Thursday, December 13, 2007

Friends Problems, Take 2

This weekend we will release some fixes that will solve this problem for many of you. Unfortunately it will not solve it for all of you. Here's the deal: When you go the the Friends page, the website loads up those sliders with the movies your friends have rated. It pulls in your notes. It calculates your sim% to each friend. And it does a few other things. To calculate the sim% it is doing an analysis and comparison of your ratings to each of your friends. We give the page a time period to get all this done. If it doesn't complete its tasks in this period, it "times out" and you get some kind of error message.

The problem appears to be that there are cases where a member has a lot of friends. Not one, not 3. Not 15. But lots. Say, 30. (Only a tiny % of members have this many friends, btw). But lots of friends isn't enough alone to be an issue. We test this with lots of friends. But if a significant number of those friends ALSO are heavy raters -- say with many thousands of movie ratings (say, 5K or 7K!) -- it is taking too long to pull in their movie rating data and do the sim% calculation, and a few other things, such that it runs out of time. And thus the error message.

It's not that Friends is down. Friends is NOT down. >99% of you are not having a problem. But ironically, the few that have this problem are people we like a lot - you have lots of friends, you write notes, you rate lots of movies; you usually write reviews too, and make lists--you're all round good Netflix Samaritans. So we are taking this seriously. (For the record, this problem only affects a few hundred of you.)

The problem starts and stops for some people because there are other factors - for instance, the time of day you try it (because of changes in server loads), or which server you get when you log in; it might matter which pages you view in which order. We're still looking at these components.

The quick fix is to widen the window of the time period, which will hopefully allow more time for these events to transpire before triggering a timeout. this will go into effect this weekend, and will improve things but not eliminate the problem for some. It is a somewhat inelegant solution and there are clearly smarter ways to handle this. We could change the way we calculate and store sim%, for instance, or change the way we deal with notes. There are many possible ways to address this, but all are long-term, and none can happen immediately. We are looking at a range of solutions, and will keep you posted on our progress.

For those affected, sorry for the trouble.


  1. Quite alright Michael. I'm still able to write reviews, after all. The only thing that really sucks is not being able to see if I've gained fans, but I suppose I can start going to my Profile and doing the math. Thanks for filling us in!

  2. Thank you Michael! I guess in some way, I should feel honored that I am on of the few (the most active 1%) That is cursed with this problem endlessly. Thanks for clarifying that it is not a 'friends down' situation but a time out problem.

    Thanks for addressing it.


  3. The greatest annoyance for me is that the notes system is down at the same time access to Friends is down... it seems to work for justa few hours during the day. I would prefer not to give up half my friends just to make things work. The update this weekend doesn't seem to have helped.

    Michael... you say the problem is a timeout issue, however the page that says Friends is temporarily down comes up in a flash. I realize that computers work much faster than we do but the timeout window would have to be incredibly narrow for the error to show up so rapidly.


  5. I have noticed a significant DECREASE in the number of "Temporarily Down" errors.

    Thanks, guys, for all your hard work!

    Walt D in LV

  6. HELP,I'm a MAC user and netflix isn't very mac friendly it seems. When will I be able to use all the online viewing hours I can't use now. Can you bank them for me? please let me know why you don't support mac users (who watch more movies, listen to more music, etc. online than pc users)? what are the plans to help us?

  7. Michael... MAC's are billed as being "built" for movie/music and video lovers.
    And in fact the advertisements state they are for overall entertainment. So, my question- when can I benefit from the online experience (watch instantly) my friends with PC's are enjoying? I think the Netflix team is doing a great service to the folks who for one reason or another chose not to rent or go to movie theaters... But, when can loyal MAC users have this added convenience?

  8. I actually have some problems with the add friends. I have a personal comment posted on my profile page, as well as my web page link so that you can add me to your friends. I have had two people add me as their friend (I know this cuz I have gotten an e-mail from netfix notifying me), however they are not on my community friends and favs page?

  9. Is there any way to turn off the constant little "quizzes" about my friend that appear on the Community Page? It is annoying for both of us. PS, why am I constantly urged to write a review of a movie that I've already written a review about? (signed) Netflix Fanatic!

  10. How do you un-friend someone?