If Facebook owned Netflix

Note: I originally wrote this article in 2012.

For a long time I’ve thought the Netflix UI/UX sucks. Their designers don’t seem to understand how I want to use their service, they just seem interested in promoting their “You might like this tv show or movie” algorithm. I keep thinking about buying their stock (which just tanked again to $60), but then the thought comes into my mind, “They’re enamored with their algorithm and architecture, but they don’t understand UX or social.”

After thinking this again last night, I thought about the simple question, “What would Netflix look like if Facebook owned them?” In less than five minutes I came up with the following ideas.

If Facebook owned Netflix

1) Friends make suggestions: First, friends could make movie and tv series suggestions. The Netflix “You might like this” algorithm is okay, but what I’d rather see is suggestions from friends and family who know me.

2) Similar people: I’ve been using Netflix for about two years now, and it would be interesting to see other people who have similar tastes to mine. Again, I could get suggestions from these people, so maybe we have a “Suggestion list from similar users.” I could “follow” these people like I follow people on Twitter. I know I’m getting suggestions from these people already from the Netflix algorithm, but I have no idea who they are.

3) Movie annotations: I’d like to see movie and tv show annotations from my friends, like AMC does with their movies, but from my friends. Imagine my nieces writing, “Uncle Al, make sure you watch X in the next scene,” or friends who really know a lot about movies making notes about how a scene is related to a scene from another movie, or by the same director, etc.

4) Promo clips: Let me make promo clips of movies I like so I can share those with friends. I already do this on Facebook, but I have to copy the movie with one app, then edit the clips down to what I like with iMovie. That’s okay for me, but make this easy so others can do it. (Movie directors and producers: This will help more people see your movie.)

5) My favorites: Let me make a list of my favorite movies and tv series, and share those with other people. I might not recommend that people watch Rashomon or Wild Strawberries, but they would be on this list, where other people could discover them.

6) Movies that inspired directors/producers: Let me see a list of movies that inspired directors and producers of tv shows. I love the old tv show, Northern Exposure, and if the creators of this series told me what inspired them, I’d certainly watch those shows. (And oh by the way, they could tell me about their music inspirations, too.)

More ideas, more tie-in

As you can see, there isn’t anything magic here — I came up with these ideas in less than five minutes — but I think they’re good ideas. Imagine what a group of people could come up with if they spent time on this? Just look at YouTube and IMDB, and you’ll quickly get many more ideas about what people want to do with video, and know about video.

Besides making for a better experience, they also help tie me into the Netflix service. Right now, I have about ten episodes of Supernatural left to watch on Netflix, and then I’m out of there, unless they have some other content I want to watch. But if they had these social tie-ins, I’d think twice before leaving.

Fix the obvious UX problems

Besides making Netflix a better social website, how about adding in the obvious features:

  1. Let me control the bandwidth/quality. Hulu and YouTube already do this. If people have to pay for “excess bandwidth,” this is huge. Also, remember this setting after I make it.
  2. Remember my closed caption setting. I tend to watch a lot of foreign movies and tv series, so I always have CC on, but I have to manually set it ... every single time.
  3. Let me see what I want to see more easily. The “Big wall of icons” UI is dumb. It’s an interesting idea for exploring, but when you're bouncing back and forth between watching a few tv series, it’s horrible.
  4. From a financial perspective, make it easy for me to buy a DVD of the current movie, or buy MP3s of the music featured in the current movie or tv episode.


Basically Netflix has created an on-demand tv station, and if there’s nothing interesting to watch, you just change the channel. But if they had some social aspects to their service, a) it would be a much more interesting concept, and b) I'd think more than twice before leaving.