Saturday, June 30, 2007


I've received a couple comments in the past day about me being the only person writing here, and how you'd like to hear from more than just one guy (don't worry: no insult taken); Funny this should come up now, as it's almost the same conversation we had around the office today.

I've been really enjoying this blog and your comments, but I think it's time to introduce a few of my partners here to you. As I said earlier, I'm the director of the team that is responsible for the aspects of the website that involve community; but i'm also partners with a small group of folks who, with me, deliver the whole website. We work together to design and prioritize the features that create your experiences online. Our jobs overlap in many ways, but we have fields of expertise. Todd, for instance, handles your ratings and the ways our site recommends movies. Meghan and Paul run a range of elements, from the Queue to the Home Page to the selling of "previously viewed" DVDs to just making sure that the pages you see are customized for you. Vikram recently joined to revitalize all the customer service elements. And Steve is concentrated on Instant Viewing in all its forms. We all work together and with teams of engineers and designers and marketing folks... but we have one job, and that is to listen to customers and make the website as good as we can. (Re-reading that just now, it does smack of some kind of Pollyanna marketing-speak, but i'm helpless here -- it is precisely what we are directed to do for our jobs -- to listen carefully to you. It doesn't mean we always do what you say; there are, after all, almost 7 million of you. But we are always paying attention. No bull.)

My voice has dominated this blog (and probably will continue to); Outside of my job at Netflix, i'm a writer and blogger and I personally enjoy these community-type experiences. My associates--experts in their fields--are not really bloggers, but happy to participate to the degree they can. Anyway, I wanted to introduce them to you, and invite them to post here from time to time. They've been reading your comments as well, and beginning next week you'll start seeing posts from them, to address your questions and comments and keep you informed about all our webwork. So stay tuned. The Netflix Community is about to get a little bit bigger.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Recent Ratings Bug - Fixed

The sliders should be back to normal for all browsers.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Similar Reviewers

I really shouldn't say this, and I may regret it, but YES YES, we are building some ways for you to (a) see people who are the most similar to you, and (b) ways for you to save people once you've found them, no matter how you've found them. I won't go into the details here, or the precise timeline, but its a big priority for our team and I expect will be available in the near term (however you chose to interpret that).

As I've mentioned here before, expect that the community features are going to be moving and growing continually for some time. This means cool new features and pages, and also the unfortunate side-effect of short bursts of instability and downtime (not for the Netflix site in general, but potentially for some of these new features). We'll keep the bad parts to a minimum, but, you know, I'd like to be candid here. So keep those cards and letters coming, we ARE listening (we've actually always been listening too, but it's a lot more obvious these days, no?) Thanks for the attention. Now go watch some movies.

PS: We're LOVING your avatars.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Email Announcement About Avatars

We are sending out this email today to folks who review movies. If you've already uploaded a photo, great. If you haven't, this is your wake up call. We're hoping to totally wipe out all those (random) automatic cinematic avatars we give you, and start seeing lots of personal icons out there. (Remember: You can change yours whenever you want.)

Don't you think it will make the site much cooler? Spread the word.

POST SCRIPT: If y'all have questions about avatars, explore the other posts here about avatars.

Brief Friends Interruption Tonight

Sorry for the inconvenience. Swapping in some new code. (Don't get all excited, just some internal geeky stuff to streamline). Your Friends should already be back, or back shortly.

Hiding Movies

I'm with y'all. I watch a lot of movies, and I love the Friends features, but I'll admit that there are titles i watch that i'm -- how you say -- less than thrilled to announce are in my Queue. At Netflix we try to have this deep honesty policy: we generally say whatever we're thinking to whoever needs to hear it. And this pervasive attitude has crept into Friends, such that the thinking was "if you're REALLY friends, then you should be okay showing them what you're really watching." But you (and I) know this is lousy. I'm happy to reveal pretty much anything about myself, but there is a level of scrutiny that makes even an open guy like me pretty uncomfortable. Once in awhile you just need to hide a movie from your friends, or parents...

Savvy insiders will know that there is a workaround: you can always create a sub-account (a second Queue) that has your embarrassing, raunchy, edgy, private titles. You wouldn't make this profile public, it wouldn't write reviews (not under your name, at least), and it wouldn't have Friends. Honestly, this isn't a bad solution. But it takes more work on your part than is ideal.

We're considering the best way to allow certain titles to be hidden. You guys are pretty sharp, and probably would be happy with a checkbox somewhere that says "hide this movie from my Friends" or the like. But we must think of the others, the folks who find every additional option on screen a distraction, or worse, confusing. So where would you say is the best place to put such a checkbox option. The Queue is out. It's not worth the complexity of another column for the one title you want to hide once every few months. It could be in the Friends area, but where? I'm afraid if we put in in a column along with Movies You've Rated, no one will ever find it. So if you want to help get this feature implemented, i'd like some good thinking about the best way to implement. Ideas?

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Features...

Well, we're back online (fingers crossed) and for your patience, we offer a few small surprises for everyone.

1. You can now add movies to any of your custom lists directly from the movie page. Look for the "+Add to custom list" link in the left column on every movie page. It's not perfect, but it's at least a start. We'll refine this flow as we go forward.

(I believe this screen grab was from "The Family Stone")

2. We added a link to this blog directly from the Netflix site -- it's in the top navigation bar on the Friends pages. Up until now, the only way to really know about this blog was from Hacking Netflix. But you guys helped us find our voice and now we feel ready to open the doors to everyone else. (And probably if you're reading this now, you already found that magical portal to here.)
3. We've improved (but not totally fixed) the re-ordering of movies in your custom list. If you swap numbers between items, and save the list, it will hold the new order. (But it is not as robust or smart as the Queue.)
4. We fixed some UI problems with the avatars; with the nicknames (you'll probably be able to see more of the characters in your nickname in more locations); with various page presentations in different browsers. This should make the visuals a little more clean.

A couple tips on your nicknames: Even with our improvements - short names look better than long ones, and you don't need to list your city or state in your nickname because in key locations, it's shown under your name, anyway. They really add a lot to your reviews. Some of you, i'll bet, are going to get quite popular from your reviews here at Netflix. Let us know how that feels.

Enjoy the fixes and features. More to come. Lots more.

POST SCRIPT: Thanks for the bug tracking notes! Most of y'all do this already, but if you hadn't --If you want to be truly helpful (as opposed to, say, grumpy...), when you mention some bug or oddity you're facing, also add your OS info and version (e.g. Mac 10.4.2, Windows Vista), your Browser (e.g. Safari 2.0.4, Firefox), and any odd circumstances that might be helpful (" sliders were empty, which was immediatley after I left this really long note...") We appreciate your help tracking these problems down.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Friends Unavailable

Have you noticed that I've been inserting the "Site Status" over there on the top right side of this blog (see it?). We usually know about upcoming maintenance issues and stuff like that so we can sometimes provide some heads-up about site issues. Then again, there was yesterday.

The core Netflix website is unusually solid, but some of our new features operate independently, like the Sim%, like Friends. I guess i'm being less than candid to say we were down (actually, ARE down -- since we probably won't be back online until Wednesday) for maintenance. As you probably noticed, we turned on many of these new features (the new reviews structure, the avatars, etc.) with little fanfare. We wanted to slowly build up stress on the servers to make sure all was smooth before making a big deal about it. And it turns out that we slightly underestimated how many of y'all would jump on these features--which is good, but it creates a pretty significant load. So we rejigger once a week or so, improve code. Then we build new features on top of the foundation (for instance, the kinds of tools you -- and we-- really want to provide our community), and then check some more about how the servers are doing. Anyway, that's why we haven't yet made big announcements about our evolving set of new features. (We could put a big "Public Beta" up there on the top of the page, but isn't everything online a sort of public beta?) Anyway, this is why we've had some Friends Unavailable notices or you've had problems uploading avatars periodically over the past few weeks. We'll have this under control shortly. Until then, thanks for bearing with us. (Sleeplessly yours, The Friends Team)

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Still working on it, and Friends will likely be unavailable through Thursday, coming online probably on Friday or thereabouts. Watch this space for latest news. (the good news, should we chose to see the silver lining, is that we're using this opportunity to deploy a few new features, which we'll release once all this comes up again.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Seeing Yourself How Others See You

One thing that comes up with your Profile is how can you see your Reviews and Lists page "from the outside," that is, seeing yourself how others see you. This is nice if you're unclear about what info is being revealed about you, or how private everything is.

Until there is a specific button for this, we offer a work-around: all you have to do is delete part of the URL.

Here's how your "Reviews and Lists" page URL looks normally:

Delete everything after (and including) the question mark, so it looks like this:

Voila. You'll see how your look from the outside. We'll make this easier at some point, but for now, this works like a charm.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Couples Using Netflix

Okay, this is odd but i'm just going to put it out there. The question was asked today at work whether we knew of any folks who had experienced the following: a couple gets a DVD that they really want to watch together, but for one reason or another, one of the pair breaks the commitment and watches alone, perhaps with some lame excuse as to why.
Has anyone done this or had it done to them? What was the lamest excuse?

This, by the way, happens to me all the time. My wife regularly falls asleep 5 minutes into our movies and i tend to watch the rest of the movie and send it back. (She doesn't really like movies anyway). Anyone else got a story?

Turns out this question was floating around the office because the Washington Post had called and asked someone here. And today an article appeared in the Washington Post that addresses the question. I think the stories they found were better than my own. Read it here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Today's Release

We've started chipping away at some of your suggestions (and our bugs) and the first easy few are now online. Notice the "Similar To You" is spelled out (okay, not technically a bug... but it's progress). At your request, you can now also edit or delete even your older reviews. And I'm happy to say the image upload is working again after we broke it a few days ago. Watch this space for more updates as they occur.

Yikes, Eric caught us trying to surprise y'all - yes, yes... we're working on a return of the "mini-review" which is really just a review, but only for your Friends. It would be persistent (that is, new Friends would get to see them) and you caught a glimpse of some of the UI. Unfortunately it's NOT ENABLED. We just starting working on this and i'm not entirely sure how it got released. I think we'll absorb it back so it doesn't confuse anyone. My bad. (And yes, if you're a conspiracy theorist, i suppose you would rather believe we put this out there on purpose, to make you think we care about you when that must not be the case. Unfortunately, the truth is more prosaic -- we screw up sometimes, but hopefully not in a bad way. Believe what you want.)

Custom List Bug

While our Custom Lists are now significantly better than before, they're still not perfect. Just this morning, as we were exploring why there is some real wonkiness in that search box, and what you can do when the movie you want to add doesn't show up, we discovered an unusual bug that can make it very frustrating to add movies to your list.

Being the clever folks that we are over here in Community, we pilfered some existing work the Search guys were building that automatically fills in the name of the movie you start to type. While it works well for search terms (what it was built for), it is appears to be hit-and-miss in the case that there are multiple movies with the same title. (I was trying to add "Swiss Family Robinson" to a custom list and found it impossible to hit the 1960s Disney version, and kept hitting some lousy cartoon). Apparently, fixing this is not going to happen overnight - and while it is a drag, in many cases you'd never notice it. Anyway, the workaround we humbly offer is that we'll make sure you can always go to a movie page and add the movie to one of your lists directly from there. (It's the way this feature used to work). I'll let you know when it's available, but we're working on it now. And in the long run, we'll fix the way the custom list creation works to address this, and a few other little problems along the way. From all of us to all of you, sorry.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Connecting to People Who Are "Similar"

That's a great idea, folks. You're browsing around and you come across someone who is really really similiar... you know, something amazing like 90% or more. You read their reviews and you clearly have similar tastes and even share some pretty obscure favorite movies. You don't want to lose this person. They don't really have to be your Friend, I mean, you don't want to bug them. They may or may not be interested in you. You just want to hear when they find a new movie that's great, or read their latest review... you want to "subscribe" to a feed of their ratings and reviews.

Let's say there is a big button by their avatar image, and if you clicked it, you'd be able to keep an eye on them (but not in a creepy way). What's the button say on it?

Are you Subscribing to this person? If you saw that would you understand what that meant? What about Bookmarking them? That's often understood to mean 'holding' onto this page, although that misses the passive nature of this. You could be Adding them to your Favorites list. Like being a Friend, there could be another class -- a Favorite. Is Adding a Favorite better than Subscribing? And then there is a simple Save this Reviewer.

Can any of you propose a label for this button that is immediately understandable, clearly describes what this activity is, and doesn't require a paragraph explanation.

A Guide to Similarity %

We're seeing more and more avatars on movie pages -- and that's fun: the reviews have somehow changed for us, from something like "content" into something more human, more interesting. You put a photo on your reviews and they become as much about you as they do the movie. And people now seem a lot more interested in clicking on those photos to see what else the reviewer likes and has reviewed.

But for me, the key is that Similarity %. But there is no scale, it's just a relative value. Is 50% similar good? What does it mean? So here are some comments on Sim%.

How is it calculated? Netflix uses algorithms comparable to those employed in the "Cinematch" engine which recommends movies -- but turns it around. Now computers take all the movies you've connected with -- rented is the most weighted, but also rated or even just put in your queue -- to get a signal about your taste. Then we compare those movies to the same set from each reviewer and generate a number. But its not an absolute value. Sometimes there is little direct overlap of titles, but there is overlap in "similar" titles, or more importantly, an overlap of genres. You might not have seen (or rated) the same set of movies I did, but we are interested in the same kind of movies, and this would make us similar. We do this very quickly to get a general sense of similarity.

What is a "good" match? Like I said, it's all relative -- if you and I are 60% similar, I may not know precisely what that means, but it suggests we're more similar than someone that i'm 55% similar to. The wisdom around here is that if you are 70% similar to someone, that's pretty darn similar. 80% is dead on. My very best friends -- with whom i would see ANYTHING they liked most of the time -- i'm in the high 80s with. And I'm not 90% similar to anyone I know. (Although I sometimes find reviewers who share that much taste with me). Below 50% and i tend to check carefully if i agree with their Favorite movies...

With your Friends list, we add a few more passes through the algorithm, to get an even subtler taste similarity, where we push up the emphasis on how you and I rate movies, and how common that kind of rating for a movie is (if you and I love a movie that the whole world loves, that doesn't really make us all that similar, but if you and I love a movie that everyone hates, well then, that's worth noting. So we do.)

One note: With Friends, the Sim% is asymmetric--that is, I can be more similar to you than you are to me. This is because if you have seen 10 movies and I have seen 100, including all 10 of yours, due to some intricacies in the formula, it shows a (small) difference between us--you with 10 movies will be MORE similar to me than I am to you (since I've seen so many you haven't, because there is such disproportion between our viewing histories). The presumption is that if you've only seen 10 and I've seen 100, i may have a far wider interest range than you. If you watch (or rate) 90 more, and there is still good overlap in interest, that eliminates the difference pretty much, but there is a lot of uncertainty with your smaller dataset. (We actually don't like this asymmetry very much, and are exploring that part of the equation even as we speak.) I know I was disappointed to learn that my very best (most similar) friend--who was 89% similar to me--didn't hold me in a comparable position, and I was only 80% similar to him. That was a bit of a let down. (I'm rating more movies and the difference is shrinking.)

Like the recommendation engine at Netflix, we continually improve these mathematical formulas (see the Netflix Prize). The only (somewhat cryptic) thing i'd add is that we're only scratching the surface for how many cool things we can do once we have calculated this Sim%, and you will be seeing more use of the tool throughout the year. Here's my question of the week: besides being able to find and save other people who are very similar to you, and sorting reviews based on (among other things) how similar the reviewer is to you, what ways can you imagine applying the Sim%?

Do you find it useful? Interesting?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Avatars

A few of you asked to select your avatar instead of having us automatically give you one. Tell you what: here are all 12 of our pre-built generic images:

Now I can't imagine why you'd want to use one of these when literally millions of other people have them too -- isn't the point to be unique and personalized? However, if you were to Photoshop one, mess around with it perhaps, make it your own, well sure! (Each image here is riffed off of some classic cinematic image, some more obvious than others. Can you identify them all?)

On a somewhat more personal note, everyone around here is really excited by all the avatar personalization going on. It hasn't been a week and already you can hardly go to a movie page of reviews without seeing one of your little icons. That's really quite remarkable considering there are more than a million reviews. Enjoy.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Nickname update

A few of you have suggested you're having problems with your nickname updating. Can more of you chime in here? (And if you're in the mood to be really helpful, let us know what OS and browser you're using.)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Notes, continued...

I'm game.

Shaun, you said "Reviews show up differently than notes; if I write a note, I guarantee my friends will see it. If I write a review, there is no such assurance." What if reviews from your Friends were treated differently. What if it was presented at the top of a page, or column, or highlighted in some way such that it wouldn't be buried in a pile of reviews. In other words, it was presented as a note. For other people who don't know you, who aren't Friends with you, yes it would still be visible but far less likely to be seen (who drills in multiple pages on customer reviews? And if I did drill that far, maybe i am interested in the rather idiosyncratic back-and-forth between another group of people on this topic. i'm just asking.) The other benefit of this is that reviews are both persistent (meaning, new Friends would be able to see them too), and edit/delete-able. How many problems would be solved if this worked for y'all? (AND there is no email that goes out when a review is posted, even...)

I pretty much agree with you about being able to turn off the notes emails. That's not as refined as it should be, and it probably should have a preference setting for it. [Meaning, you can select whether or not you want to send emails.] I had prioritized fixing that, however, after some other of these larger new features, like the avatars and changes to custom lists. Do y'all think turning off emails is more important than completing new features which all of us think will be more interesting? (I'm sort of being rhetorical--of course you'd rather it just work right; how much work could it take?) There are a lot more nifty ways to look for movies and share movie experiences than what we have now, and i personally believe you'll be pleased we prioritized this way, but i certainly don't know for sure. that's kinda why I think it's good to get everyone's feedback.)

one of you said: "i never feel like investing more than 5 minutes "reviewing" a movie. i bet most folks feel the same. a "review" feels more formal, and longer, and thought out. a "note" just feels better between friends. plus, nobody would get most of the inside jokes laced in my notes other than my friends. plus, who cares what i think (other than mom)?"

Why do reviews have to be formal? Some will, of course, be rather serious and educated in their critique. But others are no doubt going to be like talking to my brother, who has a lot of enthusiasm. Why is one better than the other? If I'm looking to get some sense of whether or not i should see a given movie, i like a range of voices. i don't need to "get" your private jokes, and i'll skip it if i don't get it. I suggest it might be okay to make your notes (to all your Friends) into reviews. If it isn't helpful to other folks, the natural process of sorting will pretty quickly drop it from much view -- and if it turns out to be helpful, and really crystallized something about a movie that appeals to other folks, well then, you've inadvertently helped other people.

I'm not suggesting there isn't a place for private correspondence -- that's pretty much what notes were designed for. The private kind of review, or query, or something that kinda demands response. But those notes don't really need to be persistent for all my Friends or future Friends. (Today's Friends may not get last years' private joke between me and the three Friends I had then.)

I miss the mini-reviews, i really do. But i more enjoy not having 3 distinct ways to communicate-- it's redundant, it makes things more complicated for everyone, harder to learn, more junk on the screen. I liked the subtle differences between each, but i think i can pretty much get what i need from just reviews and notes -- as long as new reviews from Friends are presented pretty clearly, and not more buried (as they are today).

Eric, you said you wanted the "ability to leave a note for all friends (including future friends that I might add). As it stands right now, I have no idea if new friends can see notes I've already left or not. I don't leave "notes" to people, I leave general comments about specific movies, so I'd like anyone who is associated with me to be able to read them." It sounds like the above solution might address this. Does it? And your second point, "Ability to leave a note on a movie that is independent of other notes my friends may have already left. I don't want my note to be considered a reply just because someone else left a note first. I just want to leave a comment, not start a conversation." Again, wouldn't sending the "note" as a "review" address this?

Finally: if you could edit/delete notes, how does that work? If I delete a note i sent you, does that mean it is removed from your Notebook? But edits i make on my notes ripple to every person who has that note? Is this correct? If i edit my review today, whenever someone reads that, they get the corrected version. And if i delete it it's gone from everywhere instantly. But if I write a note, and you reply, and I delete my note, what happens to your reply?

I'm not trying to be difficult; this is precisely the kind of questions that have to be answered, and alternatives that have to be debated.

Friday, June 1, 2007


It's clear that many (many!) of you have problems with the way we changed Friends last year. While I can tell you that in general the features are easier and more used now than before, that doesn't mean that really good elements were lost in the process. (I sure miss the "Suggest" button, for instance.) The Purple Dude, as we liked to call him (her?) was another cool element (for those newbies, he showed up on movies that your Friends had watched). His problem, however, was that he slowed down the page loads dramatically: every time we drew a page, we had to check every movie on the page against every movie seen by each of your Friends. When you had one Friend it wasn't so bad, but if you had more, the load times got bad. And as our membership was growing rapidly, the problem was rapidly getting worse. We had to make a hard call: try to fix that loading issue or retire the DUDE. Now I liked the dude, but at the end of the day, he laid down his life so that the site performance improved. I'd like to bring him back some day, but not before we solve that loading problem. Anyway, that's what happened to the dude.

On a sidenote, we did have a funeral for him in our offices. And in the great Netflix tradition of sending off our loved ones with a limerick, many of us contributed. This was mine:

It's goodbye to our friend, Purple Dude
He was smart, but exceptionally lewd;
He'd be doing his job
On the box and the bob*,
Displaying himself in the nude.

(*the "bob" is the "back of box" ajax pop-up when you hover on a movie title)

Now, this issue about the notes is a little different. It was my assumption that rather than have mini-reviews (that only went to your Friends, including Friends you didn't yet have), and reviews, and notes (which were more one-on-one or one-to-a-few in nature), we would reduce the complexity by reducing the options. Notes, I felt, were for individual correspondence -- and didn't need to persist for future-Friends. If you wanted to write something general, about movies, to a bunch of people, and if you wanted it to persist, then just make it a review. That way your Friends see it, and new Friends still see it. Does it matter that other people would see it? I didn't think it did. For all but personal notes between you and someone ("Did you like that?") or to you and a bunch of folks ("hey, does anyone think this movie is any good?"), a review seemed better.

At least that was my thought.

So my question is: For those of you who miss having "notes" that remain for future Friends, why won't a Review suffice? You're helping out more people with your thoughts, and it is our hope that people in the community will be interested in giving their feedback on movies to more than just a couple people. Why not just Review?