Netflix, I Have a Confession to Make…

Dear Netflix,

I have a confession to make.

I have a subscription to your streaming content. I watch History Channel documentaries on my laptop before I go to bed. Occasionally, I watch episodes of The Office on my Kindle Fire in between classes. Once in a while I will check out a “Critically-acclaimed  Comedy” or a “Mind-bending Suspenseful Action & Adventure” on my roommate’s Blu-Ray player that is linked to my account.

Here’s the thing.

Browsing Netflix’s selection delivers a good user experience. The large scrolling cover display looks great and is reasonably easy to navigate. Moreover, I have rated 192 items and the “Suggestions for Me” category will consistently  turn up interesting selections. Your algorithm pairing taste preferences with genres is definitely doing something right.

However, your streaming selection is limited. You know it and I know it. And while the selection is getting better all the time, I have to go into Netflix to discover things I am satisfied with watching, rather than find something I already want to watch.

For example, the other day I wanted to watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Upon searching, I learned that movie is DVD-only, so I had to settle for Dirty Harry. This happens all the time. I feel like a get my money’s worth in content, but more often than not, I end up scrolling through movies for 30 minutes before I find something that I am willing to settle on that is in Netflix’s limited streaming catalog.

Recently, I discovered a place on Netflix to find selections that almost always turn up Watch Instantly movies and TV shows that I am interested in watching: my Recently Watched list.

So here is my confession: I’m not the only one watching.

Before you get mad, it’s not like I have just been handing out my password. Every once in a while, I will log-in from a different location: my old roommate’s XBox 360, my buddy’s iPad, my girlfriend’s laptop, etc. These aren’t public devices so I am never making a point to clear the browser cache. My password ends up getting saved and they take the liberty of watching a movie here and there after I am long gone. There are about 8 people who regularly log into my account – many times simultaneously – and there has never been any kind of multiple log in error preventing this. Believe me, if I was unable to log in because someone else was already using my account, my password would get changed real quick.

But, since there has never been a problem with service, I am content to let these people keep using my account. Why? A: because they are my friends. If it’s not negatively affecting me, I don’t have an immediate reason to change my password once I find out they are logging in. And, B: I am interested in what they are watching.

They do the browsing for me, and I see what they ended up picking. None of these people rate movies, but I can see how much they watched. If they watch 4 minutes of The Listening Project, I assume that it’s not worth my time. If they watched all 164 minutes of Breaking the Maya Code, I want in. Every week there are new items in my queue, and while I do not have an interest in everything that is in there, a much higher percentage is relevent to me. Additionally, since all the picks are logged in as me, I have to play a fun little game guessing whether it was Caroline or Steven who watched Mrs. Doubtfire last night. All the guilty pleasures are recorded along with the all-time favorites. No actual vs. ideal self discrepancy here. Richard may say on Facebook that Patton is his favorite movie of all time, but I also know that he’s the one who knocked out the entire Wonder Years series in less than a week.

Being the new-media-savvy grad student that I am, I was just thinking about how Netflix needs to start leveraging Facebook’s new Open Graph technology to make watching a social activity, when this little guy popped up in my feed.

This looks like it was simply shared by Brad, but I hope that the rest of his activity is being used to make my picks better. Like I said, the algorithms you are using are good, but this is an opportunity to really dive deep. I’m not saying everyone’s activity should be public, or even available to all his or her Facebook friends, but I would like to see Netflix do what Spotify is doing with playlists. I can do without Spotify popping up in my news feed every 3 seconds, but I do like to go in and see published playlists. There are certain people whose opinion (and behavior) I put a premium on. Netflix should allow users to opt-in or out of sharing their 10 most recently watched items. That is information I [we] want.

(In light of this full confession and my invaluable insights and suggestions, please don’t cancel my account. I just started watching Parks and Recreation.)