Much has been made of Netflix's current outage and what it means for their product and business (apparently 1.8-3.6M in daily revenue). And if you aren't aware of Netflix's outage, check either Techmeme (it's covered their homepage) or login to receive this message:
IMPORTANT: Your DVD Shipments Have Likely Been Delayed
But the outage got me thinking about Netflix's greater problem: their product hasn't evolved materially and, in my opinion, it's become bloated and impossible-to-navigate.
Now when I talk about Netflix's product, I am referring to their web experience. The actual product that you receive - the DVDs and Blu Rays - come reliably, remarkably quickly, and 9/10 times they play perfectly... But the Netflix.com experience is as critical as you need to be able to find movies before you ask them to be delivered. Put another way, people expect the movies to arrive on-time and play perfectly; but people want to enjoy the next 90-120 minutes with entertaining, well-recommended movies.
Which leads me to my problem with Netflix - finding good movies and navigating recommendations has become a burdensome, unproductive experience. This is ironic because I specifically remember having discussions in 2003 about Netflix and Amazon being head-and-shoulders above the web in finding experiences and social navigation.
... But what worked in 2003 doesn't work today - despite the product being nearly identical. The trouble is that browsing loses its effectiveness as a core search experience when the inventory gets too large ... or in Netflix's case - overwhelmingly large. There are only so many ways to sort browses:
- Newest - Most Popular - By Genre - Recommendations - Etc
But each of these fail for various reasons:
- Newest: every week, 100s of movies go to DVD and 95% of them are not interesting to me. Browsing through this is impossible.
- Most Popular: The #1 movie for over a year on Netflix is "Crash" ... great movie, but how can it be the top movie week in and week out?! Because being atop Netflix's stale "Most Popular" list is self-fulfilling and only mainstream movies can reach #1 because it requires Netflix to have huge inventory of that movie.
- By Genre: This solves 5% of the issue but still leaves me way too overwhelmed (even in small categories like Blu Ray) and frankly having to choose between Action and Thrillers is overwhelming enough.
- : Recommendations are useful, but typically when deciding between products. For instance, if looking for bluetooth headset on Amazon, I use the ratings to compare / contrast. Using Amazon's ratings to start and finish my picking process is again overwhelming. Furthermore, the recommendations have left me with three outcomes:
1. A bunch of mainstream movies and generic picks. Sure - I loved 'Rambo'. Now my top picks are Rambo 1-4. Insightful. 2. For the non-obvious recommendations, more often than not they are movies that I end up really disliking. 3. A few movies that I indeed want to see - but are clearly always highly-recommended and result in a 'queue' backlog. I waited on the Wire Season 1 for two months before getting a shipment... and it took me wiping out my entire queue to force them to send it to me.
In one sentence here is my problem with Netflix:
Every time I login, I wonder what I am supposed to do next... and that is never a good sign for a product or site experience.
I think this is highly relevant for the iPhone App Gallery which is already becoming unmanageable to navigate. Outside of Featured and Top 25 lists, it is brutally difficult to find Apps that are interesting or useful. And that's only with a couple thousand applications. What happens when this hits 25,000? Hopefully it won't become another Netflix or eBay-like finding struggle.
Here is Netflix's Top 100... which is identical to what it was 6 months ago. Is this what you are paying for? Stale, previously popular titles?