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?!).

FlashControl – A Better Way to Surf the Web.

Adobe Flash has allowed for a lot of innovative and interactive web applications over the years – but it can also be a frustration for the web user.

Some sites (including Yahoo) have full page ads that fly out when you load the page. These are extremely annoying and sometimes are difficult to close.

In general, having a site with Flash enabled components on it means that the site is going to take significantly more memory than a “normal” website. If you open tons of tabs simultaneously (e.g. while reading Feedly), the browser oftentimes becomes slow, unusable, and crashes.

Before FlashControl and after. To enable the Flash component, simply click on it.
Before FlashControl and after. To enable the Flash component, simply click on it.

FlashControl is a small and simple Google Chrome extension I stumbled upon that I love. By default it blocks all Flash components on a website – leaving a gray box instead. If I want to view the Flash component, I just click on it.

There is also an icon in the URL bar at the top of the browser which if I click allows me to exempt this specific page from being filtered for Flash or to whitelist/blacklist the entire site.

This significantly improves my web browsing. 90% of the time, I’m not interested in whatever the site wants to show me in Flash. When I am (e.g. Hulu), I can whitelist the site easily and everything works as normal.

I have run into a few small hiccups. For example, on Hulu the ads sometimes don’t work which causes the video to stop – b/c Hulu refuses to return until the ad has played (understandably). I think this is because the site is pulling the Flash video from another site, which has not been whitelisted. In this case, I temporarily disable the FlashControl extension and then reenable once I’m done on the site.

News Summary for April 9, 2013.

  • Milo Medin. Google Fiber’s Next Stop: Austin, Texas. Google Official Blog.
    • Why It Matters: Google is bringing gigabit internet, first to Kansas City, now to Austin. This may push other providers (AT&T, Verizon, and co.) to step up there game.
  • Chelsea Stark. EA Voted ‘Worst Company in America’ – Again. Mashable.
    • Why I Care: EA also has taken a lot of flack for overworking its developers – this is a huge issue within the IT industry specifically, but also more generally in the United States where workaholism is expected and applauded in many situations. Personally, I believe that most organizations have three constituencies: the customer, the employee, and the shareholder (or, for non-profit educational institutions – the alumni). Focus in on the employee and you’ll probably see a marked uptick in the other two arenas.
  • Todd Wasserman. Should Free Lunches at Tech Companies Be Taxable? Mashable.
    • The IRS is considering whether folks working at companies that provide free lunches should be charged taxes for the value of the food.
  • Meghan Kelly. Bad Vudu: Thieves Steal Personal Information After Break-In of Walmart’s Video Service. VentureBeat.
    • Just in case we forgot that physically breaking into a location is still a threat, hackers don’t have a corner on the market. Interested to see if they’ll catch these guys – a kind of crazy move, imho.
  • Dan Goodin. Using a Linksys Wi-Fi Router? It Could Be Ripe for Remote Takeover. Ars Technica.
    • If you are a geek, this is worth knowing about – if not, you probably have much bigger security issues – e.g., your router probably has a password like “password” or “admin” on it and you may not know how to access it…Hmmm, we need to improve our computer literacy curriculums, I think.
  • Alan Henry. Most Popular Document Scanner for Going Paperless: Doxie Go. Lifehacker.
    • Personally, I’m a fan of Dell Multifunction Printers, they can scan, copy, fax, and print. Once you’ve digitized your documents, a Doxie isn’t going to be of much ongoing use (assuming you aren’t always getting paper bills).
  • Eric Ravenscraft. Ibotta Scans Your Receipts, Gets You Cash Back on Your Groceries. Lifehacker.
  • John Paul Titlow. Why I Need Aereo TV — And You Do, Too [Review]. ReadWritePlay.
    • If you aren’t familiar with Aereo, it might be time to familiarize yourself. Personally, I’m not interested in the service – I’d rather see Amazon VOD, Netflix, and Hulu continue expanding their on-demand portfolios. That said, I am interested in Aereo’s success as it may push traditional broadcasters to more quickly and fully embrace solutions like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu – which (I think) monetize much more easily than Aereo – with its DVR that is ready to cut out commercials.
  • Whitson Gordon. The Difference Between LCD, LED, Plasma, and OLED TVs, Explained as Fast as Possible. Lifehacker.
  • Michael Rothman. Find Exactly What You Want to Watch with Moreflicks. Mashable.
  • Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai. AOptix Launches First Biometric Scanning Tool for iPhone. Mashable.
    • Turns an iPhone into a “portable iris, face, fingerprint and voice scanner.” Too expensive right now, but continue to expect individual tools and technologies to be consumed by the smartphone.
  • David Bragingsky, S. Alex Smith, Stephanie Hornung, Jackie Bavaro. Asana Search Views. Asana Blog.
    • What is this doing here? Well, I care about Asana, and I never said this would be an objective news summary…it is definitely filtered through my eyes.
  • John Paul Titlow. 15 Programming Skills Most Coveted By Employers. ReadWriteEnterprise.

Okay, so there are some others, but I’m getting tired. That is it for today. 🙂