Why You Don't Have Netflix Friends Anymore

Once upon a time, Netflix users had friends. Users could see how their friends rated movies, read their reviews, and see compatibility scores between current and potential friends. But, right before the Labor Day weekend, Netflix finalized a several month transition away from providing these features.

Why?

Well, when you find yourself becoming "The Facebook for Movies" (or the Facebook for anything), it's time to reconsider. The Netflix advantage is product innovation -- things like Instant Watch. Everything else is nice, but also distracting.

Moral of the story? Just because something (e.g. social media) is great, doesn't mean it's for everybody. If it's not going to keep people from switching to the competition, it's superfluous.

Written by Chris Allison on September 8, 2010

Comments

Add A Comment
Steve Sether says:

The "friends" feature of netflix was only used by 2% of the users because nobody ever knew about it! I actually didn't know about the thing until it was gone.

The utility of seeing what your friends are watching is that you can find things to watch that are better than the recommendation system. If people don't find content they want to see, they'll drop the service.

After all, a friend recommending something caries a hell of a lot more weight than an algorithm. I've watched quite a bit through Netflix, and the "top recommendations" have gotten rather poor. I'd MUCH rather find a group of people to connect to that like what I like, and actually TALK to them about movies. With Netflix losing subscribers hand-over-fist, it's obvious they need to do something to continue loyalty. A community creates loyalty.

I don't expect the leadership at Netflix is smart enough to realize any of this. Anyone with half a brain could realize the Flixter decision was an enormous blunder. The only thing it did make obvious was that Netflix doesn't understand its own business.

Steve says:

I would think that the Friends feature would have been far more utilized if Netflix had truly supported and promoted it on the website and elsewhere. The top, primary navigation remains confusing and poorly designed from a usability standpoint--which was a huge problem with simply finding the Friends feature when it was there--but this seems to remain of little concern for Netflix, as you mention, which is focused on increasing their subscribership, profits and title inventory. As things on the web have invariably shown over the years, users will remain loyal until something better proves itself. In regards to Friends being considered primarily as a "social networking" feature, I disagree and suggest that Friend ratings, and to a lesser extent, the reviews, were an important feature that, when utilized, strengthened the overall usefulness of the Netflix service and scope of its offering.

Thanks for the interesting article.

Chris says:

Well, I'm sure there are some people who may switch over it, but not many. According to NetFlix only 2% of their users used the features. While there has been a stir from the community, most people didn't notice or care.

I suppose the validity of the move depends on how much resources they were actually dedicating to the social features. Like you said, there wasn't much human monitoring going on, but NetFlix claims the engineering resources put towards developing the features weren't worth it. Without being on the inside it's hard to say, but with such a low number of people using the features it's hard to justify any extensive amount of web development and IT resources.

Don't get me wrong; I think they were good features too. But I think NetFlix's reasoning is sound. The moment they fall behind in instant streaming is the moment they lose, so it makes sense to prioritize that. Falling behind in the social media game doesn't really have a long term negative impact. Maybe a few people will leave, but it wouldn't be the wholesale abandonment that would happen if a better streaming/rental service appeared.

Doubting Thomas says:

How do you know it did not keep people from switching to the competition?

It was not monitored (or barely so), so no human labor was involved. (Unless flagged by someone, and even then it was mostly computer-done.)

Written by
Chris Allison