Monday, July 30, 2007
POSTSCRIPT TUESDAY: Okay, I think we've fixed this now. Now, to slow down and improve the useability of the Reviews feed...
(Almost Interesting Fact: when asked, most people say the quiz is dumb, yet a majority of Friends users do in fact play the quiz when it is presented. I chalk this up as a guilty pleasure.)
I will repeat this for the sake of our new readers (or old readers who skim): This is going to be a process of releasing elements here, that until they are all rolled out this area might feel... lacking. I like hearing your comments but please do know there is more to this than, uh, this.
Also: You are NOT going to be exchanging notes with strangers, nor are strangers going to be leaving you notes. I don't want that. You don't want that. There will be a way for mutually interested parties to connect, but no one who isn't interested will even notice it. More on this kind of feature when the time is right.
Okay, with that being said, have at it. Post your feedback (but mind you: i'm not going to respond to whoever posts something that says "What happened to Friends?") I hope this is fun. Here's my request: show this page to folks who are not blog readers - your friends and family, and see if the page is interesting to them. That's something i'd like to know. Cheers.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Early next week we will retire the Friends tab. It will henceforth be called "Community" (well, at least until we think of something better). NOTE: This does not mean the Friends feature will be gone - on the contrary, Friends is an important element for people in our community. The name on the tab is what is changing, and the Friends page itself is getting (sort of) demoted, so you access it from that sidebar. It will be clear when you get there.
There are four main components to this Community "Home" Page: the first is the column on the left labeled "Latest Reviews" -- It is a feed of the latest reviews as they are posted to Netflix, from anyone, on any movie. On each one you'll see the little avatar and Sim% and you can decide as they flow on by whether or not any of the flicks (uh, perhaps i should write "flix") interest you. It will run all the way through thousands of reviews, if you let it...
Tip #1: Moving your cursor into the column will stop the flow; move your cursor out and it starts again.
Next to this zone is another new element: a presentation of custom lists--which are now going to be called "Top 10 Lists" in spite of some of your protests. If you want to call it a custom list, go ahead. But we're writing "Top 10 Lists" on the website. These are not the most recently created lists. These are selected for you individually to have movies in them that we think might interest you based on some guesses about what you like. It's a crude sort of approximation, but custom lists are sort of fuzzy like that, and idiosyncratic, and personal. Check some out that interest you. Each time you refresh the page, the set of lists update. This can be fun. This can also drive you crazy. You'll see. It's not totally on purpose, but i kinda like it. Sometimes an unusual Top 10 List is a neat jumping off point to check out a new reviewer, which leads to their reviews and other Top 10 Lists.... and so on.
We've got a block here showing movies popular in your town. We've had this on the site home page for a long time, but I think its nice here. It's more for curiosity than anything else. What's fun is checking out other areas and seeing what's different there. Your home town. Some place where your friends live.
And finally, down toward the bottom, are a set of four reviewers from netflix, all strangers to you, with some of the highest Sim% we could find. They aren't the "most" similar, I suppose--but they are among the most similar.
I'd like to ask ya'll to explore the possibilities here. What interests you? Do you drill into the Top 10 Lists? Do you add movies to your Queue after discovering them here? How do you feel about those Similar Reviewers? All I'll say about the next few pieces is this: in short order, Friends users will have a few more elements here to approximate a new version of the old Friends Home page. And finally, yes, you'll be able to hang onto the people you find and like here. They won't be your friends and you won't be getting messages from people you don't know. But you will be able to keep an eye on them. And a few other things. But that will have to wait for a little bit. For now, start experiencing this new Community home. And I trust I will get your candid feedback. It's what y'all do best. Next week. Enjoy.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
There is this idea in product design that can be called a "product tax." It has a few components. The taxes are in addition to the more obvious cost of a new feature -- in terms of the work of designers and engineers. This is what most people think about when prioritizing 1/2 stars or movie privacy. I think inexperienced product developers are too highly focused on this as they prioritize what to build. The first small tax on this is the unanticipated amount of work it really takes to build and support the feature. Take our Movie Privacy feature.
As I said back when it rolled out, the creation was opportunistic: we had built it a year ago and it hadn't been released, it was not particularly "designed" - but it did solve a need and I felt it would be important to Friends users. And heck, Blockbuster even had it. Alright, so it wouldn't take too much time to finish it up and get it on the site, as long as I didn't spend a lot of time making it pretty and efficient. It just "is."
But once it was connected up to other pages, unexpected questions arose: if a movie is hidden, what happens if you review it? Does that "unhide it" or does the review show anyway. What about Watch Now movies? Are those hidden too? Someone discovered that hidden movies DO show up in the RSS Feeds. Should we hide the movies there? Each place where movies need to be hidden requires a little more work to implement. And in some cases, say RSS Feeds, there are engineering reasons why it's harder to hide something than in your Friends' sliders. Now I'm going to make up some numbers to illustrate this, but they are just made up: let's say 25% of our members use Friends. And 10% use Watch Now. It's possible that only 1% of Watch Now users are also Friends users. And not everyone in that group wants or needs privacy-- maybe only 10% of them. So to add this simple Movie Privacy page, and make it work "right" we have to think about and engineer this hiding for Watch Now even though it's highly unnecessary: 25% of our Friends users need Movie Privacy, but only a fraction of a % need Privacy applied in the Watch Now area. (And for the record, Movie Privacy DOES work on Watch Now titles). The point is that it was easy to create the page, but finding all the strings leading away is harder and creates a tax on releasing the feature. We tend to make something work only when a reasonably large percentage of people want and need the feature, or if common sense dictates we do it anyway, expecting more people to be using it later on. But as obvious as the feature is, one needs to be careful following all these strings and considering that additional work in the feature. But as i said, this is only the "small tax" here. I think product designers are well aware of this tax.
The larger tax is the one frequently missed. Once the new feature is created, it adds a lot of software to an already large pile of software that is our website. And now whenever someone working on any other part of the site has the idea for some cool new feature -- one that might be VERY important to lots of people, and VERY cool, the building of it must take into consideration all the other things it touches. As Steve goes and builds Watch Now features, he is belabored with the strings of Movie Privacy. If I want to add something about notes or reviews, I can't just build it quickly and get it out, i have to consider all the permutations that may involve privacy and make sure each is logical. And the more of these things you add, the more difficult and slow it is to do other features.
This is the hidden tax. It's starts small, but expands rapidly. Products (and websites) often get slower and slower to release new features because they spend an increasingly large percentage of their time just dealing with the baggage of the old features. If those old features are great, that's just business. But if those old features don't add much value, or only add value to the 1/2% of people who write reviews, use RSS feeds AND use Friends, then one must consider if the cost is worth it.
The discipline, therefore, is to generate new features, make them good for a lot of people, and keep an eye on how much value they really add. And after some period of time (it could be half a year, or a few years) if they aren't being used by many people, kill them. Otherwise they stack up in an endless pile that must be weeded through by customers and engineers alike.
And there is one more factor to consider: in many cases, adding more features diminishes the usability of the existing features. People only have so much attention (particularly for a website). If I have one button, you can click on the button. But if I add a second button, we have seen over and over again, that often people don't click on either button. There is confusion. There is choice where there was none. Overall user experience can get worse when you add features, and the exact opposite of what you want to happen occurs. We think we've added something people want, but fewer people see the features in total. Weird, but true. Less is more.
You are sincere when you suggest a new obvious feature, and it may even be clear to us the feature is cool. We consider the costs and benefits and then build them. But we also think of the tax, and need to think of the bigger picture, of a site 3 years from now that does all kinds of great things, things we KNOW many people (most people) want. If this cool little thing now is going to impact that supercool big thing then, we have to decide whether this thing is worth it. These are HARD decisions, there is no right answer in many cases.
As I mentioned, my brother is a Hollywood screenwriter, and I was a movie and TV editor in a former life. Writers have this notion of "killing your young" -- a rather crass way to describe the painful process of writing and editing out stuff that you like. For me as an editor, the way I learned it was like this: editing a movie is not about taking out the bad stuff. editing is about taking out the good stuff to make the remaining stuff better. You don't usually see all the stuff removed to make your favorite movies so good. But trust me, some of it is great, and you'd think they were idiots for cutting those scenes or lines. But the result is the thing.
Please keep your suggestions and debate flowing. We all read this stuff and it's good to hear. Many of your ideas are being implemented while you read this. So thank you.
Anyway, welcome to the inner conversation.
Anyway, I'm glad it's a new day. Back to work.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Oh, by the way -- i'm implementing some polls over in the right column. It's a start. (Is there anyone better than polldaddy? Seems pretty cool.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
But I think we need to change the label on that tab. Friends is not necessarily the right thing to call this part of Netflix. We could just put "Community" up on that tab. That's pretty good. But I also know folks who are sometimes turned off by the word community. I thought, perhaps, "Members." Not great, but maybe. There was a time around here when we graphically viewed the network of people using the Friends feature (a very cool diagram of people and lines connecting them) as a huge island. Our team sometimes referred to the island as "Netflixia" and I wondered if maybe that would work for our Community. On the other hand, some people think it sounds like a disease. I think it sounds somewhat provocative.
Any other ideas for the tab?
PS: While I'm asking about language, I have a problem with "Custom Lists". We're thinking of changing them to "Members Top 10 Lists" even though they are neither necessarily "top" nor "10" -- and yet most people understand in an instant what they will see if a headline says "Top 10 Lists". It's not perfect, but if you have some ideas here, I'd be interested in your thoughts on this as well as the tab. (And yes, I should be tanning on the beach, but frankly, this is what I do when I'm not working...)
POST SCRIPT 7/19: These are great suggestions (well, most of them) but i think you guys are working without some key information. The reason I feel the need to change the tab away from "Friends" is that we are about to change this part of the site pretty dramatically and Friends doesn't quite do it. Right now, if you don't have any Friends, or don't want any Friends, you just don't need to go here. But we are slowly building more and more elements that will be interesting for everyone, in particular, people without friends. Similiarly for the custom lists -- these work for some of you, but most people at Netflix (statistically speaking) neither use them nor have heard of them. You guys will figure out how to use the lists no matter what we call them, but my mom (sorry to keep bringing her up) needs it a lot more obvious, thus the Top 10 List kind of name. Give me a few days and i'll give y'all a sneak peek at some of the elements you'll be seeing on this new page. It will take a few weeks to roll out all the new elements, but i think i can give you a taste. That might help your efforts to name it. S'cool?
Let's create a list of features -- your "wish" list -- and we will keep re-editing this list as new ideas surface. Some of this info repeats the earlier listing, but this entry will be the edited and re-edited as the definitive input from your comments. (And soon -- but not yet -- we're all going to work together to put these in some kind of priority order.)(Italics in the list now represents wishes that have been all or mostly addressed at this point) Hang on:
1) Confused by the random avatar.
2) Wish you could select from a set of prebuilt avatars instead of uploading.
3) Prevent gaming the system by multiple self-voting (i.e. Helpful) in Reviewer pages;
4) Worried these new features will slow down the site experience
5) Sort Movie Reviews by Similarity % (or by date, or by pretty much anything)
6) Be able to find people with high similarity (e.g. the top 5 people similar to me), and hang onto people you've found.
7) Need to edit/delete reviews beyond first page;
8) Email notifications of major changes at the website
9) Able to add movies to Custom Lists directly from the movie page
10) Why truncate nicknames?
11) Miss the personal description (bio) part of Profiles
12) Changing the order of movies in Custom Lists;
13) Custom Lists problems adding some titles (ie. need a "MORE" button if the title you want doesn't come up first). (Workaround is #9)
14) Message boards on various movie topics so folks w/o Friends can still chat etc.
15) Allow option for non-Friends to leave you notes
16) APIs available for external development
17) Flag Reviews as "Not a Review" to get rid of bogus content, spam, or gripes...
18) "View Myself" ability to see your entire profile as others see you -- to verify Privacy, to see what they are seeing, etc.
1) Average ratings for you and each of your Friends;
2) Loved by your Friends and Recommended for you suggestions;
3) An Overview page for each Friend, not just ratings or queue;
4) Edit/Delete Movie Notes with your Friends
5) Disable/control email notices about Movie Notes being created
6) Film level privacy control -- to hide certain movies from Friends or others
7) Persistent notes (a la the old MiniReviews) such that new Friends can see old notes.
8) Notebook organization a bit wonky, and should include more info from the Friends Activity (ie ratings, etc that are mentioned in F.A.) and ability to sort or view only received notes.
9) Options for faster loading of Friends detail pages (ie Queue, Ratings)
10) Hide real name (and location) from Friends. In other words, allow "anonymous" Friends.
11) Bring back the "Purple Dude" icon
12) Import Gmail (et al) address book for Friends and Tell-A-friend invites
13) Clean up Privacy page and/or interaction -- with alphabetical access and/or access from Queue
GENERAL (non-Community) -
1) Confusing UI with the tabs, subtabs, side nav
2) Visual (spacing) confusion with the wider pages and the new sidebar
3) Better info/filmography (more complete--like Screenwriter) on actor/director pages and movie display pages
4) 1/2 Star Ratings
5) Bring back the "Shooting Star" icon
6) Polls on blog for new features
7) Move "language and sound" and "subtitle" info higher on movie pages
8) Sort rated movies by rating date, by genre, stars, release date, alpha, etc.
Hopefully y'all are starting to feel the steady forward progress here. Not everything is going to get addressed, but of course there will be other new interesting features not listed here--which in turn will give you more ideas for improvements. In the few months expect more significant changes to this part of the site. (But not this week. I'm on vacation this week...)
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Here are a couple little insights into our jobs here:
1) I'm not the only person working on the website. This shouldn't come as a surprise. I already introduced you to Meghan and Vikram and the rest; we're all working on this stuff; and thus:
2) Because you get feature A doesn't mean you don't get feature B. These things are not mutually exclusive. Just because I see a quick opportunity to roll out Movie Privacy doesn't mean Todd isn't going to work on 1/2 stars, or whatever. For the community-type features, my stuff, I am a little more cavalier with than how we are with, say, the Queue. Parts of the site are different, and we generally don't compete with each other for resources. Works goes on in parallel. Follow this?
But it begs the question: If we KNOW something is a feature you want, or a feature we want, why isn't it on the site already -- or why is it taking so long to release? These are good and logical questions.
So here's the answer: sometimes it is because a simple feature is more complicated than it at first appeared, and sometimes its because much more important features are on the top of our engineers' priorities list, but one of the most significant reasons is that we don't want to make the website more complicated than it needs to be. The site not only has to work for powerusers but also for my mom. Or your mom. We have to consider this kind of "feature creep" all the time and it keeps us from just dumping a ton of odd functions into the website.
Do you think we don't want to have the screenwriter on movie pages? (For cryin'outloud--some of my best friends are screenwriters. Heck, my brother is a screenwriter. Believe me, I think it would be great to get that info on movie pages.) So once you and we all agree something like that would be great, we start a serious exploration of the pros and cons, with lots of designing, with lots of testing, and make sure that it really is a good feature and not just another cool doohickie. In most cases, these features do make it to the website. But we are exceptionally careful at this. And the website is pretty good precisely because we are careful at this.
I'm reminded of a great talk by David Pogue, the technology columnist for the New York Times, that he gave at the distinguished TED Conference last year. Pogue is both entertaining and incredibly insightful, and his advice on interface design is very applicable to websites, and a cautionary tale for website builders like us (and his musical interludes are amusing). This runs 20 minutes--but is worthy:
We are movie lovers here at Netflix--the gang of us who build this site--and we have a lot in common with people who read blogs about Netflix. But when we release features, we work hard to get our egos out of the process, and tease out what truly makes the site better in all ways. We value your input here. We combine it with our own instincts and other research, and add new features. I hope it doesn't seem like we are reacting slowly. We're just methodical. Thank you so much for your suggestions. We hope that every month you're with us, you see the service and website improve.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Anyway, tonight we've freshly released the Privacy feature and the RSS Feeds (both discussed earlier). Fixed a few other things along the way. Try this stuff out. Whatcha think?
Please let me know if anyone does something particularly creative with the RSS Feeds of your reviews and a custom list. I'm interested in hearing about this.
(and again, if you see anything really wrong, let us know what you see and what OS and Browser you're using.) Bon Appetit.
Monday, July 9, 2007
Does this explain things?
Saturday, July 7, 2007
So, in a rather unNetflix-like way, we're just going to release it to Friends users in the next week or so. Let's see if this finally allows you to connect to folks you know slightly less well (or maybe too well), and for whom you absolutely needed the ability to hide some titles. We've all read your comments and suggestions for how best to implement this. Trust me: this isn't that. It's not that we're not hearing your suggestions, it's just i was interested in getting this in front of you quickly. So here's how it will work:
In the Friends area, look at the second navigation bar; along with the usual "Invite Friends" and links to this blog, we've added RSS FEEDS (per our earlier conversation) and MOVIE PRIVACY. The Movie Privacy page couldn't be much simpler. It provides a list of all the movies you've rented or have in your Queue (or At Home), all in alphabetical order, and for each movie, you have the option to make it private. That's it. Click "private" and its invisible to any Friend. Does it help? I think it's a start.
PS: It will not, at first, list your RATED movies. Just RENTED and in QUEUE. Let's see how this goes. ALSO: The more movies you've seen or have in your queue, the longer this page will take to load up -- so please be patient. It could take 10-15 seconds perhaps for you power-users. PPS: RSS Feeds are not currently filtered for Private Movies.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
RSS REVIEWS. You'll soon be able to feed all your reviews to your own sites, which maybe easier than copy/pasting your reviews between sites.
RSS CUSTOM LISTS. You'll also be able to feed any individual custom list you've created out to your own site. At first glance this might seem lame, but i think there are some cool applications possible, particularly if you combine the feeds of Reviews and some lists.
Let's say you're an organization. Maybe USC Film School. Maybe a Pilates Club. Maybe a Neighborhood Association. Or a magazine. You've got a website and your own members and everything. Some of your members may be Netflix members too, but some may not. Regardless, you can use your Netflix profile (or create a special sub-account with its own queue) to some special advantage. From this sub-account, add your iconic avatar (a logo or something clear at this small size), and a nickname that works for you (organization name, most likely). Then review movies that are relevant to your members. Make Custom Lists that are relevant. (Think: Best Computer Generated Movies, Films We're Watching This Month, Movies Shot in Baltimore...) and feed these reviews and specific lists to your site.
This way, when Netflix members are looking at a movie, they can see the review from your org. And the members of your org can see all your reviews at your orgs website. It's a nice dynamic. I'd like to hear about anyone using the reviews and lists this way. Any particularly inspiring examples might get showcased here. Anyway, I'll let you know as the release of these features gets closer. In the meantime, just know we have a little work to do still on cleaning up the RSS feeds. Happy Fourth.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
1) For a number of technical reasons you can only have 5 Friends sliders "open" at a time, plus your own. This is not the top 5. It could be any five. If you open more than 5, you can see them, but the site won't save this configuration, and will automatically close the lowest few to get back to 5. If you select five you want to keep open, no matter which they are, it will remember this. To be candid, i don't like this limitation: i have 17 Friends. But i tend to be keeping an eye on only a few and I guess i've gotten used to it. Also, I cannot escape the fact that only a small percentage of Friends users have more than 5 Friends. Anyway, we see this as a bug, but it only affects a few of us.
2) "New Notes" are absolutely not very new. In the first version we released we made some unfortunate compromises, and what it calls "new" are going back four months or so. It doesn't track what gets read, which is the problem. It's just a moving time window. This has been bothering us since we first released the new pages, and it is definitely on our bug list. My sincere apologies for this.
3) Alerts about "Replies" is an interesting idea, and we'll think about what it would mean. I can tell you that when someone replies to a note, even an old old note, it moves the entire "conversation" to the top of the pile, so you will still see the most current conversations at the top of Your Notebook. Thanks for the feedback.
The sliders were an experiment and i'd say the vote is still out whether or not they are a positive way to interact with Friends recent activity. (I'm not asking for your votes here -- we know many of you have never liked this presentation.) I like how visual they are, and they are really more dynamic than most elements on the Netflix site. But they don't replace other forms of presentation and, as I've said, we'll be revising this part of the site very much in the coming seasons.
Monday, July 2, 2007
Here is a somewhat typical Friends Slider:
Each one of your Friends gets one. It's a small window into their world. There are two main tabs on the top of this slider: Watched/Rated and Queue. Both of these tabs present movies in order of activity, that is, the order movies were watched or rated, the order they were added to a Queue (or reordered in that Queue). As you all have noticed, the Queue slider is not in Queue-order. The logic is that I like seeing what has recently interested my Friend, what they just added, just discovered, just moved, just rated. I'm not quite as interested in what they have at the number 5 spot. What's at that spot also might sit around for some time. I like to see new stuff and this is the best way to reveal it.
But, of course, it's fun to know what's in their Queue too. What they have at home. (Well, if they have it at home, that will show up as a little notice on top of the box art in the slider [see photo in this para], but even so...) On the far left part of the slider is a little info about your Friend. Notice here are two bits of information that are also links (I've circled them in the top image in the first para). This shows the number of rated movies and the number of movies in the Queue -- but if you click on either, you go to your Friends' page. Here you can see their full Queue (in a presentation that will be much more familiar), or all their movie ratings. There is a drop down menu of variations on their movie ratings, and the one I like the most is "Movies in Common." (It is also the page you see if you click on their "% Similarity To You" back on the slider). This page shows their ratings of movies side by side with your ratings of movies that you have also seen. It's a quick way to gauge your taste similiarity for yourself, or to rate a bunch of movies if you haven't.
The sidebar you get with your Friends is pretty similiar to the one you get for any reviewer you want to check out - except you can't see reviewer's Queues. With Friends, you can.
I hope this clears up a few questions about these features. Let me know if this makes more sense or if you have further need of explanation.
One thing you could help with in particular - do you find that you still use the numbers to reorder, or just the drag/drop? [If you could include the # of movies in your Queue with your comment, that would be great. Thx]
1) Select Your Account link (at the very top of the screen).
It will take you to a page full of setting for your account. Look near the bottom for a block called "Account Preferences". Look for the link to your Email Subscriptions:
Make sure it's not selected, and then you won't receive emails you don't want. Trust your Friends to manage this (but feel free to explain it to them if you're worried). I hope this helps. At worst, it's a start. (At best, we can move onto bigger tasks!) Enjoy.