Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year.

What follows are the observations of a Netflix subscriber of 7 years, who has been an employee for 2. Me. I don’t know what “the company” is going to do about this situation, but I do know that lots of people up and down the ranks have been following your comments and petition with sincere interest, (also watching carefully the internal data we have about the use patterns surrounding these pages) and that it really wouldn’t surprise me if something changed on the site vis a vis this issue, but I really wouldn’t know what, or when, or even if it would be satisfactory.

At the risk of oversimplification, I will offer the following notes.

(1) A lot of people are unhappy with the loss of the Releasing This Week page. For a number of people it was one cornerstone of your Netflix site experience, and the loss of this page is serious and for many, painful.
(2) Netflix has very good data that shows that regardless of what you might believe to the contrary, the majority of members do not like to add movies to their Queues that cannot be shipped out immediately. “Short wait” or even “Long Wait” is bound to happen once in a while to everyone, but the more it happens, the worse we know it is. Internally, Netflix measures our success in terms of the percentage of members who get the first movie in their Queue in one day. This is our goal.
(3) It goes without saying that Netflix could up the supply of movies in demand so that waits were shorter (or non-existent). But doing so would require spending more on movies, which might result at some point in higher prices – and we work very hard to find the right balance to keep prices fair and inventory good. I believe Netflix does a remarkable job at this, but that is neither here nor there. The fact is that we buy what we buy, and there will always be discrepancies between supply and demand for individual movies from time to time.

When Netflix presents movies on the pages of the site, these are by definition customized for each individual member, based on our best guess about the kinds of movies you watch and enjoy. We won’t promote a movie that we cannot deliver. This is, however, a generalization.

There are many pages on the site where we have no option but to show you a movie whether it is available or not. Search results, for instance. You want to find movie A, and we present it with no regard to its availability. You look up a director and want to see their filmography. Ditto.

These are cases that are clear, but still somewhat challenging: but we feel that a member’s desire to find what they are looking for outweighs our knowledge that it might bum them out by not having it in stock tonight.

Which brings us to the old New Release pages. They were fundamentally like Search pages – just lists of movies. Certainly very convenient for people who come to the site often. Not pretty but understandably efficient.

For those of you who are upset (which I guess is most of you), the loss of this very efficient page would seem pretty moronic. But we know that some of the titles on this page each week are not deliverable right away. And while many clearly miss the page, when it was online this aspect was upsetting many people and therefore causing us a problem.

In testing (which was done on lots of people with a range of use habits), the sliders were really appreciated. All the movies presented are immediately available, and for people who were not addicted to the old page, it was (and continues to be) a very satisfying way to find movies. The number of movies added to member’s Queues from this new page truly exceeds the old page--ie., more people are adding more movies from this new page. And since everything on it is available now, it works nicely for us too. In theory this is a win-win.

Of course, you understand the problem: the old page was great for you. And the new page utterly fails to replace it for you.

Now I am not here to convince you that you should love the new page. I miss the old page too. But I would like you to see that the change was not capricious, nor the product of meddling by designers, or product managers who are brainless (this last point just hurts). But that also doesn’t excuse us for messing up your previously pleasant use of the site.

I have no idea if this short essay helps, nor if the somewhat simplified explanation does the complexity justice, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I know from personal experience that when I’m super angry there is little that can be said that will provide solace short of giving in to my demands. And if that is the case, so be it.

But, as I said earlier: this is a first step. And your feedback is helping us iterate on the work as well as to try to construct other alternatives that balance members' somewhat mutually exclusive desires. We are exploring a range of possibilities, and as I can talk about them (or if I need to make corrections to my explanation) I’ll keep you posted.