Deeper Thoughts on Netflix Friends

Update: Kevin Newcomb wrote a solid article on Netflix Friends that touches on the business benefits of the new functionality. I’m quoted liberally, so if you’ve had enough of me after reading my product review, below, you might want to pass…

Alright, I’ve finally had a chance to play with Netflix’s new ‘Friends’ functionality; if you read my ramblings on even a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize ‘Friends’ as a nice consumerism for the ever awkward ‘social networking’ term analysts and investors prefer.

High level, Friends is well conceived and well executed, with nits to pick for those of us who are either a) more familiar with social-networking functionality from a technical perspective, and/or b) overly curious about the impact of ‘Friends’ on basic Netflix functionality, which isn’t (for good reason) spelled out on their site.

Let me elaborate…

1) Invitations

By its nature, Friends is meant to be a viral mechanism to create a network effect for Netflix (i.e., grow Netflix’s subscriber base for far less than the ~$35/user acquisition cost they pay today).

Inviting people is easy; type in a name, email address, click send, and you’re done. Invitation emails are sent quickly, and include bifurcated messaging (i.e., separate messaging for existing memebers as well as non-members). Non-members are offered the standard one month free trial.

What’s missing:

– No spiff to the ‘inviter’ for getting friends to sign-up (i.e., Netflix could super-charge this by offering members $5 off next month’s subscription fee for every friend they get to sign-up)

– No Outlook (et al) address book upload; reasonable, given that this is aimed at a very mainstream audience (and is a first release)

– No external repurposing of your Friends list; Netflix built their own solution instead of using FOAF (et al) and continues to exhibit a very non-Web 2.0 ‘lock-in’ mentality (e.g., I can’t export my movie ratings)

2) Meta Friends page

Once signed-up, you can click a top level Friends tab (next to the standard Browse, Recommendation and Queue tabs) to navigate to your ‘meta’ (my term) Friends page.

From the Meta Friends page, you can view and manipulate lists of:

– Movies your friends have Recently Seen, Loved or Hated (including ratings, add to queue, more info, etc)

– Friends (invite more, drop people you no longer like, etc)

– Invites (see a list of slow pokes you’ve invited but who haven’t responded)

Clicking the name of any of your Friends takes you to their ‘Individual’ (my term) Friends page, where you can see broader set of what they’ve recently watched, as well as a larger subset of their favorite (i.e., higher rated) movies.

What’s missing:

– Personally, I’d like to explore my Friend’s rated movies in greater detail. Why tell me they’ve rated 700 movies and only let me see 10?!

– Netflix doesn’t give you the option to see your own Individual page (unlike LinkedIn), so that you can see what other people see when they click your name. However, I did uncover a workaround for this… The URL that Netflix constructs for an Individual Friend page is as follows ( If you replace “1023” with a numeric value that does not correspond to the number of one of your Friends (like “1”, which probably belongs to Reed Hastings), you’ll see your own page! Good enough.

3) Around the site

Most anywhere on the site where you’d want guidance from your Friends, it is readily available. This is most compelling on the movie description pages, where each of your Friend’s rating of a movie (along with their “Two Cents”) show up in a separate, clearly defined area.

“Two Cents”, by the way, is a new “quick review” concept, where Netflix members are encouraged to add a very short description of their thoughts on a movie for their friends (and only their friends) to see (vs. writing a full Review for all Netflix members to see).

What’s missing:

– It’s not clear to me how my Friend’s rating of a movie impacts Netflix’s guesstimate on how I’ll like a movie. In other words, if on average 2MM Netflix members rated Shrek 2 four stars, and my three Friends rated it one star… would Netflix show me four stars, 1 star, or some weighted average in between? It’d be nice to know (in general), and/or be able to toggle between the rating scales on views that only show one score (e.g., search results, Queue view, etc).

– Friend reviews and RSS are a natural combo. I’d love a Feed where the title of each post was “FRIEND NAME rates MOVIE NAME XX stars”, and the body of the post contained the text and/or a link to their Two Cents and Review (if any). Obviously, I’d also want links to manipulate the movie (add to queue, etc).

In closing… despite my sometimes harsh commentary on Netflix, I love the company and its people. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest is simple: they work harder than anyone else in the industry to give me a great experience. Netflix Friends shows that Reed and team are still at the top of their game, still setting the pace for innovation in the industry, and still putting customers first. Moreover, one of the core benefits of Friends (helping Netflix members feel more confident when renting a movie) just plain works. Well done Netflix.

Update: Decided to actually proof read this (and make a gazillion grammar/clarity edits) after Michael Bazeley ( direct linked to this post (thank you MB)…

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3 comments on “Deeper Thoughts on Netflix Friends
  1. You can take this idea another step forward like has done: distributed inventory. It’s free, scales better & has the tools to quickly get started managing your stuff.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The “fix” to view your own page isn’t working from what I can tell. Is it just me or can someone confirm the ability to do the following:

    “The URL that Netflix constructs for an Individual Friend page is as follows ( If you replace “1023” with a numeric value that does not correspond to the number of one of your Friends[…]you’ll see your own page!”

  3. Tony Gentile says:

    Anonymous, for whatever reason, they disabled the workaround… no explanation given…