had an option to filter out any movies based on their time adjusted filming budget. It would help separating the wheat from the chaff.

      • kvndoom
      • 6 years ago

      Pish, you should see Hulu on the WD TV-Live.

      NO search.

      NO sorting by category.

      Movies are sorted 0-9, A-Z, and the remote changes the number or letter to the first movie of that descriptor. And best part? It’s bugged so you can’t access T through Z. Want to get to a movie that starts with “W”? Get to the “S” movies and scroll, baby, scroll!

      Mind you, if you log in via website, you can do all of the above actions fluidly. It’s almost as if Hulu doesn’t [b<]want[/b<] you to watch its content on your television.

        • Deanjo
        • 6 years ago

        That’s more functionality then what we get with Hulu in Canada. ;D

      • rwburnham
      • 6 years ago

      My favorite place to watch Netflix is on the PS3. Navigating my queue is easy, because I can scroll ether way. Scroll right to get my top picks, scroll left to get to things I have added most recently. Plus the PS3 remote is an excellent device that doesn’t require line of sight to function. That and I can see when friends log in and out, which is fun.

      The 360 only lets you scroll to the right, and I have yet to use a single 360 remote that was any good. The line of sight requirements is enough to make the 360 a terrible media machine.

      Netflix on Windows Media Center is actually really good in some ways. I like being able to scroll through two rows of items at a time. However, the lack of subtitle functionality is a big deal, not to mention that the software is still buggy after all this time.

    • willmore
    • 6 years ago

    Finally, my wife can manipulate her own DVD queue! Yay! But, she has to login with the main account password. Boo!

    Admittedly, it’s way less of an issue for a happily married couple, but it would suck rocks if it was roommates. “Dude, would you stop liking all of that gay porn on my profile?” “Deal with it, I still haven’t gotten all those damn ponies out of mine!”

    If this is an important thing for you, do call in and let them know, they’re asking for peoples opinions and won’t do anything if people don’t complain, so please call in.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 6 years ago

      Still, I’m sure those two roommates will bond when they both sit down and enjoy together the gay pony pr0nz. I imagine that means lots of My Little Pony suggestions. Take the title, toss in something puerile, stir, and let sit for ten minutes. Serve and enjoy.

      It’s not like the combined habits of more than one person created monstrous, horrible suggestions that pleased no one…

      …right? πŸ˜‰

      • Generic
      • 6 years ago

      Sigh. Missed opportunity for a bronies reference.

      • Voldenuit
      • 6 years ago

      [quote<]Dude, would you stop liking all of that gay porn on my profile?" "Deal with it, I still haven't gotten all those damn ponies out of mine!"[/quote<] Man, you guys have some weird fetishes. May I interest you in a serving of [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=560EpNc2rKg<]Butter Lettuce[/url<]?

    • shank15217
    • 6 years ago

    I don’t think Netflix streaming is for people who want to watch the latest, greatest content. Its a place to explore older and mostly obscure stuff. There are some real gems in netflix, its a great service for what you pay. I think you need to review your expectations, then maybe you can enjoy it more. Truthfully, there aren’t too many ways to display thousands of shows and movies that’s going to make sense to everybody.

      • willmore
      • 6 years ago

      Yeah, DVDs are where the cool kids are.

      • lilbuddhaman
      • 6 years ago

      i say BS to this. My evidence is NewEgg style sidebar search. (for lack of actual style used, that site uses it)

      Main categories of interest, then a whole set of specific options that you can selectively filter by option/feature. The only thing it is missing is saving a search for later with all the specifics (and i think you can even do this by copying the link in your browser).

      If netflix had something similar, tailored to specific interests/data about movies, it would cater to every user. Add in some specific pregenerated searches that are specifically larger UI elements on the screen, and you resolve (most) issues of “too stupid to click checkboxes” customers.

      Its doable, it just takes a little effort. Fox’s other comments about the interface are purely feature requests, ones that should be quick to push out. They *should* be as simple as he describes them, a few SQL calls. I’m no programmer but for a company like this whatever effort it should take should be reasonable.

      p.s. great article, Fox, I didn’t want to slap you in the face after reading it like most of your other articles do πŸ™‚

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 6 years ago

      Having the ability to filter out lots of crap might be handy. You know. I don’t particularly want to watch anything not in HD, for example. Why can’t I just say, “Filter out the old crap.” Ba-bam. 75% of the crap is gone instantly.

      • squeeb
      • 6 years ago

      VuDu is a great streaming service…if you have the bandwidth to handle its best feature: 1080p streams.

      • BenBasson
      • 6 years ago

      Breaking Bad is streaming on Netflix immediately after it’s been on traditional TV.

    • Concupiscence
    • 6 years ago

    The new “Arrested Development” isn’t bad, but you have to give it time to warm up. It starts slow, picks up steam, and by the end it’s basically just unhinged chaos.

    And don’t poo-poo over all the direct-to-streaming offers. If you do that, you’ll miss such delights of the world as A Talking CAT!?!, which will destroy your soul with mocking laughter.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 6 years ago

      I liked the new Arrested Development OK and all, but of their Nutflex Originals, my favorite so far has been House of Cards.

        • Bensam123
        • 6 years ago

        House of Cards I found to be sorta ‘meh’. It’s definitely written well, but it’s more about backstabbing and playing people then running the government or getting things done. Maybe that’s what it is? I hope it isn’t anyway… For my political shows I prefer News Room over it.

          • stdRaichu
          • 6 years ago

          You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment. I’ve not seen the netflix/Spacey take on it yet (DVD is still rather absurdly priced at Β£30), but the original series is solely about backstabbing and playing people – most of the message of the show is that, for the Machiavellian lead character, power is more important than leadership and politics is merely his way of pursuing it.

          Conversely, I tend to find actual shows where politicians try to do stuff as rather boring and mundane πŸ˜‰

            • derFunkenstein
            • 6 years ago

            I thought it was obvious given the name “House of Cards” – the phrase implies that it’s a faΓ§ade that will fall.

      • nafhan
      • 6 years ago

      The first few episodes of the new arrested development: not great. I really enjoyed it after that, though (basically, the stuff focusing on Tobias and GOB is great).

        • Voldenuit
        • 6 years ago

        Methad One Clinic and Roofie Circle. LOL, classic.

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