Friday, August 31, 2007

Thunderdome

In my version of Thunderdome, six page ideas go in, and one page idea comes out. Let's see how y'all do prioritizing the following six possible pages we could build/improve:

1) Reviewer's Ratings Page. Right now it only shows 5-star movies. When you look at your Friends, you see all their ratings. What if you saw all a reviewer's ratings, along with being able to look at a variety of slices through them (again, as with Friends): their 5-star, 4-star, etc. movies, the movies you have in common, and so on)

2/3) Split the Reviews & Lists page into two pages -- one dedicated to Reviews and one for Top 10 Lists. This would make it far more logical when you select a Top 10 List and land on page - you'd see what you select opened up, presented clearly, instead of hunting for them. Space would be used better on both pages to separate these.

4) Outward Profile page. You've got an inward facing profile page where you can change your avatar and nickname. What if we put back the "personal statements" and then create an OUTWARD facing profile page -- the page that summarizes each Friend or reviewer, with key highlights and movie tastes, and so on.

5) Members Similar to You. One page full of similar members -- like that block of 4 on the community home page, but expanded.

6) Top 10 Lists page. Again, like the little block on the community home page, but with lots of these -- new ones, popular ones, etc.

(Let's tweak the stakes a bit, and say for the sake of argument that we'll only be able to do 3 of them, and that each page would take two weeks of effort.)

Finally, don't just think of superusers - like yourselves -- but what is good for other people, maybe who don't use the site as deeply or fluently as you do. Making the existing site easier is valued highly.

Can ya'll come to a consensus and convince each other of a single #1 option?

RSS (follow up) and Videos

I really like that RSS video... and in a moment of utter madness i just decided to insert it into the Netflix website. Stuck it into the FAQ on RSS. Why not?! (To give you a little glimpse of working at Netflix, this kind of behavior is rather encouraged). It was your feedback about the video that convinced me to see what would happen. I didn't even know we could insert videos into some of those FAQs...

http://www.netflix.com/FAQ?faqtrkid=1&p_search_text=rss

So it got me thinking: are there other little videos that could be made that would help newbies understand elements of the Netflix service? What do you think needs explanation? I thought i'd put this out there: go ahead and make some of your own helpful short videos (put them on YouTube), and if they are good, i'll put 'em in some FAQs. (If they're not -- i'm certain everyone of your blog-reading pals will make sure you know it.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ask Mike:

A comment was posted tonight that requested "a way to contact you without having to comment on unrelated blog entries ..." and this came almost concurrently as I received a regular email to my personal email account from another blog reader. Now I don't go to great lengths to keep myself hidden, but i am serious that part of the work of the blog is to have these communications in the blog, transparently. So i'm not going to respond to direct emails - but i do want to leave a space on this blog that is an "Open Question Forum."

Idea: Number your questions/comments so I can reply by number (too many anons). Let's see if that works. FYI: if you've asked in other postings and i haven't replied there, there is a good chance i won't here either (although maybe i can tell you why).

So if none of the blog postings for the past 3 months seem to cover the topic you want to ask about, try it here. If your questions are about things I can address, Community-related things--there's a good chance i'll be able to handle it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Movie Night

I'm thinking about putting together a little movie night for me and a few friends next week- i was hoping once a week, but it will probably end up once a month (family obligations being what they are)... so i found myself at Evite, thinking about setting this up. I landed here:



http://www.evite.com/pages/invitations/movie-tv-night.jsp

So I wondered: do you guys often watch movies with friends? Do you formally have movie nights, or movie clubs of some kind? And if you do - what can Netflix do to support, or facilitate this activity in some way?

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Favorites"

The next important component to roll out, probably in mid-September, is the concept of "Favorites." When you see a reviewer you like - maybe they are similar to you, or maybe you just like the reviews they've written, or whatever - you can add them to your list of Favorites. These "Faves" will be placed on your Friends page (which - by the way-- will henceforth be called your Friends & Faves), and there you can hang onto them for future perusal.

When one of your favorites writes a review or rates a movie, it shows up on the Community Home Page sort of like a Friend does. Their new review is featured, their latest ratings show up in an Activity block. You can remove them any time you want. But most importantly, they are not notified, invited, or otherwise bothered to be part of this. If you review movies, someone can save you to their Favorites list. They become your fan, of sorts. They cannot see your Queue; they cannot see your Rental History; they cannot send you notes. It's just like now, but you don't have to stumble across them, you can hang onto them.

If you are a reviewer, and you're pretty good, you might start noticing you have these fans. You can't see much about them (nickname and sim%) unless they are reviewers, too. But you'll know that you have some. (Dare I say: your influence will go up!)

The Favorites concept provides a way to connect that is sort of less intense than Friends. It's more 'one-directional'. You might just use it with your lazy friends who don't really contribute much to you, but to whom you end up giving lots of ideas. They could just add you to their Favorites list, and keep up with your reviews or ratings, but you don't have to interact.

There are more subtleties to this that I'll describe shortly, but i wanted to give ya'll a sneak peek at the concept. You disliked Influence so much i simply can't wait to hear how you feel about this. No, seriously, this will be a good way to personalize your Netflix experience -- where you select the people who you want to give you movie ideas and commentary... from Roger Ebert to your best friend to that guy from Ohio who really is similar to you to some magazine that is posting movie reviews on Netflix consistently and is always good to check out when they are available...

So I have one question for ya'll, and i've asked it before but i'm asking again (and adding a poll to the side to see some numbers). What is the best language for the button? In a sense you are "subscribing" to someone's reviews - but that sounds like you have to sign up, or pay, and neither are the case. It is kind of a "bookmark" but it isn't really, not in the classic web sense, and could be confusing (is it? this is a strong contender here). You are adding them to your Favorites list, so something involving that ("Save to Faves"? "+Favorites"? or -- as someone suggested on this blog a month or so ago, they are a "Reviewer You Love" -- I'd love your feedback on these (or other) options. In the end, i will actually test which has the best usability, but i wonder how y'all do against the data. Don't forget to vote in the poll (as well as comment). Thank you.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Millions of Members Helping You"

You know what's bothering me? That thing at the top that says "Millions of Members Helping You." It's true, but it's lousy. Somebody nail this for me, please. What is this page and how do you sum it up in a short line.

UPDATE: Get your suggestions in soon -- and next week i'll post a poll over to the right with some of the best from your comments.

Today's Release is Live

The new features are now online for everyone. Here's what my Community Home page looks like:
If you don't have anyone connect to you with Friends, you don't get these top couple blocks: On the top left is a review just posted by a Friend, and the Friends activity is next to it on the right (now with RATINGS!). The Top 10 Lists block is cleaned up a bit, but just cosmetically, and there is the familiar Latest Member Reviews. Should be pretty self-explanatory, but Tuesday's post about this release sums up the new features. Slowly getting better?

I'll post next week about where all this is starting to lead. Tonight, i'm going to the theater to watch the new Bourne flick. Later.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Reed Hastings Blog

It's because of you. Seriously. From his first posting, he's acknowledging other cool CEO bloggers (Schwartz, Cuban, Andreessen), but i promise you. It's not because of them. It's because of you.

Of course he reads our blog, and your comments. And I can't imagine he wasn't a little inspired by all the fun we were having. I dunno. You'll have to ask him. Anyway, effective tonight (it seems) Reed has decided to start his own blog. I would have thought he would have, i dunno, checked in with me for some tips? S'pose not. Anyway, we'll have to see what he's going to do... this should be interesting.

http://reedhastings.blogspot.com/

I figure he's going to leave the product development, website, community stuff to us here, which is fine by me. He'll do that CEO stuff that he likes. I think it's relevant that his isn't a "netflix" blog. It's his. Personal. Anyway, you folks have been totally great here, and i hope you'll check out his blog too and give him some feedback. Spread the word.

(But let's see if we can get him to change that photo!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

This Weeks' Release

It's that time again... the time when we've fixed a few things, added a few things, cleaned up a little bit of the mess we create during construction ... sometime around this weekend you'll see the next few Community improvements. They include a bunch of small Friends and Reviewers items:

1) We're pretty much done moving items from the Friends home page to the Community Home page -- the quiz is here, the activity block, and finally, the notices that appear at the top of your Friends page when you get a note or a new friend invitation -- these will be here now. Consequently, we're cropping off these old elements from the top of the Friends page - simplifying it some - and moving those elements up a click level (back to where they were). (As a bit of a tease, i will tell you that clearing them off the Friends page leaves us room for the next stuff we're about to add...)

2) We've added one kind of notice: when a friend writes a movie review, it will also get a card at the top of the Community Home page, much like notes have been.

3) We fixed a couple of little bugs in the Friends activity box (like most of this weeks' changes, this will mean nothing to non-Friends users), but the ratings are now in there, and soon we'll clean up the way the TV series are presented.

4) The "read more" link on movie reviews in the Latest Reviews slider now takes you to the full review on the reviewers own page - and not leave you hunting around the movie display page wondering where it is.

5) We cleaned the creation dates off of the Top 10 Lists - they weren't really useful, and now there is more room for longer titles.

6) Oh, and we slid your "helpful/unhelpful" count back into your own Reviews & Lists page so it's easier to see which of your reviews are well-received...

7) IF YOU HATE, AND I MEAN HATE THE MEMBERS LATEST REVIEWS feed - here is a super top secret back door work-around for you: add the words "NOSCROLL" after the ? in the URL, such that it looks like this:
http://www.netflix.com/Community?NOSCROLL

And the Community Home page will display without it. It's not easy, perhaps, but it may suit the technically savvy folks among you.

These are the bits improved this week (the parts you can see), all slowly moving us toward where we are heading-- a place that will be much much clearer not this Friday, but in a few more weeks. Until then, i hope some of these little things help. Sure they're entirely apple polish, but there is method in the madness. I'll lay out what the big picture is sometime in early September. Until then, enjoy...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hey Friends Users:

Does anyone use and rely on the Friends Preferences page? You can change the name of your friend there, if for some reason their netflix account name doesn't suit you; you can delete Friends there, but you could delete them from anywhere if that was the best reason for keeping this (like in the slider, or on their profile page....) Clearly it would be better if all the Netflix prefs were together somewhere, and this probably isn't the ideal spot... Maybe we should retire it and move some of these functions somewhere smarter. So I wonder: Is this a useful page? Can someone defend it eloquently?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Moving the Needle

When I add something to the site — like the Latest Reviews block or the Members Top 10 Lists, I am looking to see how many of our subscribers use it, and come back to use it again. For whom does this feature add value? My goal is to add lots of value for as many people as i can. A new feature doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, of course. We have a lot of subscribers, after all, and you all have a very wide range of needs and preferences. Some things we do might be useful to everyone (say, improving the way the Queue works) and some only impact a subset of users (for instance, changing the way you see your Friends). We do both kinds of features, and are always looking to balance the efforts creating each of them.

When I look at features on the Netflix site (and in the Community area in particular) I have two buckets that everything falls into: moving the needle and polishing the apple.

What I want is to move the needle: I want to make a change or add a feature that materially improves our site. Maybe it makes it so much easier to manage your queue or find exceptionally good movies that it totally changes the way you use and enjoy Netflix. That would be good. That would be “moving the needle.”

Often times I’m just polishing the apple: it’s good to make this thing better, easier, clearer, whatever – but it really isn’t going to change how many people use it or enjoy it – at least not in a meaningful way.

The drag and drop queue – that was a needle mover. It makes the queue much easier to work for every one of our subscribers. Good feature. Adding the Friends Activity headlines to the Community Home page? Well, it was a good thing to do, but it was only for Friends users, and quite possibly was only a bit of apple polish. Removing the dates from the Top 10 Lists block? (releasing next week) Definitely apple polish. I wouldn’t have done it at all except it only took about 10 seconds and it was driving a few of us crazy. We call this “opportunistic” improvement. You’re fixing something anyway and it is easy to do. So make the thing better even if it doesn’t move any needles.

There is a general sense that you have to do a little bit of polish or in time the site just isn’t that good, it isn’t easy to use or it slowly irritates y’all to the point of distraction. Search is an example. It works. But it could be so much better. Most of us are sure this is a needle mover. I think the entire Community effort – comprised of many many little interlocking features – could be a needle mover. I am trying to discover if that is the case.

The problem often comes when me and my teams’ natural desire is to polish apples – make the things we have much smoother or better (think the sliding of the Latest Reviews or the adding of movies to Top 10 Lists), but then realize that the small bits of work to improve these things adds up and the big new features that are certainly more likely to move some needles are getting postponed.

Anyway, it’s a balance. Like a stock portfolio. Some high risk stuff, some slow growth but low risk stuff, a few wildcards… but all adding up to a strong healthy portfolio that weathers short fluctuations and delivers good results in the long haul.

The features I want, and that you guys often suggest, are almost always good things to do and would results in genuine improvement of the site. The question I ask – and you can ask yourself if you want – is will it make a difference, and if so – how much? For whom? I could change the font on all the tabs and it would certainly make the site nicer looking and perhaps even easier to read – but would it change our business? (Maybe that’s too extreme an example). Perhaps better: let’s make it easy to sort the movie reviews on all the movie pages – by helpful ratings, by similarity percentage to you, by recency, etc. Seems like a no-brainer. It certainly would be great. It’s already on my list of things to do. But let’s step back for a moment. Will it help more people find better movies? If you don’t read movie reviews (and many people don’t, actually), will it get you to try it? Most people ask for these options, but rarely use them. If we provide the ability to sort in a dozen ways, how many people will use the feature? Simplicity would say: discover the most useful of all the ways to sort these things, and make that the default – because that’s what most people will see. Then add the sorting later, opportunistically. And what are the thresholds? If I told you only 1% of our users would sort, would you make this a top priority? How about 10%? What would it take – 20%? 50% (Complicate this with the effort: what if it took a day to build, or a month? How would that affect your decision?) The question is rhetorical, but the issue is very real. It’s not a bad feature. In fact it is a brilliant and obvious feature. But should it be the first thing I build? Or is there something else that is also brilliant but that will be “game changing” – a needle mover! Because if you were given a choice, you’d probably tell me to do that.

I’m reminded of a bit of business advice I got when I was raising money to start a company back in 1993. It went something like this: “Just because something is a truly great idea does not necessarily mean it will make a good business. And just because something would be a terrific business does not necessarily mean it is a good investment.” You guys offer us ideas – often great ideas. Our job is to decide if they are worthy investments. There is often no question they are good ideas.

That’s why I really absorb all of your suggestions, and that’s also why you don’t see all of them getting implemented right away. It is without question the hardest part of this job.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Let's talk about Search (baby)

Hi, Meghan here. I've been looking at ways of making search better. Way better. There are some obvious frustrations, like how hard it can be to find the specific episode of a tv series you want or if you don't know the title of the movie you're looking for and it can't find it by description. But I'm wondering if there are other things you've noticed that could be improved.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

About This Blog

There may be some confusion among new blog readers about this blog - and so i've added a little explanation to the blog sidebar that I hope will shed some light on things.

There are a few additional points i'd like to make:

(a) This blog is about the development of community features; this is not customer service. While other readers can sometimes help you solve a problem (and i encourage this), i can't really address issues like shipping oddities, broken discs, account things, and so on. I can, however, fix website bugs (or send them to people who can) - and to the degree you think something is a weird bug that is persistent and probably affects many people, I do like hearing that. (and no - lack of Mac-based instant watching is not technically a bug...) Already, you guys have identified a number of bugs that I missed, and we've been able to fix them quickly. In the cases where you are seeing a debilitating issue, information about your OS and browser really help.

(b) Our web development isn't really a democracy (i think it's more of a republic... ) i value your input and feedback and i combine it with many other sources of information to determine what I build and when. Y'all are an asset and a great resource, but please understand that I don't just build what the blogging majority (or the vocal minority) suggest. We have methods to discover if features are needed by large segments of our users, but this blog isn't that. You guys are a self-selected, usually advanced, relatively technical, pretty dern smart, movie-loving group. (this is what I like about you). But you must realize you are special and not necessarily representative of all our members. But I really do hear you and your insightful/compelling arguments are fantastic.

(c) I have limited ability to get my partners to contribute here - i'm on the team building the website, and my associates bring you things like Instant Watching, the Queue, Recommendations, Ratings, and so on. They all read this blog and your comments, and will post occasionally, but not to the extent that I do. I only write about what I know and what I am doing. When I don't respond to comments about other things, it's only because i have little value to add. Which leads me to...

(d) Netflix doesn't "hate you" when we either don't respond directly to your comment or don't implement the feature you want most. Netflix in general (and me, in particular) value you highly. I respond directly to comments once in awhile, but somewhat randomly I think. If I do comment to you, it's because something you said has nicely sparked a conversation. And finally...

(e) I'm doing this blog to help me in my efforts to develop these features that explore the value of community in movie discovery. To the degree it's helpful, fun and relatively civil, i'll keep doing it. if it descends into name calling, poor behavior, and a general lack of decorum, i'll probably give up. So far i have been deeply impressed with all of you and the quantity of good thinking and helpful input.

So thank you, and i hope this helps give context to what is going on here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Do You Rank?

I'd like to introduce y'all to one of the small, but I think important, new features coming up this summer. Really, two related features. One is "rank" and the other is "influence."

INFLUENCE is how much your movie opinions seem to influence others about the movies they watch. We calculate influence with a complicated algorithm that takes a number of factors into account: perhaps the biggest chunk is simply how many movies you have reviewed. If you write reviews you probably have more influence on others than if you don't. If you have Friends you influence others, and more Friends probably gives you more influence. But it's not this simple. Bad reviews don't give you much (or any) influence. Writing reviews on movies with tons of reviews already also doesn't help that much -- so WHAT you review and that you write good reviews has more weight than sheer volume. (Writing a great review on a movie with very few reviews is a very good thing.)

Having an avatar image helps, as does having a personalized nickname. Having lots of movie ratings helps, but not alone -- it only helps if you have Friends or Reviews such that people look at your ratings. The fact that other people click on your avatar and check out your other reviews is very important. These page views go into the calculation. The more people check you out, the more influence you'd have. And the most weighted element is when other people actually add movies to their Queues from your pages, or from your custom lists. As you can see, it is a complicated series of factors, and we will be refining the weights and factors from time to time, but starting later this month (and I'll alert ya'll once I know a date for sure), we'll put your Influence score in your sidebar (near "Member Since..."). We will update these ranks every week or so (not nightly, like most stuff on the site), so numbers will drift around relatively slowly.

RANK is simply an ordered list of who among you has the highest INFLUENCE value. Which means, if you think about it, someone out there is going to be the Number 1 Movie Influencer at Netflix. At first we won't present the ranks as a scoreboard (that is, you can't just go and find #1) because i want to do some adjusting first. But eventually we'll make these lists of high ranking Netflixers available.

What do y'all think of this?

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???)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

RSS Explained

Saw this hand-made video online earlier this week (and inexplicably spent some time chatting with the creator this morning here at this Gnomedex conference); I quite enjoyed its explanation and wondered what y'all thought of it. If you didn't already know anything about RSS does this explain it? If you already do, would you show this to a friend? Do you think we should embed this (or a video like it) on the RSS page at Netflix to help explain this kind of feature? What do you think of video in general to explain things about the Netflix site or experience?Anyway, check it out:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Next Weeks' Release

Here's a brief rundown on the new stuff coming out on the Community Home page early next week:

Latest Reviews feed. Slowed down, better looking. Hover over to pause is now explained and a review highlights when you hover, so it is clearer. This is not yet like the future sketch shown here recently, but you can see the way this is evolving.

Members Similar to you: if you click on someone you go to their Ratings page, where you can immediately compare their ratings to yours. Should be a faster way to judge for yourself your movie taste similarity. Then you can look at their reviews or lists if you are interested.

Local Favorites are now labeled “Unique in…”. This block does not just present what is popular in your town, but rather the movies that are uniquely popular in your town. It is a subtle distinction, perhaps, but it is more accurate. Not all that many of you love this, but it's a sort of guilty pleasure... (it's usually more interesting for me to click the link and visit other cities...)

Friends Activity block – If you are a friends user, we are starting to move more Friends features to the community home page. The first two are this activity block (showing what your friends are renting, rating, returning, reviewing, etc.) and the quiz. Both of these blocks, I’m sorry to say, were released with a number of small irritating bugs in them. The activity block says your friend rated a movie, for instance, but it isn’t showing their rating (this, along with many other little nits, will be fixed in subsequent releases). I thought: better give y'all something working mostly, than nothing until it's perfect. Was i wrong?)

Your Friends Loved/Hated:
this isn’t updating properly, but should rotate through a selection of top rated movies from all of your friends. This will also be improved in subsequent releases. AS it is now, this is just slightly better than a placeholder.

Community link button in the sidenavigation. This should make moving around a little easier. NOTE: as we move forward, we will likely move more of the navigation within the community pages from the top to the side.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Instant watching on Mac, Firefox, and more

Hey, all. I'm Steve, responsible for the instant watching feature on our site.

First, I just wanted to say thanks for all of the comments and feedback you've already posted. I've read everything, and look forward to hearing more of your ideas.

Next, as my first post, I wanted to answer a couple of your questions about Mac, Firefox and beyond.

Bottom line: we're committed to giving all of our members access to our instant watching feature. Both Mac and Firefox are on the list. Also, many of you have seen our public statements that we're bringing Netflix to the TV in 2008. I can't say anything more specific about that, except to note how excited I am about what we're working on.

In the meantime, here's a little more regarding Mac and Firefox. While Boot Camp and virtualization programs work great for watching movies instantly on an Intel Mac, I know that's not the solution we all want (ps - I've been a Mac user since the days of the 128K Mac, and many of us at Netflix use them at work and at home.) So here's the deal:

A key issue for delivering movies online is that the studios require use of DRM (Digital Rights Management) to protect titles. And that's our holdup for the Mac - there's not yet a studio-sanctioned, publicly-available Mac DRM solution (Apple doesn't license theirs). I can promise you that, when an approved solution becomes available for the Mac, we'll be there. I'll also say that Silverlight 1.1 looks like a promising candidate - but that its DRM isn't likely to be fully available until 2008.

Firefox for Windows is a different issue, and one we hope to address by early 2008. An upcoming version of our movie viewer will support Firefox as well as some new features, and I'll post more on that as we get closer to deployment.

Another comment I hear frequently is about the selection of titles available right now for instant watching. Two things on that:

First, the majority of the studios’ content is committed to traditional broadcast channels for the next several years. As a result, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Walmart.com, and everyone else delivering movies online have access to far less content than what’s available on DVD. That said, we’re working closely with the studios to expand content for electronic delivery, and even today we have more than any other electronic delivery service I'm aware of. We're continually adding new choices - we're up to over 4,500 movies and TV episodes this week - and that growth will accelerate into next year.

Also, besides some really great movies and shows from the full catalog, we're starting to receive newer content and exclusives. The Office was a big hit with our viewers over the past month or so. Pan's Labyrinth and several other recent releases will be out this month, with more to come this fall. We have a special preview of Californication, a new Showtime series with David Duchovny, available right now (btw - adults only recommended for that one). There will be lots more where those came from.

So, we hear you: get you to the Mac, Firefox, and the TV. Get you more great movies and TV shows. We're listening, and we're taking action. Thanks, everyone. Keep the comments and questions coming, and let me know what you'd like to hear more about.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Latest Reviews"

We're going to be slowing down the flow in the Latest Reviews. A number of little aspects of this section will be improved as early as next week.
Looking a little further down the road, i wonder if any of you care about the reviewer or the sim% as much as the review and its rating. I know it is hard to judge as your opinion may change once this is flowing more normally and with control, but try anyway: what if these reviews were presented more like this:


(Ignore the review text - this is a sketch of how we could design this)

Is this better or worse than the current implementation? What else might you tweak here?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Job Opportunity

Can I ask y'all for some assistance? In light of all the radical development we have underway (and suggestions you are making!), I'd like to find an engineering partner to work with me to lead our community efforts here at Netflix. I'm looking for an experienced software systems leader who has successfully led teams to design and code software for an online business, and one hopes, an online social network. If we were a start-up, this might be the CTO-type of position, but here you would be a manager or director of engineering, depending on your experience. Does this sound like you or someone you know? Read more at the Netflix Jobs page. We're moving quickly and as you can see, lots of interesting projects are still ahead.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Todd Speaks: 1/2 Stars

Dear blogfans: Todd is apparently more busy than I am and consequently this was the only way I could drag him on stage here. Be nice or he won’t come back. Todd? I’ve got a gajillion people here who would really like to know why we don’t have ½ stars. You’ve read their comments; you saw the poll we ran. Is this going to happen or not, and if not, why not?

Todd: Hello Everyone in blogland. First of all, thanks for your debate on the topic. Your comment chain sounded a lot like the voices in my head for the past 6 months. As a film fan, like you, I had an instinct that ½ stars would be preferable to the 5 whole stars we currently use. But as you have pointed out so well, there are good cases that can be made on both sides of the argument. If I might re-iterate for those just tuning in: on one hand, 5 stars is simple and pretty good for its level of simplicity. On the other hand, it doesn’t create the kind of fine tuning and accuracy that even we use in our predictions. Since someone can always rate on the even star increments, it would appear that adding ½ star options is a plus with no down side. Or on the outside chance there IS a downside, a preference setting seems like it would solve that. This is a compelling argument.

Now from the Netflix vantage point.
As I said, your hunches are almost identical to mine. So here’s what I learned from months of testing this across the country: when we make the ½ star options possible, we get fewer ratings. Significantly fewer ratings. We have argued these results internally for some time, and our best guess is that the complexity of doubling the number of choices from 5 to 10 deters many people from rating, so they just give up. (“3 stars? No, 3 ½ stars.. no… 3 stars… no… oh forget it…”) At Netflix we want people to rate so we can give them a better site experience (better suggestions, better predictions, better use of the pages to showcase movies they’re less likely to have seen).

I like the improved accuracy, but I’d rather have more people rate than fewer. The preference setting is a marginal solution because, as Michael has discussed in this blog before, very few people ever find and change their preferences (even if we simplified the preference page, which we should do anyway!) – so the standard behavior has to be pretty ideal. For those of you who are concerned that there is no good middle (no opinion vote), please consider using 3 stars for that purpose because that is the way we use it in our recommendations system. 4-5 star ratings tell us to boost up movies like it when predicting for you and 1-2 star ratings tell us to punish movies like it when we predict for you, but we treat 3 stars as a neutral signal.

I have not given up on this issue, because you and I generally agree it seems like it would be a good thing. But it isn’t a slam dunk and I have more work to do to make sure this helps everyone and is simple. Consequently, the vote is still out, but don’t hold your breath. I’ll let you know if something changes for sure one way or the other. Sorry it’s not what you want to hear. But I hope it will give you some context.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I go away for the weekend, and all hell breaks loose...

Hey gang. I swear when I left town the Community Tab was just fine. Turns out my team released some new tab designs and one of the elements got messed up, and yes -- somehow on Friday, the Community Tab went back to being a Friends tab for about a day. I'm not changing it back (sorry). I can say that I'm not all that thrilled with the label "Community" and am experimenting with some clearer, more interesting and more descriptive names.

For the next month or so, I'm going to be experimenting a lot on these Community pages. I like your feedback and we all have a lot of ideas to refine these -- to be more fun and more useful. Later this week we'll revise the way those movie reviews appear -- more readable I expect.

Anyway, our team is busy busy pounding on these pages. If we break something in the process, you have our deep apologies. The plan is to make them better. See what you think early next week, I should have a few more gears working by then.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Members Similar To You

The question has been raised: "How are these people chosen?" and "Why do some of my Friends have higher sim% than these people?"

The calculation to determine similarity is extremely complex -- and takes into consideration all the movies you've seen and rated, and how other people rate those movies to find weight, and then looks at the various kinds of overlaps with another person. To take you and compare you to every other subscriber would be CPU prohibitive. To compare you to every reviewer is slightly easier, but still takes many minutes. We use this complex algorithm for you and your Friends since you only have a (relatively) few Friends. But with the larger Community we had to simplify the calculation a little. It's simply not quite as refined as the variation we use on your Friends. The result is that, for the moment, a "very similar" stranger is in going to be in the 70-80% range (i've not seen a 90+ yet) and that's about 10 points below what I get with my most similar Friends. We will continue improving the speed and accuracy of the similarity calculations.

The block of four selected here is not necessarily the four "most similar" people to you. We use a number of quick assumptions to narrow down the field of reviewers we will compare you to, then run the faster similarity calculation on them, and finally randomly select four from the group at the top. This way, it will change a bit from time to time. If we find that people like this block, and enjoy exploring people who are similar, we will expand this kind of feature (maybe get a whole page of similar people, or be able to search for folks, or other interesting things); but first I'd like to see if a lot of folks are intrigued. (And as we know from blog comments here -- a lot of you simply don't care about strangers, so it is most certainly not assured to be a valuable feature). But we're listening. Whatcha think?