*Your* Netflix Is Special [SLYT 7min 26 sec]
July 1, 2018 8:16 AM   Subscribe

*Your* Netflix Is Special - infact very individually, especially, catered to *YOUR* personal tastes. It might come as a surprise to you that the Netflix experience you get from using the service is no where universal - and it's not just about what media is available in differing geographical regions.

Netflix is a Walled Garden of entertainment that allows the company to engage in extreme and hyper personalisation.

Tweaks can be made to everything from the style of 'DVD cover' you are shown to indicate that a particular show/film is available on their service, to what is on the 'What's trending now' list - hint it's totally not what is *actually trending*.

The linked video in the title of this post, and this Verge article from February 2016, delves a little bit into how Netflix Inc uses extreme personalisation and also some Dark User Interface (aka Dark Patterns) tactics to ensure you not only use their service, but stay engaged with it as long as possible.

After all why would you want to leave your own personal media filter bubble?

Like all Walled Garden services, Netflix doesn't have to publicly disclose any user statistics but can use those statistics to create the most welcoming, psychologically sticky, media space possible.

Other companies are paying attention and are buying into Netflix's seductive algorithmic approach.
posted by Faintdreams (116 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there a tl;dw that explains why this is more than a slightly broken and annoying recommendations system? I guess that “trending” is borked is new-ish.

Anyhow, yes, lists curated by algorithms fucking suck. TBH Netflix would be way under Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as priblrms as I’m not really seeing an obvious way for nazis to game it and destroy democracy, the number one algorithm problem.
posted by Artw at 8:30 AM on July 1, 2018 [10 favorites]


ugh, so this is why netflix is useless
posted by eustatic at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2018 [12 favorites]


I honestly loathe "personalized" garbage like this. It actively works to prevent exploration and finding new stuff you might never have considered watching. Kind of like how it was before I made my first few selections and the algorithms took over. Or, you know, the way every damned physical video store was. /oldfart
posted by Thorzdad at 8:39 AM on July 1, 2018 [37 favorites]


This is very obvious if you have multiple netflix accounts - the content offered, the categories etc are completely different. Speaking personally, I hate the netflix algorithm and find it extremely limiting. It doesn’t seem to have a setting for “this person would like to watch good movies, regardless of genre” (it has a category that’s called “critically acclaimed”, but, *spoiler*, they aren’t). If I’ve watched, say, The Thing, its assumption is not that I might like to watch more classic horror movies, or John Carpenter movies, or Morricone-scored movies, or movies with an element of late cold-war paranoia. Instead, it looks for “uhhh movies with a shapeshifting alien” and serves up whatever 3.4-on-rotten-tomatoes-crap it was able to license for a couple of thousand dollars. And once it’s made its choices, it sticks to them. Regardless of what the category is called, each category is 80% the same movies. How is Battlefield Earth simultaneously “Emotional Drama” “Tense Action” “Critically Acclaimed” and “Prestige Television about Hedgehogs” all at the same time? And if I’ve scrolled past it in each of its previous guises, why are you serving it to me again? Yes, I like No Country For Old Men; why is there no button to say “this is to my taste but I’ve already seen it”? And I understand the limitations on licensing IP from potential competitors, but 1) in that case, after I’ve laboriously searched for a film you don’t have, you need to get a lot better at suggesting films that might appeal for similar reasons that are, and this is important, of the same approximate quality and 2) fuck replacing local video stores around the world, employing thousands of cinephile eccentrics, with a streaming service that has a smaller selection that the average video store - especially when its algorithm isn’t even willing to show me the majority of the content, based on a laughably simplistic guess at what kind of stuff I Must Like.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:41 AM on July 1, 2018 [67 favorites]


This is my Netflix, there are many like it, but this one is mine.
posted by symbioid at 8:42 AM on July 1, 2018 [16 favorites]


The recommendations are not as helpful as those I got from the guy who ran my local independent movie rental shop (which was eaten by Blockbuster (which was eaten by Netflix)).

Algorithmic recommendations initially feel good, but then you're just getting muzak (what's the film version?) for a caricatured you. My use of Netflix has steadily declined with the move away from mailed DVDs, reduced catalog, and expansion of original content (good thing I'm piggybacking off a family account). I've even tired of Spotify's customized weekly playlists.

I was into MUBI for a while and like their curation model, but sometimes you want to watch something beyond foreign arthouse cinema.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


I guess the argument is less “watch one anime, get a solid wall of anime recommendations for the rest of your life” being the problem than it will pull you into an anime rabbit hole fron which you will never emerge?
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Does this site, or this one, or this one also obscure its database? What about this whole site? I hope not.

Has any other service been so unusable as to spawn so many ancillary indexes? Who is going to make that youtube video?
posted by eustatic at 8:50 AM on July 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


I thought Netflix was useless because they didn't have any decent movies.
I joined the online version a few years ago thinking it would be like the mailed DVD version that I saw my relatives using. I had just read Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris, and I wanted to see the movies discussed in the book. (well, not Doctor Doolittle) But none of these movies are available. I also would constantly get the Red Circle several times a movie despite having 20Mbps cable service. So I dropped out.
Recently my daughter got a bunch of accounts and one was for me, so I went to look at the we interface, and sill don't see anything I want to watch. I'm curious now as to how my menu is presented since I haven't watched anything.
What's the deal with 'Trending'?? Why would I want to watch something because someone else is?
posted by MtDewd at 8:50 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I thought Netflix was useless because they didn't have any decent movies.

I suppose their argument is that they don't have to have decent movies if they can trick you into watching endless amounts of garbage.
posted by eustatic at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


I watch a lot of Netflix and I really hate that you can't prune your own 'previously watched' list. I don't want to be reminded that I watched five minutes of thing before I realised it was a movie or series that had a similar name to what I was actually looking for, or that film I abandoned after a whole ten minutes because it was dull and predictable.

Also the 'My List' feature doesn't show things as added by date, or even alphabetically. If you have a large to watch list, this makes it virtually unusable - oh I watch via an Apple TV, I don't know if all interfaces do this but it shuffles my 'My List' titles every time I open it, which is supremely frustrating.
posted by Faintdreams at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2018 [14 favorites]


Are these sort of recommendation systems ever any good? With 17 years of order history and browsing history on me, Amazon is still terrible at guessing what I might be interested in (and what movies/TV I might want to watch through Prime, except it's right about The Expanse.) Google Play Music is sometimes sort of okay-ish at suggesting similar artists and sometimes desperately awful at it, and it keeps trying to throw 90s pop and trap and other things I will never voluntarily listen to at me.
posted by Foosnark at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Why would I want to watch something because someone else is?

Because your friends and coworkers were talking about it 2 days ago, and you just remembered, "oh yeah, I want to catch up so I can join the conversation."
posted by explosion at 8:55 AM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Amazon’s apps are actually the more annoying one to me, as sometimes I just want to know things like “what new movies are there this week that I could pay money to watch” and getting that information out of the fucking thing is an increasingly dense forest of clicks and walls of recommendations.
posted by Artw at 8:57 AM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Right. This is why it was so interesting to see what happened to my Netflix interface after we accidentally left it logged in at an airbnb in Mexico two years ago when we were on vacation. We finally figured it out when the entire front page was telenovelas and movies about narcos.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2018 [14 favorites]


(Though in the case of Amazon you can at least get to something like that via the website ofr even if you just click enough. Netflix is I think fairly unique in offering ONLY a basic search and a series of mostly worthless recommendation carousels)
posted by Artw at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that I've ever watched anything that Netflix recommended or even paid attention to that. I either watch something that people are talking about like the Marvel Series or Stranger Things or I just find out that something is available via JustWatch or my Letterboxd watchlist. Mostly I just watch Filmstruck these days since though.
posted by octothorpe at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is why I use online magazine lists of what's available right now! on Netflix and the search function to call up specific movies. I really like the concept of Netflix and it is the only way I watch TV or movies (save the odd thing at Prime), but their streaming interface is useless and irritating. I get overwhelmed by the offerings of crap or things I already know I would not want to watch or things I've already seen. Seriously, why is "WATCH IT AGAIN!" so prominent. And the only thing easy to find is more of their original content (some of which is good, but man, Marcella went off the rails fast).

I don't know. i both love and hate Netflix. Most days I hate it more than love it. And I still have to pay for both DVD and streaming because there honestly seems to be so few movies at all available streaming, much less movies I might like to watch but have not already seen.
posted by crush at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2018


Yo Netflix, I’ll watch a shitload more if you give me
- a way to filter for TV or movies
- a view of only what’s new since I last logged in
- a watchlist I can order, sort and filter
- maybe even more than one watchlist? Maybe I could name them?
- A-Z listings?

But I’m sure this list of thirty ‘Dark Grity thrillers which are popular in Lichtenstein’ will do instead.

Hint to developers - people spending lots of time in your interface isn’t ‘engagement’, it’s frustration.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2018 [58 favorites]


Also, if they would separate comedy from stand up.
posted by lkc at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2018 [17 favorites]


Has any other service been so unusable as to spawn so many ancillary indexes?

Hulu's interface is many times worse than Netflix's; I'm not sure if that has led to any external indexes or not, though.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


I just wanna be able to search by actor. Instead, I have to go to an actor’s IMDB page and search each of those movie titles. And even if I hook my roku to my phone, it won’t let me use a keyboard, so it’s letter by letter. Argh.
posted by MsDaniB at 9:27 AM on July 1, 2018


Neat. And as clunky as their algo-categories can be, Netflix is still far superior to Hulu at cluing you in to what's actually available without using the search feature.

The auto-play trailers (complete with sound) in the browse menu on the other hand, they can go straight to hell.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:30 AM on July 1, 2018 [14 favorites]


We stayed at an AirBnB a few weeks ago, where three people had left their Netflix accounts logged in, and this was painfully obvious. To the point where searching for something wouldn't bring it up on one of the accounts but it would on another.
posted by Helga-woo at 9:30 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been using JustWatch to browse things across multiple services (Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and a bunch of 1-week trial subs at Prime, like DramaFever, Fandor, and Starz). I've encountered errors occasionally, where it wasn't totally up to date with what a service had, but its coverage seems wide and aware of geographic differences.

And Flickmetrix has advanced search options that allow you to play with scores from several places, e.g. Letterboxd, which itself has features I haven't used as much for showing you what's available across services (evidently 'powered by GoWatchIt').
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:33 AM on July 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


I always wonder if what drives a lot of these kind of things is not really that they work all that well but that they sound like they would to the decision makers, investors, entrepreneurs, etc that are instantiating them.

Also is it just me or is there now a Youtube voice? There is this pedantic narration that I have heard many times in explainery Youtube videos that I thought was just all the same guy but I am beginning to wonder. This didn't sound exactly the same, (was not annoying to the same degree, just a smidge,) but sounded similar in the way all the news people on TV sound the same.
posted by Pembquist at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also is it just me or is there now a Youtube voice?

Is this the thing where a live narrator is seemingly trying to imitate a software-generated voice?
posted by lagomorphius at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Autoplaying video on the main page is what soured me on Netflix. Driving engagement, sure, especially for Netflix properties but in a dark pattern sense maybe there is something to be gained by antagonizing users just enough that they don't watch anything? I went back to serving local media to a homebrewed streamer and yet still have a Netflix account so ... mission accomplished.
posted by Lorin at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


There is very little incentive for Netflix to change or fix it's interface.

Y'all are complaining about it (as do I!) while paying the monthly fee. Will you pay more for a better interface? Will Netflix get more users with a better interface? Of course not.

So why should they invest the time and money to change it? The Netflix interface does exactly what Netflix wants: Advertise their original program. Any other uses are a distant second.
posted by Frayed Knot at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I either watch something that people are talking about like the Marvel Series or Stranger Things

That's exactly what Netflix wants us to do. Those shows are the equivalent of the Kirkland brand at Costco. They are made in house so all money is pocketed by Netflix (okay, the Marvel ones probably have some kickback to Disney). That's why the Netflix shows/movies get the most prominent shelf space on the home page with big splash pages and those large vertical banners with the face close ups of characters.

I almost always pass on the Netflix stuff and go watch something else.
posted by FJT at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hey Netflix, you don't have to use an algorithm, I will tell you what I want to see: Occupied season 2. Sort it out you wankers.

I also disagree with Thorzdad's point, the Netflix algorithm finds me loads of things I would never consider watching.
posted by biffa at 9:41 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


why is there no button to say “this is to my taste but I’ve already seen it”?

You can rate it a "thumbs up" without watching it.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Our Netflix account is so fucked once my retired wife started streaming A LOT of movies. On the rare times I open it up I get nothing but recommendations for the stuff she likes: horror movies, thrillers, and bad documentaries about the Mothman, UFOs, etc.

Kill.Me.Now.
posted by Ber at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Then they stick it in Watch Again.
posted by biffa at 9:43 AM on July 1, 2018


I liked this analysis - his take on OK Soda was pretty good too.
posted by Otherwise at 9:45 AM on July 1, 2018


There is a search bar, which although frequently disappointing, is functional.
posted by sammyo at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


AM HERE FOR MOTHMAN CONTENT.
posted by Artw at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


Does the list of hidden Netflix categories help defeat the algorithm obstruction at all? I can't test it, because I cancelled my subscription six weeks ago for the first time in about 18 years, due in large part to the interface/UX getting crappier and crappier, and my tastes and whims are so varied that it became endlessly annoying.
posted by vers at 9:50 AM on July 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


Here's a more comprehensive list of 30,000 categories. Start with http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/INSERTNUMBER (and just replace INSERTNUMBER with the category code of interest in case that's not obvious).
posted by vers at 9:58 AM on July 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


I don't like what this does to my page either - I wish they'd periodically ask the user about what they'd like to see more of to make sure they have it right.
posted by Selena777 at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


muzak (what's the film version?)

"Hollywood".
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I should leave my Netflix logged in at some airbnb just to get new recommendations.

I sometimes use a vpn and def get different stuff.

I wish it took into more of what I thumbs up or down. I do like a lot of their original stuff though.
posted by sio42 at 10:07 AM on July 1, 2018


All y’all complaining about Netflix just need to switch back to their mailed DVD service. They have a much bigger and better selection of movies, and the app hardly tries to recommend anything at all, really. At least, the recommendations are easy to ignore. You’ll only be able to watch one or two movies a week due to the time the discs spend in the mail, but two good movies a week is better than twenty hours of dreck. Also, the video quality is much better, especially if you spring for Blu-Ray. And no auto play trailers! (Disclaimer: I still subscribe to Netflix Instant even though I rarely use it, and though I’ve promised myself I’d quit many times.)
posted by ejs at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't have a Netflix or similar account and never will, but it's hard for me to believe Netflix is rubbing people the wrong way this badly unless they're getting money from some other source that makes them willing to irritate their customers.

You know, something like 'people who watched these two horror movies were five times more likely to buy a new home security system in the next six months than matched controls', so it would make sense for the biggest players in the home security market to pay Netflix to promote those horror movies -- and then, Netflix could sell the information that you had watched certain movies to online advertisers to influence the ads you'd see just in subsequent random browsing.

And for movies which already have product placement, it would make sense for the manufacturers of those products to give Netflix money to promote them, of course.
posted by jamjam at 10:37 AM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


All y’all complaining about Netflix just need to switch back to their mailed DVD service.

I get made fun of for this, but I agree.

I get the impression that their selection is smaller than it used to be. They might be spending less money to replace lost or damaged discs - I get a lot of results with unknown availability now, more so than when I first signed up.

There are still a lot more movies. I cancelled my disc service, but then I resubscribed once I had a long enough list of movies and shows I wanted to see that aren't available on streaming. If I get to the end of that list, I'll cancel again... but since the list keeps growing...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:51 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Our Netflix account is so fucked once my retired wife started streaming A LOT of movies. On the rare times I open it up I get nothing but recommendations for the stuff she likes: horror movies, thrillers, and bad documentaries about the Mothman, UFOs, etc.

This is what the multiple profiles feature is for.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:56 AM on July 1, 2018 [12 favorites]


I just came here to ask if the log-in screen is the same way. Does everyone have Fictional Queen Elizabeth Looking Pensive?
posted by colorblock sock at 10:57 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


He briefly mentions that the description copy is customized, but didn't go into it. Half of my descriptions are in the form of "Statement A. Statement B. Welcome to X" that tells you absolutely nothing about the content. A good third of them include a ... for emphasis. Others are jokey -- there's a line in the Hawaii Five-0 description that says, "Hey, bad guys like good weather, too."

The tone is intended to be fun and cheeky, which is fine if you're just reading one or two, but if you're reading 50 of them and trying to decide on something, the effect gets cumulatively weird and smarmy, and I end up just turning Netflix off altogether unless I want to watch a specific thing.

So did I do that somehow, or does everyone else have awful description text?
posted by mochapickle at 10:58 AM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


All those people saying that you get a better experience from Netflix by just sticking the the DVD subscription service ? Please note that that doesn't seem to exist outside of the USA. It definitely is not an option in the UK.
posted by Faintdreams at 11:03 AM on July 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


I used to use a very similar service to the Betflux mail service back in the UK, so I suspect there are options.
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2018


Bah. Amazon ate it.
posted by Artw at 11:11 AM on July 1, 2018


Y'all are complaining about it (as do I!) while paying the monthly fee.

Nope, I cancelled my Netflix subscription. There were movies I knew were available on it and wanted to watch, but that wouldn't come up in search – strike one.
Then I had watched pretty much all the good series, and everything else was dross – strike two.

I would have held on for new seasons of series I like, but then strike three hit.

Autoplay of their fucking "November 13: Attack On Paris" documentary.

Jesus fucking Christ. I had friends dining out by the Bataclan that night and knew one of the women killed.
posted by fraula at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


i just miss my stars. was a member since 2008, garnered over 10,000 ratings and had the system to a point where its best guess for me was within .1 star of what i would eventually end up rating it.

it was the most accurate ratings system ive ever used and would often consult it instead of rottentomatoes or any other review aggregator to determine if i would like a movie in theaters.

now its gone and so is my netflix account.
posted by Bwentman at 11:34 AM on July 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


The inability to stop the autoplay trailers on Netflix is OBNOXIOUS. It makes me not want to search for anything at all on Netflix because I don't want to have a fucking trailer blaring at me while I am reading the description.

Also, both hulu and Netflix interfaces get orders of magnitude worse every time they 'improve' them. Hate it. It genuinely turns me off TV in general.
posted by Brockles at 11:55 AM on July 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'd rather be irritated by Netflix's crappy interface and the my inability to find something great to watch than ever sit through another Ford, Apple, Verizon, or !^@%&^%!* Running for Governor commercial ever again. Thus I will complain bitterly abut Netflix, but still pay for it. The never seeing another ad ever is worth it to me.

The autoplay trailers are almost as awful as commercials, except that I leave the TV on mute until I hit play and the trailers only come on while I'm at the menu; they don't come on in the middle of what I'm watching. God forbid, but if they start running a trailer when I hit "play" on a show, then I will cancel.
posted by crush at 11:59 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


As long as you can all watch Hannah Gadsby's Nanette, what does the UX matter?
posted by scruss at 12:07 PM on July 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


The inability to stop the autoplay trailers on Netflix...

Wait. What?
Not that I want them, but...I don't get any auto-play trailers on Netflix. I'm using the Netflix app on my iPad.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:08 PM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I’ve not seen it because I never use it via the website, but it sounds awful.
posted by Artw at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2018


As long as you can all watch Hannah Gadsby's Nanette, what does the UX matter?

Nthing that everyone should watch this.
posted by Artw at 12:17 PM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


The Fire/AppleTV/smart TV apps have auto-play, from what I've seen. Which would be fine if you could disable it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:17 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


As another Netflix alternative: If anyone has a library close, they often have a decent DVD collection as well. I sometimes use mine to put holds on discs and have them delivered to a branch close to my house. Not only that, I've noticed a couple of library systems I go to offering Kanopy streaming for free. Unlike Netflix, Kanopy seems to have more foreign/indie/Criterion stuff.
posted by FJT at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


My wife and I share a profile on Netflix, and you can always tell if one of us has been watching without the other, because the list of recommended titles shifts heavily into our individual tastes/interests mixed with the things we both might enjoy.

For the most part, I used a third party website to tell me what. New things are being added so that I have a chance to see everything as opposed to just what Netflix chooses. I kinda miss that days of wandering the shelves of the local video rental places and discovering things.
posted by nubs at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2018


I’ve not seen it because I never use it via the website, but it sounds awful.

This is through the Roku app. Every time you stop for more than (I think) 2 seconds on a show, it starts playing the episode in the top section of the screen or playing a trailer.

It is obnoxious, with a capital Areshole.
posted by Brockles at 12:34 PM on July 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Not that I want them, but...I don't get any auto-play trailers on Netflix. I'm using the Netflix app on my iPad.

Via computer, the Netflix website will always have some title "featured" at the top of the page and it will auto-play the trailer. I've learned to quickly scroll down once the page has loaded to stop it. But yeah, it sucks - I don't want auto playing anything on my computer/devices.
posted by nubs at 12:36 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


All y’all complaining about Netflix just need to switch back to their mailed DVD service.

We have had Netflix for nearly 20 years. My wife is a very loyal customer and resists cancelling it, but we have barely used it for the last 10.

We kept joking that we needed a video store, then we moved recently and discovered there is an amazing video store with a HUGE selection about 20 minutes away. We were excited about that, then we stumbled across a decent video store 5 minutes away. At first we thought the novelty was interesting, but it turns out we really love it.

I think that's what's going to finally get us to cancel Netflix. It's been the residual goodwill from back in the DVD days that kept us around, when you could rate, build lists, have friends and contacts and share recommendations, etc.

We keep joking that we're going back to the 80's with all our recent changes.
posted by bongo_x at 12:40 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


FYI you can change your viewing history manually on Account -> My Profile and adjust your history and/or ratings. I spent a good amount of time deleting crap my roommates had watched while logged in to my profile. The recommendations did get better right away.

Also, can anyone with a machine learning background explain why so many sites such as Netflix and YouTube switched to thumbs up/thumbs down ratings systems from 5-star systems? What are the benefits to Netflix switching from a scalar rating system to a categorical system?
posted by hexaflexagon at 1:07 PM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


So if you have a good friend with a disk account who rips the disks with Handbreak and puts them on Plex, then you and all their other friends can get stream recent film for free*. Or so I've heard. Not that anyone I know does this.

*You might want to buy them a six pack occasionally
posted by octothorpe at 1:27 PM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


“disk account”? That must be a US thing.
posted by scruss at 1:31 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I meant DVD/Blu-Ray account.
posted by octothorpe at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2018


The autoplaying trailers/episodes bothers me, and so does the thing where it shrinks the credits to a little corner of the screen as soon as they start playing, so they can queue up the next suggestion. I know they're just trying to push you into watching something else, but a lot of times I want to see the credits and it annoys me that I have to push buttons on my remote just to get the credits to come back up on my screen.

And I mean, if I've just finished watching a series or season finale, chances are I'm not really feeling like immediately jumping into something else just yet. It kind of kills the mood when I'm still thinking about how a series ended and then suddenly Netflix is about to automatically start playing some random trailer.

The one thing I miss about my Sony Blu-ray player from a few years ago was the interface was so outdated that none of this autoplay and credit-shrinking stuff happened on there.
posted by wondermouse at 1:39 PM on July 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


This is what the multiple profiles feature is for.

Seriously, I had no idea I could do this. Holy shit!
posted by Ber at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I use multiple profiles and it's just me. Sometimes my tastes on my main profile veer too far and setting up a blank profile is the only way to see content I'm missing.
posted by mochapickle at 2:16 PM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


As Neal Stephenson said about Microsoft in the late 90s, "It's better to have billions of chronically annoyed users than millions of happy ones."

Netflix has just as many metrics around what drives cancellation as they do around what we watch, and they will drive towards maximizing revenue against cost. Making us happy has very little to do with it.

It's very disappointing, because when they first came on the scene, they were a great way to get unusual or obscure content that the local megachains didn't carry (I think Blockbuster cleared out anything that hadn't rented in a few months), but now that those chains are gone, Netflix has taken over the space they used to occupy.
posted by Ickster at 2:31 PM on July 1, 2018 [10 favorites]


watch one anime, get a solid wall of anime recommendations for the rest of your life”

Oh god I know right?and most of their anime is terrible. It seems to lack any decent curation.

The recommendations in general me nuts, because firstly it transparently gives Netflix content a massive handicap, and secondly there is no allowance for quality. "liked this BBC tent pole documentary? Then you're sure to love '550 of Nature's Deadliest Bastards' comprised of the cheapest stock footage we could get!"
posted by smoke at 2:52 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here's a more comprehensive list of 30,000 categories. Start with http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/INSERTNUMBER (and just replace INSERTNUMBER with the category code of interest in case that's not obvious).

Small correction: over 3,500 categories according to the site, not 30,000. Still ridiculously crazy how many categories that is!

posted by lazaruslong at 3:02 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Without a doubt, the best algorithmic curation list I've encountered is Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist. It is fantastic at suggesting music I've never heard but am quite likely to enjoy, much of it in my comfort zone for sure but usually some outside it too. Spotify also seems to come up with some pretty decent subgenre recommendation lists. What is it, I wonder, that makes their recommendations so much better? Is the dataset they're using easier to process in some way? Do they incorporate humans more into the algorithmic process?
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 3:35 PM on July 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Definitely here to second the hate on the auto-play trailer feature we encounter on the app on our Amazon stick... how much of a pain in the ass is it to mute the TV while I'm surfing options? Jesus!
Also, re: multiple profiles... leave yourself logged in and then your wife starts watching British people be nice about pies and puddings or some RomCom (not to profile) and see where your list ends.
AND, the whole trending versus recommended for you versus new categories: I'm pretty sure they are the same in different orders.
PLUSPLUSPLUS after watching one movie the recommendations for similar aren't nearly good enough. I think it's Amazon that does the "with so-and-so as director" or "with her as actor" category, which isn't at all accurate but getting closer to how I think about what I want to watch. Did I like that actress? Yes? What else was she in? But they all get my money, so whatever.
Extra: we don't have a DVD player anymore, so that's not an option. Who has physical media besides cool people with record players?
posted by Snowishberlin at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2018


For anyone who uses Chrome - AutoplayStopper is one of the best extensions out there. It stops the Netflix trailers and almost every other autoplaying video.
posted by AFABulous at 3:41 PM on July 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


We just finished Seven Seconds on Netflix, which was good, and we've just started Unsolved on Netflix, which is also good. So Netflix and us, we're good.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:43 PM on July 1, 2018


What I don't understand is what the percentages are for. Thor is supposed to be a 97% match for me. So they're 97% sure I'll like it? I'm at least 70% sure I won't. I haven't watched anything vaguely similar on Netflix. What are they matching it to? They think I'll like Queer Eye too. Fair enough, I am actually queer, but I don't know where they're getting that from. I very rarely watch LGBT stuff and I don't watch any reality TV.
posted by AFABulous at 3:53 PM on July 1, 2018


Without a doubt, the best algorithmic curation list I've encountered is Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist.
Ooh! Oooh! A few months ago I saw a wildly entertaining talk by the guy who builds the music recommender systems at Spotify. If you ever get a chance to hear him talk, you should take it: he's clearly super smart, but he also knows how to speak to non-specialists.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:01 PM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


I know a guy whose girlfriend flipped out (and eventually left him) because she saw his 'Because you watched...' list.
posted by MtDewd at 4:54 PM on July 1, 2018


Also, can anyone with a machine learning background explain why so many sites such as Netflix and YouTube switched to thumbs up/thumbs down ratings systems from 5-star systems? What are the benefits to Netflix switching from a scalar rating system to a categorical system?

It was due to a persistent discrepancy between how users rated movies and what they actually watched. Basically, the tendency was for people to rate well-regarded movies (e.g., documentaries about Important Social Topic) artificially high and more pedestrian fare (e.g., the latest Adam Sandler dreck) artificially low, despite the fact that they chose to watch the latter far more often than the former. The ratings, in other words, were not tracking with actual preferences; users were subconsciously affecting more sophisticated tastes. Somehow Netflix determined that the distortion of this effect was reduced with a straight up/down system.

The other factor was that people were confused by the ratings prediction system. Netflix would assign a number of stars to a movie based on how much it thought you would like it, but people were assuming it was just a straight average of user ratings, like the product ratings on Amazon, rather than a personalized prediction.

If you want to get Netflix to stop suggesting a certain title, all you have to do is give it a thumbs down. Supposedly when you do this, Netflix stops including it among your recommendations.
posted by dephlogisticated at 5:20 PM on July 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


Without a doubt, the best algorithmic curation list I've encountered is Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist.

For real. They are INSIDE MY HEAD.
posted by AFABulous at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Everyone likes Queer Eye, so it’s going to see people who watch literally anything else also watching Queer Eye, so you’re going to get the Queer Eye rec.
posted by Artw at 5:48 PM on July 1, 2018


This is why I use online magazine lists of what's available right now! on Netflix and the search function to call up specific movies.

YES. This is the way to go for everything but my comfort-watching "crappy period drama" habit, which I leave running in the background while, I don't know, doing the dishes or whatever. For that, Netflix's recommendation algorithm is GREAT!

(Also, I have such terrible taste that I figured out "now trending" was...not trending a long, long time ago. I mean sure maybe 5+ year old documentaries about Tsars and middlingly interesting British nobles aren't trendy but, yeah, they're not.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:01 PM on July 1, 2018


It won't show me Queer Eye! Which is okay because I do not like it. (No empathizable emotions for me, please! Only costumes and rich people problems, which do not bother me at all!)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:02 PM on July 1, 2018


The ultimate goal of the Netflix algorithm isn't to give you, the individual end user, a good recommendation. It's to maximize Netflix revenue by optimizing the quantity of minutes of product viewed by "you", the entire population of millions of Netflix users.

The recommendation algorithms make a great deal more sense to me in this light.
posted by Ndwright at 6:49 PM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I feel like I’m in that comedy skit or whatever it was where people on a flight are complaining about the shitty wifi and the comedian is like “you’re on a plane! Flying!”

I like Netflix and it is way less expensive than video rentals used to cost us. Having so much instantly available and not checked out to other patrons still feels kinda magical. Sure, it could be easier to browse or better at recommending things. I think once Disney&al pull the plug on licensing their content to Netflix it may suck but right now it provides enough content I want to watch for my available viewing hours.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:22 PM on July 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I get that, but for us there's something that fundamentally doesn't work any more.
We want to like it, we keep paying for it and not using it. In the 11(?) years Netflix has had streaming I can count on my fingers how many movies we've streamed, and we even quit keeping up with the DVD's years ago as they made the system work less for us.

I think I've said this before, but they, and most everyone else, are targeting a specific viewer. We don't browse and just watch whatever we see in the first 90 seconds (as it says in the video). That's what HGTV and Adult Swim are for. We have lists of movies we want to see, or will browse for something specific. But Netflix really isn't set up for that any more and it takes forever, an exercise in frustration. It's really set up to be background noise viewing.

The myth is that you can stream any movie you want at any time, the future! The reality is we've sat down with lists, altogether in the hundreds of titles, and literally found 2 or 3 of those hundreds them available. And by then didn't want to watch anything.
posted by bongo_x at 9:56 PM on July 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also, can anyone with a machine learning background explain why so many sites such as Netflix and YouTube switched to thumbs up/thumbs down ratings systems from 5-star systems?

One way they benefit: With a star-rating system, they used to show you the average user rating for a given movie. Now there is no average rating, so there's no expectation that you can see how well-rated a movie is. Instead, they give you a percentage "recommended for you", which is 100% algorithmic.

In the old system they would heavily promote some random movie to me, and I'd see that it was rated 1.5 out of 5 stars and skip it. Now they can just say "89% recommended for you!" and I have no idea what to think.
posted by umber vowel at 10:48 PM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think part of the problem is that once everybody started doing their own streaming services, it made it really hard for Netflix to get rights to more popular movies and shows, and so they had to pivot to making their own original content. The competition made things worse for consumers. I feel like there has to be an economics paper in there somewhere...
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:46 PM on July 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised to see no mention here of the excellent instantwatcher.com, which lets you get extremely specific in your netflix searches (e.g. highly rated rom-com made in the last 10 years and under 90 minutes long). It works with Amazon too.

The thing that baffles me is that if Netflix goes to this much effort to personalize things, why not give people more of the simple options they want? If some of us want to use stars, let us! Surely they can do the math to convert stars into thumbs fairly easily. If I have never in my life had the desire to "Watch Again," let me get rid of everything I've already seen. Why not have the sort of advanced search found on instantwatcher?

(Also, Youtube voice is absolutely a thing, and has been grating my nerves for some time now. )
posted by gennessee at 12:35 AM on July 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


If you want to get Netflix to stop suggesting a certain title, all you have to do is give it a thumbs down. Supposedly when you do this, Netflix stops including it among your recommendations.

But what if it's something I've already seen and don't want to watch again but I like it? Won't giving it a thumbs down tell Netflix that I didn't like it?

You should either be able to mark things as watched or be able to filter on stuff you haven't given a rating to yet.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:01 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


We've reached some sort of inflection point with Netflix (as an online service) that it's now aiming at a mass audience. These are not the same people as Netflix's early users - they're assumed to be less picky, more Sharknado than Shark vs Eagle - and they're voracious, so to keep this large body happy an even larger amount of content is needed.
posted by The River Ivel at 1:11 AM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think that's correct. If they had wanted to please their early users, they would have kept the things that were genuinely helpful, like the star system, the Friends feature, and the ability to review all your own historical ratings. I'm a long-time disc subscriber, and I don't even bother to rate anything on the site anymore.

Those sites that let you see unfiltered results sound helpful, but it looks like they show the exact same results that I get when I browse Netflix streaming by genre. I don't think it's actually hiding anything from me... there just isn't much in there.

If Netflix isn't going to offer high-quality older stuff, then I wish they would invest in some bad old stuff that's fun. How much would it cost for them to offer Manimal? Sapphire and Steel? 4D Man? Are people really that allergic to older media that they wouldn't care? Or has some other service already carved out the psychotronic niche?
posted by heatvision at 3:07 AM on July 2, 2018


Pigeonhole has fewer characters than personalize, unless you hyphenate.
posted by filtergik at 4:16 AM on July 2, 2018


I don't understand Netlix's cost model. As long as I don't quit in frustration, I pay them the same every month. Don't they earn less from me if I stream constantly than if I watch something high-quality once a week? Or does the spread in licensing costs really outweigh the bandwidth, so that ten hours of jocks fishing is cheaper for them than a real film with a real story?
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:34 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


heatvision - I like your taste in older TV, but Manimal and Sapphire & steel probably won’t be availible to stream - ever - because like a lot of genre 80’s tv shows the original production companies went bust and so the broadcast/reproduction rights are either contested or legally orphaned just enough that finding out who does own the rights costs more money than is deemed worth it.
posted by Faintdreams at 7:24 AM on July 2, 2018


Personalisation algorithms are bullshit. Not just one Netflix, but for everything, particularly e-commerce.

The truth is that 99% of what we want to consume is not that unique. We fall into segments of tastes. That's why "What other --book, movie, tv series, albums, magazines-- would I like" questions are so popular on on AskMe. You list the stuff that you like already and then people within your cohort come in with suggestions. It's efficient and it provides discovery and sometimes it even creates a personal connection to someone else.

So, most of the time we either want 1) what's new and hot shit everyone is talking about 2) stuff that's similar to what you liked already (can use review data from people who liked the same stuff) or 3) a very specific thing that you should be able to directly browse/search for.

We don't need a honking complicated personalisation algorithm that 20 data scientists came up with to do that.

This obsession with individual personalisation is a lot of work for what I think is very little return, but hot damn is it good tech PR.

Everyone talks about how Amazon is scarily personalised. Well let me tell you a true story. Recently my Amazon homepage had a list of Recently Purchased. On this list I have: Home cleaning supplies, some drugstore makeup, cat litter. Yes, my life is one big rollercoaster.

Right next to it is another list of items called "Recommended for you". Some of the more eyebrow raising items were: Thigh high white stockings, ugly ass tie dyed scarf, and a novelty Christmas sweater. It's July.

Not to mention how after I buy a portable battery pack for my phone it's so "clever" that it suggests more battery packs for me to consider for the rest of my goddam life.

Personalisation algorithms are bull-shit.

The only exception is "replenishment algorithms", which guesses when you may be running out of something based on previous purchase history and suggests a re-order at a timely point. I will allow this.
posted by like_neon at 7:44 AM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I believe Sapphire and Steel has the other problem - you CAN stream it, but you have to get some subscription based micro channel to do it with no other content you are interested in.
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on July 2, 2018


I created a whole separate profile called "Tester" just so I can see the default options. The downside is I occasionally get emails about unmitigated garbage that "Tester" might like.
posted by zeusianfog at 9:12 AM on July 2, 2018


heatvision: If Netflix isn't going to offer high-quality older stuff, then I wish they would invest in some bad old stuff that's fun. How much would it cost for them to offer Manimal? Sapphire and Steel? 4D Man?

Amazon Prime has a ton of that stuff. Lots of old horror and a truly weird amount of old pirate movies? Vincent Price! Yvonne de Carlo! Weird 70s italian horror!
posted by mochapickle at 9:25 AM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I canceled a few days ago. How timely. I didn't finish Better Call Saul but ohhhhhh well.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:35 AM on July 2, 2018


If your library offers it, I highly recommend Hoopla. Totally free, easily searchable, streams from the app to your TV, and lots of foreign, classic and indie films (and TV). I just signed up for it a month or so ago and I'm kicking myself for not doing it earlier.
posted by Clustercuss at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Amazon Prime has a ton of that stuff. Lots of old horror and a truly weird amount of old pirate movies? Vincent Price! Yvonne de Carlo! Weird 70s italian horror!

Yes! Amazon Prime is like going through the bargain DVD bin. I just looked at what's new over there in the past few days and here's what caught my eye: Something called Zombeavers ("College friends find their weekend of sex and debauchery ruined when deadly zombie beavers swarm their riverside cabin."); a Jon Lovitz Presents from 2011; The Mothman of Point Pleasant (which looks intriguing, TBH); Deathstalker, which looks to be a Conan clone/rip-off from 1983...

You want to find the weird & off-beat, Amazon Prime is the place to go.
posted by nubs at 10:12 AM on July 2, 2018


Most algorithms suck at understanding what I want, which is mostly to not buy much stuff. I understand why Amazon's algorithm is crappy - it's about pushing product, not about what I genuinely want. It's a shame, as I would likely buy a little bit more if it was a lot better, but finding awesome content in books and consumer goods is pretty easy. Music is harder; trying spotify's Discover Weekly right now. Every algorithm I have encountered pushes me to the middle of the road, and there's content there that's okay, but I'm not gonna buy more of that, probably won't buy any.

With movies, the filter I want is Gratuitous Violence, so I can avoid it. I will tolerate some, as required by British mystery tv and some other tv and movies, but not very much. Sometimes I will enjoy a show despite some Suspense, but I actively avoid it.

Netflix, facebook, Amazon and other services get so busy pushing content at me but they don't ask what I want, or let me select for myself. I'd like to be able to prioritize friends on fb so that I always/ often/ seldom/ almost never see some people, pages, groups. Nope. I have to fiddle with likes and it doesn't work. I love answering shopping ask.mes which means my shopping history can be pretty broad and the ads I get are totally useless. It always comes back to them believing they can predict my likes better than I can. The machines are winning because there's so little resistance. sheesh.
posted by theora55 at 10:28 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


What's weird is that if Netflix gave me more granular controls, I'd give them way more information about my tastes than they get now by using those controls.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


I discovered recently that Netflix will remove things from "My List" if I ignore them long enough. This was a hassle; I had to Google for keywords I remembered from "that movie I started watching and got pulled away from."

(I can't prove this. Maaaybe I just forgot to add them to My List. Maybe I was watching on someone else's profile - in which case, sorry, y'all can cope with recommendations based on subtitled Bollywood movies. Watch something fun for once; all those creepy serial killer movies cannot be good for your head.)

It's been hard to get it to show me movies instead of tv series - I've been catching up with WC's DC shows (arrowverse) and aaargh, that means it thinks I want to watch nothing but series, and no, I mostly want to watch things that take a 2-hour time investment, not a 30+ hour time investment.

I suppose series are where the money is - that keeps people coming back next week/next month for the new episodes. Movies, they only have to track down once.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:00 PM on July 2, 2018


Not gonna lie, I just spent a puzzled 10 minutes on flicking through Netflix - because it doesn't tend to show me things I've already watched, search always brings up what I'm after (if it doesn't, it's because it's not available in my country or I've misremembered the title), its recommendations are fairly on point, and really it's generally ... fine?

In fact, if I thumbs-up a thing but don't add it to My List, it generally goes away because it assumes I've watched it. Unless it's a TV show and new episodes were added, in which case it does appear, but that's also what I want it to do.
posted by Xany at 8:47 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, can anyone with a machine learning background explain why so many sites such as Netflix and YouTube switched to thumbs up/thumbs down ratings systems from 5-star systems?

I can tell you one of the disadvantages of the old way. People were brigading the Netflix star rating, especially for things they didn't like. This meant in general that anything white male nerds looked down on got a very low star rating no matter how good it was.

Meanwhile the thumbs up/thumbs down rating attempts to match you with people who like the things you like rather than everyone including jackasses with a dose of spite and far too much time on their hands.
posted by Francis at 4:15 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


PSA: Zombeavers is available on Netflix
posted by ejs at 4:46 AM on July 3, 2018


Ugh this is such an annoying problem that became obvious because the bf and I have very different viewing habits and thus completely different Netflix menus. This makes it moderately annoying when trying to find a show we were watching at one place but not the other, but it's SUPER annoying when we're browsing for something to watch because the suggestions are so mono-focused. ALL WE WANT IS 'ACTUALlY RECENTLY RELEASED MOVIES' WHY IS THAT SO HARD.
posted by TwoStride at 5:51 AM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


The algorithms suck, and on top of that Netflix's user interface/search function is just the absolute hateful worst.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:57 PM on July 3, 2018


Here's the solution to removing items from your history.
login to netflix on your browser then go to this url

https://www.netflix.com/WiViewingActivity

You can choose and then 'Hide from viewing history'.

the downside is: "Within 24 hours, _______ will no longer appear in the Netflix service as a title you have watched and will no longer be used to make recommendations to you."
posted by drinkmaildave at 7:01 PM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]




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