Why is Netflix’s Website SO Abominable?

I don’t have cable or broadcast television. I watch almost exclusively via the internet (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video).1Though Redbox also gets occasional visits from me. I pay my $8/mo. to Netflix and am fairly happy – though not as happy as when DVDs were still included in the price.

So, I love Netflix – but I also want to note just how horrible their website is. I don’t think this is a developer/designer problem – their developers/designers have done some pretty neat stuff (for example the open source projects Chaos Monkey and Genie). It seems to me this is a intentional choice by Netflix’s higher ups – though I don’t understand why.

Netflix running on Laptop.
Netflix running on Laptop.

If you’ve been with Netflix for any span of time you’ve experienced the many different variations of the site that have come over time. These iterations rarely add significant new features, almost always drop useful old features – and generally are a wash as far as their advantage over previous iterations. What in the world is going on here?

Let me make a “shooting-in-the-dark” guess. Netflix is attempting to increase the perception that it has an almost unlimited selection by making actual analysis of the collection by consumers difficult. I really don’t think this is a wise business move – but it is the only reason I can think of that a company like Netflix with talented employees is continuing to provide a sub-par experience to their customers.

“Come on Dave, the site isn’t bad. What are you talking about?” I’m so glad you asked.

  1. Netflix refuses to hide watched titles – so they are always cluttering up the screen. Want to watch an Action or Adventure movie? Good luck wading through all the films you have seen to tease out one you haven’t seen.

  2. Netflix seems to hide some watched titles (the logic seems arbitrary) but if you have rated a title without watching it on Netflix, then they will show it forever and ever. Come on Netflix, did you think this was an exclusive relationship? Of course we are doing business with Amazon, Hulu, and company…some of us might even venture out once in a while to a movie theater!

  3. One cannot add movies to one’s queue that are not currently available on instant watch. Why not? I’d like to know when films I’m interested in seeing are added and in being able to create a “watchlist” of films I’d like to see (rather than forgetting all about them until I stumble upon them again at some future date).

  4. The lack of fine-tuned sorting and searching tools. I can see New Releases – that is great – but could I see new releases sorted by year and then by average rating?

  5. It seems that Netflix is also using some arcane or arbitrary method for what titles it displays under “New Releases” and “Recently Added.” Films which show up when you drill down to a specific genre as new releases don’t necessarily show up in either “New Releases” or “Recently Added” at the top (all genres) level.

Granted, none of these are huge issues – and yes, I am being hyperbolic when I describe Netflix’s website as “abominable” but I am genuinely confused how such a large company could continue over such a long period of time to propagate an inferior website.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised…Amazon’s Instant Video site is horrendous as well. Only Hulu’s site offers a modicum of power – and even it lacks flexibility in certain areas (e.g., why can’t I search my viewing history?!).

HitBliss – Supplement Netflix and Hulu for Free

A long, long time ago (okay, I really don’t remember how long ago – but in internet time, it has been a long time) I signed up for a program called HitBliss. It allowed me to watch a few videos and earn cash. I think I could cash out back in the old days, I’m not sure if that is still possible…but they do still let you earn money which you can then use to purchase various items they have available. Sounds pretty lame, right? Nope.

The HitBliss store contains a wide variety of movies and TV shows – and no, I don’t mean old or B movies – I mean real movies, many recent blockbusters (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Gatsby, After Earth, Oblivion, Thor, Now You See Me, The Croods, The Help, Inception)…and real TV shows – and not just from network TV either (BBC, HBO, FX, The History Channel). Many of these films/shows are not available via Netflix or Hulu Plus.

A screen capture from the front page of HitBliss which includes a sreenshot of the HitBliss. Unnecessarily complicated? Yes.
A screen capture from the front page of HitBliss which includes a sreenshot of the HitBliss. Unnecessarily complicated? Yes.

This is how it works. You let HitBliss run a little app on your computer that analyzes your web browsing habits (it can be easily turned off for a period of time and by default disables itself if you are using incognito browser sessions). It uses this analysis to determine what products/services you are likely to be interested in. When you want to earn some money – you open the HitBliss application and choose earn. Click on HitBliss Earn and HitBliss will begin playing advertisements it believes will be relevant to you. You can save or bury ads – if you bury an ad you won’t see it again. As the ads play you’ll notice little blue bars at the bottom right being filled. This indicates the amount of money you are earning – you can earn up to $5 at a time. Then go back to the HitBliss Store and use the cash to purchase/rent TV shows/movies. $5 isn’t a lot – but it is enough to purchase two TV episodes or one movie and one TV episode. When you’ve used up the cash, go back, earn some, purchase show/movie, rinse, and repeat.

The niftiest feature they’ve added recently is integration with Amazon. They have numerous movies available via Amazon’s Video on Demand service (no, I don’t mean the ones you get free with Amazon Prime) and you can purchase Amazon through HitBliss.

Right now it is a fairly primitive implementation. It looks like when you click on purchase for something via Amazon, HitBliss purchases a gift certificate to Amazon, automatically purchases your selected show/movie on your behalf using the gift certificate, and then launches in your web browser the page for the particular movie/show you selected – from whence you can begin instantly watching your purchase (that you made without having to spend any real cash).

Now the problem with these sorts of programs is two-fold. Those who have been around the internet will remember the madness pre-2000 when any idea that was internet focused was having huge amounts of money thrown at it – including ideas that involved paying people cash for their time such as AllAdvantage. Most of these programs went belly up after burning through their cash.

Those programs that did survive brought to the surface another problem…in order to remain viable the programs had to reduce the payouts so significantly that you couldn’t make any significant cash…unless you were the “referrer” for literally hundreds of other users (changing these programs into a form of multi-level marketing (MLM)).

It appears that HitBliss has landed upon a sustainable model. Its use of video ads means that they are worth more per view than traditional image/text ads…their use of random checks to make sure you are actually watching the ads help reducing the prevalence of gaming the system, and their restriction of purchases to items in the HitBliss store allows them to control what is being purchased based on how affordable it is for HitBliss to offer the product.

In addition to the movie and tv options, HitBliss also allows you to purchase a Pandora One subscription for $3.99 for one month. Pandora is a well-known web-based, custom radio station – Pandora One is the same but with premium features including no ads, higher quality audio, a desktop app, and so on.

One last item – what about the earn rate? I mean, is this like so many other programs where it takes years to accumulate the necessary points to earn cash? No. I’d guesstimate it takes around 10 minutes of videos to get a full $5 credit…working out to around $30/hr. spent watching ads (which are usually decent entertaining in and of themselves).

Well, that is all I’ve got. I hope you’ll give it a try…and use this link. I’ll get $2 for each person who joins via it and you’ll get $1.