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?!).

Movie Review: Homeless for the Holidays.

Homeless For The Holidays
Image by Don Hankins via Flickr

For a number of years I’ve been a member of the Ground Force Network, an organization that utilizes grassroots endeavors to market various products and services – mainly around a faith-based subject matter. While sometimes the products I receive are less-than-optimal quality I’ve received several I’ve been quite impressed with – such as Kyle Strobel’s Metamorpha.

Ground Force Network rebranded as Team Buzz Plant and recently sent me a free preview DVD called Homeless for the Holidays. In a note they inserted into the package Team Buzz Plant wrote, “As you watch this movie, please keep in mind that this film is based on a true story. The story reflects what the film makers experienced in their own lives. This film was made on a much lower budget than originally planned and many of the actors involved even worked for free in order to make the film possible.” Well, that didn’t inspire me with much confidence. An excuse for the film before I even begin watching it? Yikes. Plus the timeline was rather tight – I was to publish a review by the 22nd – and I don’t get compensated for these reviews – other than the free DVD – so I wasn’t in a hurry….

That said, I was going home to New York for Thanksgiving and there would be plenty of time for a holiday, family-friendly movie during this visit – I figured I’d bring it, give it a try, and write a review when I returned home…and thus I am.

Put the movie in and it starts right up – its a pre-release version – so no previews or other fun stuff…just hop right into the film. Some decent CGI in a humorous style alongside with a professional narrator begin our story off right – things are looking hopeful…then the live action begins. One of my sisters groans. I’m willing to give it a chance, so is my brother Paul. We all sit quietly watching the movie. There are occasional laughs, groans, and comments.

The acting feels like something out of a TV serial comedy – and I don’t mean that in (necessarily) a bad way. Its over-exaggerated. I can’t quite figure out whether this is because the tone of the movie has been purposely set as such or whether its simply a poor production – I gave the benefit of the doubt and went with over-exaggerated.

The film’s storyline is fairly straightforward. Rich man gets humbled, learns the value of spending time with family, the value of faith in God, and the joy in helping others. There really are no surprises – though quirky characters throughout keep the laughs coming and the family moments overall are endearing.

Okay, it isn’t bad. I’m ready to give it a thumbs up for a quirky, family-friendly, positive message holiday movie – but then everything changes. I won’t ruin the ending for you – but lets just say I was crying – my brother was crying, my dad was crying. I can’t tell you about anyone else – but for us the story struck home. I kept fighting back the tears not wanting to sob at the end of a family-friendly comedy-with-a-message, but still the tears ran down my face.

Martha (one of my sister’s) replies, “Dave, you are a mush.” She still wasn’t a fan of the film. My mom wasn’t overly enthusiastic either (though she missed the ending – she has a bad habit of leaving in the middle of movies), but my younger siblings (Faith and Mary) seemed to enjoy it readily enough, though my two cousins (2 and 3) didn’t find it engaging enough to hold their attention.

I’m having a hard time putting a finger on how to recommend this movie. I can be a pretty devastating film critic. Rev. Bill Smith likes to call me a ‘film critic’ for my oftentimes harsh criticism of various faith and family friendly films which many enjoy thoroughly. One part of me wants to be critical, but in this instance the story, the passion, and the powerful ending have overwhelmed me – and I’m giving this film a thumbs up. It appears I’m not alone in this judgment, while there aren’t a ton of votes in over at the IMDb, the consensus thus far is 8.7/10 – not a bad score at all!

If you have kids – I think they will enjoy it…and the message is powerful and persuasive, the content is clean and enjoyable.

Hulu – Watching Video Online.

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

I grew up in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have a television for a number of years. Cable was not available. Satellite was the only (and expensive option). Local TV channels were sparse. We learned to live with VHS.

When I moved to college I didn’t have a TV. I never bought one. We watched movies on our laptops or in the lounge. When Charity and I married and moved into an apartment our TV didn’t get a single channel – even the local ones. When we purchased our house, our home still didn’t get any channels. More recently they’ve changed everything over to digital and we never bothered to get a converter box – so now we definitely don’t get any channels.

We have a huge old TV some friends gave to us. No, I’m not too worried about mentioning this on the internet – b/c it’d take two or three people to move it and has a street value of $25-$50…but, hey, it works great for us – even if those little flat-screens look really pretty.

I still use the ClearPlay DVD player I was given years ago for allowing myself to be interviewed by a Philadelphia reporter for an article on the DVD player. It is starting to break down a little bit – but its been what, eight years?

So, Charity and I have learned to live without real TV (gasp). That’s not to say that we don’t watch anything – we do – but 95% of it is on the computer. The only time we turn on the TV/DVD player is for her exercise videos (no, I never watch / do them…people in leotards is disturbing to me) and when we have friends over and want to watch something as a group.

How do we watch anything? Hulu and Netflix. I began going largely internet based long before most people knew what internet video was. In those days there were a number of small vendors offering a small selection of movies and tv shows – many of these has since folded or been acquired. I envisioned a day when there’d be one site I could visit to watch tv shows – and not just the old stuff from the sixties no one cared about…then one day, a company began delivering on that promise – Hulu.

Hulu offers a wide range of television shows and movies online and for free. It is a pretty great deal. Yeah, if you watch them on TiVo you can skip the commercials, but Hulu is pretty close – with only 30-60 seconds of commercials on each break. The video is high quality, the buffering ensures the video doesn’t crack up even on reasonably slow lines, and the queue features allow you to track when new episodes are released for your favorite shows.

Hulu now has Hulu Plus for $9.95 – I received an invite to the beta but never joined. They wanted us to pay up-front. What? How about at least 30 days free? Especially since its a beta? Plus we already have Netflix – and I’m not going to spend more than $15 or $20 a month for video entertainment – I have too few dollars in the first place and better things to utilize them on.

But I’m still relatively happy with Hulu. I’ve been disappointed that they are now oftentimes stacking two videos – one right after the other. This is annoying.

They have gotten better at not showing you the same commercial over and over again in a single episode. For example, I can remember having four or five commercial breaks in an episode and seeing the same commercial each time! I wanted to shoot myself! Ach! One of those commercials was for the Adam Sandler movie Click – the first few times my wife and I thought it looked funny – then we became so sick of seeing the commercial over and over again we vowed to never see the movie and never have…it still makes me feel ill thinking about it. Overexposure – bleck.

Still, Hulu has a bit of a problem with this – which is funny – b/c part of the beauty of online video is its promise to offer better value (imho) to advertisers than normal video. Why? Well…

  1. When you keep the ads short people don’t have time to leave the room. I sit through the commercial breaks on Hulu when they are thirty seconds – but when they get longer than that I can run to the bathroom, grab a drink from the fridge, or browse a website. Advertisers get my devoted attention when they are the only advertiser.
  2. Hulu needs to learn how to spread the ads better. Yeah, yeah, I know we don’t buy it till the 20th time we’ve seen it – but I’m not that sort of guy….or if I am, you need to spread it out over a year…otherwise I just become annoyed.
  3. Ideally, ads will eventually become part of the show itself. Did you notice how the hero is using a Dell and the villains are all using Macs? Okay, I made that one up…but I’d cast the villains as Mac users. 😉 Point is, you can advertise without even making it obvious…Cisco has done a good job of ensuring product placement in various shows demonstrating their video conferencing technology.

So, anyways, Hulu is pretty great. I made the switch to internet video years and years ago – now the trend seems to be hitting a tipping point, but its very possible you are still doing it the old-fashioned way…which is fine, unless you are paying out the nose for it – which many people are…in that case, try Hulu…I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

P.S. I’m hopeful that internet alternatives to traditional broadcast channels will offer better life to those shows that I love that are continually being canceled b/c they don’t appeal to a wide enough audience. Using Hulu you don’t have to pick between two shows showing at 8:00 p.m. – b/c now they are available anytime…and b/c this competition isn’t as furious you can see shows produced for smaller audiences. This hasn’t happened too much yet, but I expect it to be part of the trend of the future.