Friday, December 21, 2007

"Releasing this Week"

I hear you. We all hear you. You all know we are constantly tweaking the site to make it easier to use and still highly functional. The New Release page redesign is one step towards the idealized presenting new releases. All I can say is that you have always been very constructive and supportive as we iterated on the Community features (remember how those pages began changing this past summer? Aren't they better now? Aren't they still improving?) I hope you'll give the other teams here the same benefit of the doubt while they work on things. In the meantime, don't forget that you can always get a feed of the movies releasing this week via RSS:

http://rss.netflix.com/NewReleasesRSS

Feel free to post your feedback here. We read 'em all.



SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE 12/23/07 11am:
I noticed that Tygger is making a desperate and valiant attempt to save you all from the site redesign. He found this link, which apparently is the missing page:

http://www.netflix.com/AllNewReleases?lnkctr=NavAllNewReleases

At some personal risk, I reprint this link here; Please note- the fact that it is accessible now does not necessarily mean it will remain there, but on this sunday morning (and in the spirit of the holiday season) I present it.

Since my job is to build features that involve the "Community" -- and this page is not part of my job description (although i assure you that those who matter are reading all of your notes) -- what i am able to do is to hear your comments about the failures of the RSS feed, for THAT is part of my job. If it is lousy then that is my fault. I will work to get an ADD TO QUEUE button to be part of it - that should help. What else?

Anyway, please continue to voice your concerns here, or with customer service, as you feel the need.

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE: Dec 27,7am:


Enterprising members have created a formal petition:

http://www.petitiononline.com/netflix/petition.html


As I've said before, I don't know what kind of response would be required for Netflix to make immediate changes - is it 100 or a million? for instance - and your comments here may be totally sufficient to effect change (that is, you may not need a petition to get our attention. I think you've got it). And remember, i don't think anyone considers the new release areas "done" anyway; regardless of your comments and petition, i believe work will continue to adjust these areas. But as a PM who is responsible for "community" I cannot but encourage you all to do what you must. Anyway, a petition can't hurt.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Widgets


Found these widgets online. Pretty cool. They're from a company called AdaptiveBlue. They're developing some very interesting new objects they call "SmartLinks" which are also pretty interesting. Anyway, I've been talking to them about how we can help them make these tools better. We've got some ideas around here, but your input is always good. This is their blog:

http://blog.adaptiveblue.com/?p=806

and here is their pile of widgets for Netflix (and lots of other web services):

http://www.adaptiveblue.com/widgets_auto.html


POST SCRIPT:
This is a design for a Netflix badge that would be attractive. Whatcha think?

If you have your own widgets/badges you'd like others to know about, post a comment with a link to your page. Mabye we can even generate some feedback for y'all about what works and what doesn't...

POST SCRIPT II:
I'm trying various widgets over in the right column of this blog to see what works and what doesn't. Clearly, Blogger doesn't work with Flash... but this will be an ongoing experiment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Top 10 Lists Posting

Many good suggestions - keep 'em coming. I have some questions for you.

1) Should we do any kind of filtering to restrict the presentation of these monster long lists? It does take a long time to load a list of 100 movies and I also find them of limited value. It's true -- as someone pointed out -- that they do have their place, but i tend to avoid them. We wouldn't stop their creation or anything, just perhaps we should not present them on this main Top 10 List page in that top block of personalized suggestions. They'd still be in popular and recent. But how many is the dividing line?

2) Did anyone notice that - based on your suggestions - we randomize the presentation of lists on an individual's List page? It used to only show your "Favorites" list - which is an automatically generated list of your 5-star rated movies. But if you have more lists than this, it presents something (anything) else.

3) Search-features would really be nice, i agree. I'm lobbying hard for getting lists into the search infrastructure. No timeline as of now. The more lists are useful and used, the easier this becomes.

4) Still tuning the way the various blocks "refresh". There were sufficient complaints about lists refreshing every time the page loads - it was (and continues) to make it hard when you have a few interesting results show up at a time. I have left the (original) block on the Community Home Page to refresh with each pageload, but this new page all blocks are "sticky" for your entire session. (Except the Featured Members, which is still fluid). Maybe these are too extreme. Maybe all we need is a "See more lists" button that forces a refresh. I won't be able to get to this any time soon, but i would be interested in your feedback.

5) Rating and hiding lists. Interesting. Not going to happen right now. Hiding a list is way to fringe a feature for me even to consider right now. Rating is interesting, but i think adds too much clutter. Voting on helpful is better, i suppose. But still, unlike receiving and watching a bad movie, finding a bad list is not all that painful. Protecting y'all from it might be overkill.

6) A special List "BOB" (the pop-up with special movie info) is a nice idea. I'll put it into a wish list.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Friends Offline Friday (Briefly)

UPDATED FRI 4pm: Almost Done. Check out the new features! Will be a little longer for a few items... but mostly ready...

UPDATED FRI 1:30pm: We'll be revising some software today -- sometime in the next hour I'm told (around 2pm PST give or take) -- it will be for an hour or two at most. The Netflix site will be unaffected, but the Community features will be offline for this period. Watch this post for updates.

Friends Problems, Take 2

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

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

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

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

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

For those affected, sorry for the trouble.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Members' Top 10 Lists

In the next release we're adding a page to the Community - a more general Top 10 List page - that might be interesting to you all. In this first iteration, it's not all that pretty i suppose, but it has four zones, each containing a different set of movie lists:

1) Most Popular - looking only at the quantity of movies added to member's queues (and shipped), we come up with this set of lists. Clearly, being in this set will further make the lists popular - so we only look at popularity over the past week, and also (since the list is really longer than the 20 shown) we randomize which ones we present and the order.

2) Most Recent - we get thousands of new lists each week, and we will pull randomly from that set each time this block is refreshed. Gives new lists a chance to shine.

3) Lists Selected for you based on the movies in your Queue and that you've rated - This is a slightly different version of the personalization we do in the block you see on the Community Home page; but the effect is similar: we look at highly rated movies and movies you've just moved high in your queue, and find member's lists that include those titles.

4) Featured Members - here we look at members who have created at least a few lists (but not necessarily a lot), find those generating a good quantity of additions to queues, and then sort by similarity % to you -- and then present a sampling of the top ones. It's really just another way to find interesting similar members.

NOTE: in this first release, the lists update every time this page refreshes. WE know this is a problem. It will be fixed in the subsequent release. With the exception of the Featured Members section, the lists will persist through the session you're in, but will refresh on your next login. Based on your comments once this releases, we may adjust other elements as well. So try it out and let me know what works and what doesn't.

Some "Friends" Problems?

UPDATE 7/12/07 12:30pm
Okay, here's the bottom line. We've got some fixes that we'll implement in the next couple days. The good news is that this will improve things for many of you; the bad news is that it won't improve things for some of you - alas, probably the heaviest users. The reality is that you've uncovered a serious issue, and that the real solution is not quick. We're working on it now, and i'll have more information as it comes in, but there will not be a fix possible that cures this for those of you with many friends and many ratings. (It doesn't seem to affect Faves or Fans use.) Through your input and alerts, this has been caught - but i have no happy words for those affected (check early next week to see if it has improved for you; it could take that long for the fixes to ripple through the system and membership). More news as it becomes available. (And if anyone comes up with some work arounds that improve experience - PLEASE let me know here.) Sorry, and thank you.


UPDATE: 7/11/07 1:03pm
Thanks for the info and the alert. I think you've uncovered a flaw in the design of notes -- When we first implemented it, we hadn't fully fleshed out what happens in the cases where someone has lots of friends and lots of notes and lots of ratings and rentals. There are a number of ways we are exploring to address the problem, but i'd like to ask members who only have 1 or a couple friends and use the notes features to let us know if you are having problems. It is unfortunate that this is starting to affect our most active users. I'll let you know as the situation improves. Until then, consider some of these features unstable. My apologies (I might have been writing this blog when i should have been anticipating that problem...)

I"ve noticed a couple people reporting problems with Friends only working partially, or the Notes features not working at all... those postings were the first we had heard of it -- with no unusual outages on this end, lest you believe we just weren't reporting it.

When something goes wrong its almost always widespread (meaning: everyone has a problem at the same time -- which didn't happen in this case), or it is connected to a new software release on our side (which didn't happen either, we haven't changed this code in some time, so if it is now broken, it's not obvious what caused it). Regardless, the postings on Hacking Netflix got us to look around and see if we could deduce if there was a bona fide problem, and if so, what was going on. I certainly believe some people are having occasional issues, but at least at this early stage, they don't seem to be widespread bugs and they do seem to (magically?) self-correct. Anyway, we're still looking into it. Leave comments here if you've got these problems too, and any specifics you can relay about how they manifest and if/when they seem to self-correct. It will help us get to the bottom of it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Customer Service for the Hearing Impared

Earlier this week someone posted this to the blog comments:
I am BEYOND frustrated with your website.
I can find NO WAY to contact customer service except via telephone!!!
There is no email anywhere under CONTACT US.
There is no online 'chat' type of service either.
Have you never thought you might have a HEARING IMPAIRED customer that cannot use a PHONE? [...]
This was an excellent question, and today I received this note from the Customer Service team:
I am completing training of our agents today for the TTY system... I have tested the line through a TTY service, and the line is functional. The number that will be used for TTY Customer Service is 1-866-402-2619.
So there you have it. I believe it is also being posted on the Netflix website and FAQs as well. Thanks for the feedback.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Holiday Movies

This is what I knew I could count on y'all for. Someone in Netflixland ("Netflixia"?) is looking for holiday movies, and Phatz rises to the occassion. Good work, man.

Movies that have become a part of Christmas-time and the holiday season
http://www.netflix.com/StrangerLists?prid=128911990&showList=156025

Happy Holidays, from the blog.