Monday, August 13, 2007

Why There Is No Directory of Netflix Members:

Boy this would be great; either an alphabetical list (or some kind of search) of Netflix subscribers so you could find your friends... or maybe better -- the ability to import your Outlook or Address Book (et al) contacts to check to see who among them were already at Netflix so you could connect. But, alas -- it's against the law. That's right. It's not that we don't want to. We just can't.

Now I'm not a lawyer nor will I pretend to understand all the history and details here, but one of the outcomes from the Robert Bork Supreme Court stuff back around 1988 was the Video Protection Privacy Act that pretty much bars us (or any rental service) from disclosing your rental habits. The terms of use at Netflix allow you to permit us to reveal certain things about you when you use Friends and it is why you are anonymous when you write reviews (unless you make your nickname your real name), but a directory is out of the question. We've thought about making an opt IN directory, but it's hard to get everyone to participate and if you don't, it doesn't work all that well; and even using your own contacts and importing them reveals info about others without them opting in, so we can't do that either.

This isn't the case with other social networks that don't involve the rental or purchase of movies -- Facebook and MySpace (and the rest) can find members from your address books. (And I hear all of you with your requests for some interaction with those outside social networks. I can't speak to this right at the moment, but I agree its a very good idea.)






This is one reason the Friends invites work they way they do, and we tried to make it a little easier with the LINK you can copy and paste into your webpage or profile, or in an email you can send from your own mail account. It's not the same, but it can be a little better than coming up with an email address. We've got some interesting ideas on how to make it easier to connect with your Friends (or -- soon -- reviewers), but I wanted you to understand some of the constraints we have to work around when building communities within Netflix.

How many Friends do y'all have? And if you don't use the features, why not? (Is the loss of Minireviews the big reason???)

48 comments:

  1. It would be nice to have a Netflix "badge" people can put on their blogs listing the top five movies in their queue or what movies they currently have out. That might get some discussion going in the blogosphere.

    I've been juggling 11 friends on Netflix, which feels like plenty. I don't feel like I'm missing out because I can't comb my Contacts list. Would it hurt though? Not really.

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  2. I agree with the above poster about the "badge" idea. I know it's been brought up and shot down enough times, but I'd love to be able to message users and talk about movies with them. A forum, SOMEWHERE, would help.

    Also, while it hasn't stopped me from inviting friends, bring back minireviews! And allow more movies on your custom lists to display as a video cover rather than a list of titles...the lists are much less interesting without the covers.

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  3. I have added one friend, and don't anticipate adding more. There is just no incentive for me to do so, as I seriously do not like the notes feature. I don't feel the need to keeping track of the movie habits of people I know via the Netflix website. I prefer to actually talk about movies in real time - just like in the olden days before the internet.

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  4. @Olden days person - I'm with you. I find all this web stalking totally bizarre, and still depend on the phrase "seen any good movies lately?" to keep track of my friends' viewing activity. But wodooweknow?

    No, the only list I'd REALLY like to have is of all 80,000 titles that Netflix so proudly (and rightly so) trumpets, and am totally mystified that we have to struggle quite so hard to have them revealed to us one at a time through all these indirect methods. So, how's about a boring old movie directory, Team? Surely that can't be illegal too?

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  5. Not only is the list of all the movies available to rent need to be available, but can't we rate movies by alphabetical order too?

    How about the Member Reviews be sorted by highest similar to me to lowest similar to me, so that it would make it easier for me to see those similar to me quicker, without have to sift through, sometimes over 50 reviews.

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  6. I have 20 friends (sheesh, I didn't realize it was that many). I love the friends feature and I use it often to check up on recent ratings my friends have made... but I really don't enjoy it like I used to.

    And yes... it's because the mini-reviews are gone. I started a new job 6 months ago, so I've recently added 5 new friends to my list and it's driving me CRAZY that they can't see all my old mini-reviews and notes!! It frustrates me so much that anything I write will just be lost to any new friends, that I don't write notes that much anymore. Also, I hate how I can't edit my notes (like I used to be able to edit mini-reviews).

    The mini-reviews were, in my opinion, the BEST THING about the friends feature. I used to spend hours just sifting through movies I'd seen and adding my two cents for each. I mourn its loss... and anxiously await the day it returns and all my notes magically turn back into mini-reviews for all my friends to see!

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  7. I have 26 friends (I recently pared down from 42), mostly thanks to a Netflix group on MySpace where we share our URLs. I quite enjoy having many friends, even ones I don't know in "real life". I enjoy seeing what others are watching (even those with low sim%) and sending and recieving notes.

    Anyone wanting a true Netflix social network, if you're on MySpace, come check out the Netflix Freaks group, it's a lot of fun!

    I use just about every Friends feature. I don't miss the mini-reviews because I didn't utilize it back then. I just recently started writng reviews (although I got up to 59 pretty quickly...I can't be stopped!)

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  8. I actually appreciate that you don't have a directory. I enjoy my Netflix account, but I don't want scary icky people from my past looking for me here. Eeep!

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  9. Personally, I recommend just having and API and let the social sites do the friends stuff.

    I don't want Netflix to become bogged down and become a social network. Before long you will be able to contact people with similar tastes so you can ask him/her on a date.

    At that point, the site will get blocked at work, too.

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  10. Interesting post Michael, the whole time I was reading it I was thinking "If Facebook can do it why can't you?", and then you answered that at the end. Se la vie I guess...

    To answer your questions: I have 8 friends, and although the lack of mini-reviews doesn't stop me from adding new ones, I assure you that complaining about the loss of them used to be a daily occurrence among some of my friends. We might not talk about it so often anymore, but I assure you we haven't forgotten. And with every new friend I add, it's a painful reminder that ALL the work I've put in to writing notes to my friends (which I still write as if they were mini-reviews), they can't see. I know you would say (and have said) "write reviews instead", but I've already posted my comments on that numerous times, so I won't clutter here.

    I agree with Amanda that seeing my friends ratings and short blurbs about movies is the best thing about having Netflix friends. For me, it's a way to stimulate conversation about certain movies in the real-world when I see these friends; conversations that probably wouldn't take place if we didn't have the impetus provided by the ratings/reviews.

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  11. @ Shaun,
    Not to be picky, but it's "C'est la vie." C'est is that part of the phrase which translates to "that is."

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  12. I have 12 friends and I also enjoy seeing how they have rated recent movies or movies that I just watched/am about to watch.

    The one thing that keeps me from spending as much time there as I did before is that the ability to see all my friends ratings at once is now gone. I would often look through that list to pick movies that a number of my friends enjoyed and add them to my queue. If I could get anything back from the old Friends section (other than Purple Dude, but that's been explained) it would be the ability to see the ratings of all my friends in the list area again.

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  13. Ditto Amanda, ditto Shaun.

    I have 8 friends (all people I actually know), but I'm using the friends features out of inertia more than anything now that the mini-reviews are gone. I don't think I've added a single friend since that feature went away. I like knowing how similar my friends are, and it's really important for me to be able to see their ratings, but the Two Cents reviews were the main reason I started using Friends in the first place.

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  14. anonymous: haha, of course it's "c'est"; I'm slapping my forehead in stupidity at this very moment. 5 years of spanish in school has conditioned me to type "se" whenever I hear that sound. Doh!

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  15. Yeah, the minireviews were pretty much the reason to have netflix friends. I mean, stars are nice, but not enough granularity, so at least with the minireview it could explain what you'd really give the movies if the rating system was better. And why, which is nice.

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  16. It seems a contradiction that one can see lists and reviews published by members but can't friend them. All the people I know who might use Netflix already do, so there's no sense in inviting them. Hence, there seems to be no way to add friends once they're already members.

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  17. I have 13 Netflix friends. I also miss the minireviews. I wish it were easier to recommend movies, I find the notes feature to be pretty clunky and I interact with my Netflix friends much less than I did a couple of years ago.

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  18. I don't use 'Friends' much - only have one (on Netflix!), and she seems to only watch one movie a week and refuses to come out and play - but am REALLY enjoying the new Community page. Must be an introvert/extrovert thing.

    But if one message has been coming through loud and clear over the last few weeks it is : make 'Friends' just like it was (mini-reviews/purple dude/'custom lists' not 'top ten'/etc...) and have a separate tab so folks can go straight to it without risking triggering an epileptic fit from the 'new reviews' cascade (although surely no one could complain about their elegant slow-dance now?).

    So here's your chance to show that you're really listening, dear Michael, who clearly cares deeply about both the site and your fellow movie fans. Plus 'Friends' activity will suddenly jump way up, giving you the leverage for more funds that you asked people to provide you.

    Finally, the anonymity that you guarantee is very important to many of us, so I much appreciate you sticking to your guns about keeping it that way, even if Justice Bork provides useful cover.

    Anyway, that's my relatively uninvested take on the situation, for what it's worth. Thanks.

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  19. I have 13 Netflix friends. I also miss the minireviews. I wish it were easier to recommend movies, I find the notes feature to be pretty clunky and I interact with my Netflix friends much less than I did a couple of years ago.

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  20. I've been on Netflix for over a year now, but I've never used the Friends feature, even though several of my closest friends are also Netflix subscribers. I mainly think of the service as one for finding movies, and not necessarily by being linked to people I know personally. I like the reviews and seeing the extensive lists that other members have created, but I also love that when I'm on the site, it's just me. I save all of my online social networking for sites like Facebook; on Netflix, I'm really just here to find movies, and then if I want to discuss them with my friends, I will --- just not on the site.

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  21. Sorry, just to add that I know that this blog only represents a tiny % of Netflix members, but if you're getting contrary feedback elsewhere it's important to let people know that, else they'll just think that this blog is a release valve for pent-up frustration rather than a way to really influence what happens. Although, in my own experience, I've already seen several items on my very short wish-list come about (most notably editable reviews), so I, for one, know that you're listening - and mighty attentively. And I'm sure most would agree. Thanks for all that you're doing. I'll shut up now.

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  22. I've got 9 friends on Netflix. People keep mentioning these mini reviews, but they must have gone away before I started using the Friends functionality because I have no idea what they're talking about. :)

    Anyway, I like browsing through my friends' queues just to see if they have anything that sounds interesting that I hadn't already come across.

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  23. i currently have 31 friends... shame that you cant at least find your friends that way
    you cant see anything until they add you back and once they do that, its the same as linking them to be your friend...
    i had no idea it was law, thats interesting.

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  24. I have 6 friends, and add me to the list of folks that are advocating the return of mini reviews. Not only did I use them to let all friends (present and future) see what I thought of a movie, but I also used it as a personal notebook. When I went back weeks or months later, I'd know why I rated it the way I did. Oh, and I liked the ability to edit them after the fact (if I saw the movie again and had a different opinion, for example).

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  25. While we're on the subject of things I used to love about friends that are gone now:

    1) Recommend this movie to a friend. I understand that Notes was meant to replace this, but I don't like notes and when I do use them, I do so to fill the mini-review void. I would never send a note to someone to recommend a movie to them. However, the old feature where we could hit the "recommend" button to send an e-mail off to the selected friends was great - I used that a lot.

    2) The collective friends page of old clearly presented, up-front, what all my friends had at home. I would frequently call a friend up and say, "So, I see you have _____ at home from Netflix... why don't you come over and we can watch it together?" Now you have to dig to get at that information and I just don't seek it out, so that never happens anymore.

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  26. I've been a Netflix subscriber for more than a year, and I guess the so called mini reviews didn't exist when I subscribed. I write reviews, and use the notes feature as more personal mini-reviews that I send to friends. What is the difference between mini-reviews and notes to see what I've been missing?

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  27. "Now I'm not a lawyer nor will I pretend to understand all the history and details here, but one of the outcomes from the Robert Bork Supreme Court stuff back around 1988 was the Video Protection Privacy Act that pretty much bars us (or any rental service) from disclosing your rental habits."

    Well, thank god one big company that handles lots of private data respects privacy. I don't suppose you folks have any sway over AT&T or Verizon, do you? : )

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  28. I have a whopping 3 friends. One of them actually has really good taste in movies and I "mine" his queueu all the time. I love that feature (the ability to add things to my queue from his), because he finds a lot of things that I haven't heard about that turn out to be really good.

    One of my other friends is more the example of what not to get. He has terrible taste and when he really loves something I know that it's entirely possible that it will suck.

    My other friend is new so I don't know what catagory he falls into.

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  29. I not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the VPPA protects me from having Netflix disclose the movies I have "rented", or stats concerning my "rental" habits. But I don't see where it stops netflix from disclosing that I am a member.

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  30. Ditto Amanda's last post (especially point #2). Perhaps you could just add a 3rd tab to the Friends sliders to show what they have at home?

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  31. @Joniw : I didn't quite understand the ability to add movies that my friends hated until I read your situation. Because you can obviously just add all the ones that your 2nd friend hates and be sure they'll be fabulous. Neat trick.

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  32. I think there should be friends updates on the homepage, so our friends can remember that this feature exists. I think most of my friends don't even bother checking up on what their friends are watching. Also, I don't like that the tab is called "community." It should be "friends."

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  33. I have 2 friends and I enjoy looking at each of their sliders to see what movies they recently watched or rated.

    I never used the mini-review feature but imagine I might if it came back.

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  34. I have six friends, all of whom I've met online on other websites. These are the only ones who I would trust with my real name. I wish we can invite people anonymously to be our friend; if we could, I would use the feature a lot more. As it stands, I only check the community tab to see if any interesting changes have taken place. I don't even look at my friends queues anymore. Besides sending each other notes, what else is there to do?

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  35. I've been a member for about 7 years, but I just started using friends last year. I only have 5 friends and wish I had more. I root around their queues to find titles or use them as reminders. I'm the one that sends the notes mostly, but would prefer a quick recommendation button. As far as the mini reviews go, I didn't care to make use of them.

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  36. I have 2 friends. Don't think I will ever have more than 4-5 people in my list. I love the feature though. It's just that I am not a big fan of broadcasting my dvd rental habits to every person I come across who also happens to be a Netflix subscriber, which is quite different than how frequently I connect to acquaintances through LinkedIn.

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  37. I for one am quite glad that there is no directory of Netflix users, and I'm not really interested in the friends/community feature.

    I'm not interested in the social networking aspect of the internet. I am a Netflix customer because I want to watch movies and TV shows, not to chit chat or make friends. If I wanted to do the latter online, the internet is full of places to do that for free.

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  38. I really miss the mini-reviews, and my friends (I have six of them) have expressed the same opinion. It was fun leaving cheeky comments and being able to quickly see all the latest two-cents... somehow the "Notes" paradigm stole most of that magic. Sometimes simpler is better... I feel that's the case with mini-reviews.

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  39. Is there a way to add a Netflix user to my friends list through Netflix or do I need their email address?

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  40. I tried to vote in the poll but it doesn't appear to be working. I'd say that these details you're working on are interesting, but there's a much larger problem - I'm paying the same amount for my membership as a Windows user, yet Watch Instantly is not yet compatible with my Mac. This needs to be fixed.

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  41. The posted results of the poll on Notes and mini-reivews got me thinking...

    First off, mini-reviews have been gone for a while now. A lot of people didn't know them in their original incarnation, and therefore don't miss them. I'd probably LOVE the notes if I didn't know they could be better.

    Sure, I think Notes are clunky:
    - How they list the names of ALL my friends.
    - How they are re-listed multiple times as a "response" to notes posted on the same movie from my other friends
    - etc., etc., etc...
    - Mini-reviews were just more simple and elegant a solution when you just want to write a review for all (including future) friends to see.

    However, as annoying as all that is, the only aspect that I just can't tolerate is that I can't send old notes to new friends without rewriting them all. That is simply ludicrous. Hours and hours spent writing hundrends of mini-reviews (before they were converted into Notes) and Notes... and all that work is completely lost every time I add a new friend. This discourages writing notes (why write it now if no one will see it in the future) and it kinda discourages inviting new friends (because you can't share all the work you've already put into writing notes/reviews).

    I can beg for you to bring back the mini-reviews but I can see that there is clearly differing opinions on whether or not this is the best way to handle reviews between friends. All I really ask for is a way to write something about a movie that all my friends (current and future) can easily see. If Netflix decides Notes are the best way to do that, I may disagree... but then I urge you to please add a checkbox to the note interface for "Generic Note" or something like that, which would flag it to be linked to the movie rather than the friend(s) you're sending it to, so that it would, in effect, be viewable by anyone that is ever your friend.

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  42. A Second Opinion on Legal MattersAugust 21, 2007 at 9:52 AM

    I am a lawyer, although not a practicing one, and I find the legal reasoning on this one quite dubious. While I can understand that it would be illegal to share viewing habits of one Netflix member with another without their consent, sharing that others are members of Netflix via a Facebook-type searching Outlook feature would seem not to be covered by the law in question. I would seek a second opinion from outside counsel. I would only use the friends feature if I could search ahead of time which of my friends were Netflix members. I dont want to annoy them with emails if they are are not even members.

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  43. why aren't my reviews being published? they completely follow guidlines. i have not had a review published after over a month of trying every other day.

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  44. @whodoithinkiam:

    Ditto that. Give me a widget I can use on blogs/myspace/fb etc. to spread the Netflix love!

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  45. SO I TRIED OUT FLIXSTER TODAY AND THE FIRST THING THEY ASK ME TO DO IS SYNC MY FRIENDS WITH MY GMAIL CONTACTS. HERE IS THE EXACT TEXT FROM THE SITE:

    "Connect with your Friends!
    The whole point of Flixster is to share movie ratings with friends. See which of your friends may already be on Flixster.

    (Of course, you don't have to invite any friends, but don't blame us if you get bored and lonely.)


    Enter your Gmail details below. On the next page you will be able to select whom to connect with."

    SO BASICALLY IT SEEMS TO ME THAT EITHER NETFLIX'S LEGAL REASONING IS FLAWED, FLIXSTER IS BREAKING THE LAW, OR THERE IS SOMETHING THAT PREVENTS NETFLIX FROM OFFERING A SIMILAR "FIND FRIENDS" FEATURE BUT PERMITS FLIXSTER TO DO IT. I MUST SAY I AM A BIT PUZZLED ABOUT ALL THIS LEGAL MUMBO JUMBO.

    KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK ON THE SITE, BUT PLEASE FIND A WAY TO GIVE ME WHAT I CAN GET ON FLIXSTER AND FACEBOOK ALREADY.

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  46. I tried Flixter too. Cripes! What's their target group : Tweens?

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  47. I have three friends. I actually know them in real life.

    I used to use the friends notes but stopped when my friends informed me it was spamming their e-mail box. I would like to write short causal movie notes for my friends to look at as a heads-up about my latest rental experience whenever they visit the Netflix site. I don’t want to spam their e-mail address. I don’t need it to function as a way to “communicate” with them in a back and forth manner. I want old notes to be viewable by new friends.

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  48. I've never gotten over the loss of mini-reviews either. IT was so much better. I've been using the notes feature but have never gotten used to it, and likely never will. Some changes aren't for the best. But I'm sure Netflix will keep evolving this feature (I hope so at least)

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