I feel like Netflix is trying its hardest to stop me from watching.
Usually at the top is some show I have no interest in. That takes up most of the screen preventing me from seeing things I might be interested in.
Then I see My List: 1 show with new episodes. Great. It just happens to be the show they wasted over 50% of their website telling me about. Onward: A bunch of shows that I finished watching and that are either canceled, finished or have no new episodes. Why would I want this information?
Next line, "Continue Watching": 2 shows that I found so bad I stopped watching them (The Witcher and Criminal: Germany here)
Next line, "European Mind Game TV Shows". Sounds good. One show I might eventually watch. 3 shows I already watched… on Netflix. 2 shows that I think I checked and disliked but can't say for sure because Netflix keeps changing their covers. I'd rather spend the time ranting about their dumb UI than being annoyed by re-checking the synopsis for a show I decided against.
Trending Now: 5 shows I didn't like (where is that "Never annoy me with this cheap shit again"-button?), one that might be interesting.
So, Netflix used up 2 pages on a Full HD Monitor and with careful checking I realized one show I like has new episodes, and one new show could be interesting. But I don't usually expend this much effort into finding something to watch. So instead I usually find a new show elsewhere and only use the search or a meta stream search to find out if something is on Netflix and don't bother otherwise.
The only site I know with a worse UX than Netflix is Amazon Prime Video. Yet I keep reading that their design improves engagement, do people not care what they watch and instead just rewatch everything all the time? I really don't get it.
The bigger problem is when these engagement bumps are valid but destroy long term value in the cohort. The auto binge optimization makes viewers more cautious about opening the Netflix app altogether.
This happens with things like fast food restaurants. Subway expanded rapidly, and then tried holding up their sales with discounts. How long can someone eat at Subway weekly or daily before they never want to go there again? The bar is so high, you are way betting off starting a new franchise brand than trying things like removing yoga mat chemicals from your bread or hiring a new mascot who isn’t a child rapist.
Bread is one of only a very few foods that seem to be immune to "food exhaustion", the tendency to want to stop eating something you've been eating. (Milk is another, but I have a feeling that only applies to lactose-tolerant people.)
So if you varied the fillings, probably indefinitely. How long can you have cereal for breakfast before you never want to eat cereal again?
I believe the veggie option is still yesterdays hummus crudely spread around a bun with bell peppers, black olives, an raw onions. The meats are cafeteria tier, in fact I think the meatball sub recipe is the exact slop served in my old dining hall.
They undermined their masterful subliminal marketing on the entire millennial generation by raising the $5 foot long sub to near chipotle bowl price points, and in my city at least cheap excellent street food is already on every corner.
I only ever settle for subway, it's not a destination.
A/B testing causes way more bad decisions than good ones because people run the tests wrong and they interpret the data wrong.
But I've found explaining that to people to be an uphill battle. They get sold on an "objective" way to optimize the UI and then don't want to hear that the method is actually very subjective when not done correctly. And it's hard to execute and interpret correctly so every A/B test I've seen ran has been very subjective.
Meaning have one person who talks to all the stakeholders and every type of user. Who just knows your product backwards and forwards. And thus can drive what changes you need to make to push things forward.
What exactly the means depends on the nature of the product.
Indeed. I just cancelled my Netflix subscription. I signed up as soon as possible when Netflix launched in my country, and I've been running the 4k plan since they launched it.
But for a while now, every time I've launched Netflix I've felt actively put off watching something. By far the most annoying thing is that they play trailers or the movie when I'm just trying to read what the film is about. Most of the time I ended up watching something else.
A couple of weeks ago I figured I'd vote with my wallet and cancelled, listing the autoplay as the reason for cancelling.
Maybe one day they'll get to their senses, though I'm not holding my breath.
It starts playing trailers when you're in the library and linger for a brief second on a movie, or starts the actual movie if you click on the movie to read more about it.
Another annoying feature is that you can't opt-in to 4K HDR per device. Our main TV is an OLED display which is great for 4K HDR but on the bedroom we have a lower quality 4K TV with really bad HDR. I'd rather watch Netflix on that TV in 1080p without HDR. Or what if your connection can handle 4K but it consumes all your bandwidth and someone else needs to do a skype or something.
If I understand correctly, you can mute autoplay - there's a volume icon to the left of the age rating of the screen (mid-right. You won't hear any autoplay sound again, for any session, until you click on it again.
Many times I just want to see when the movie was made and who the actors are.
This is a really weird thing to do, and a really weird basis for complaint about ML recommenders. I'd imagine that 99.9% of people who watched _30 minutes_ of an artsy foreign-language noir film are people who are inclined to enjoy artsy noir films (or at least trying it out). The only reasonable complaint here is that recommender systems can be overly sticky when they don't provide a way to provide strong negative feedback (eg YouTube's "not interested" option).
If you have 100 movies on your history, and one is an artsy one that you got away after 30 minutes, the evidence is pointing that you will not like anything else like it.
But this does appear to be a minority position.
For example, in a scene the main character might see a new person for the first time. There's nothing in the movie so far to indicate that the main character knows the other person. Yet the subtitles may reveal that other characters name when the subtitled dialog goes "CARL: Hello there", which might ruin an important plot point.
I really don't understand why they keep doing this.
What was the point of even providing me the option? I suspect it might be part of an A/B test to see how many people engage with a button that does nothing. I absolutely loathe this sort of dark pattern but I have yet to convince a manager that "gathering data!" is bad thing...
True, it does affect their recommendations but still the inherent purpose of a thumbs down is to tell them I watched it but didn't like. I would love for them to provide a "not interested" option as well.
Edit: I continue to have hope that some higher-ups from Netflix are reading these comments, and someday will create a GUI for "pros" and a GUI for everyone else (as it is now), where the "pro" version allows at least some level of customization beyond this dark-pattern insanity.
YT "not interested" is similar but worse, forgets your dislikes after few days.
I almost feel like there should be an ADA lawsuit against the top streaming video purveyors to have a low tech distraction free consistent interface. Just give me the full catalog in XML format or SQLite, I'll do the rest.
At least your "continue watching" is relevant; mine tends to show movies I already watched in full, with a progress bar showing them being 98% done. Well, that last 2% is obviously the ending credits. Perhaps people over at Netflix do watch the couple of minutes of names rolling on black screen. I don't.
For example, movies that the user has already watched keep showing in the grid. If one stops watching a series mid-season, there's no immediate way of preventing the show from displaying in the list of current movies (removing the entire series from history works, but it's not immediate, and it's too drastic).
If I want to expand on a movie, rather than watching it, the area I can click on is tiny compared to the whole banner surface.
I think all of those are patterns of a strategy to shove content down the user's throat - it makes sense from a (dishonest) business perspective.
apenwarr talks about this on his blog. He claims Netflix purposely switched from a good recommendation algorithm to a worse one after the transition from their DVD-by-mail days to their streaming offering. See https://apenwarr.ca/log/20190201 (find the section titled "Netflix").
I recommend reading that section (or even the whole article, though the main point of the article is something only tangentially related), but I'll try to summarize.
The argument goes that Netflix doesn't need to find the best movie or TV show for you; instead it tries to find one that is just good enough for you, but at the same time good enough for lots of other people too (apparently in your case they fail at that). From their standpoint it doesn't matter if you watch something you really really like instead of something mildly entertaining: Netflix noted that the probability of people cancelling depends on the number of hours they watch Netflix content, not on the quality of that content.
Nudging people to select what they watch out of a smaller pool of offerings enables them to save on bandwidth costs because a lot of content can be served out of distributed caches.
There's a word for it even, apparently: "satisficing" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisficing). It doesn't work for everyone: it doesn't work for you, and it mostly doesn't work for me (I don't watch a lot of Netflix, and when I do it's mostly based on recommendation from friends or online sources). And I'm not sure how it works in the long term.
What never worked was recommendations. The first time I signed up for them, I actively voted on shows I had already watched (and clicked the button that still existed back then that told them I had already watched something), ranked genres, downvoted things I had no interest in. Only for netflix to ignore 99% of what I just spent an hour telling them.
She doesn't discuss the top level discovery UX.
Because original content is expensive. There's not that much of it, and people do actually tend to repeat watch stuff. Most people are happier watching another episode of Friends than turning on something they've got no emotional bond with, haven't seen before and won't really pay attention to.
(To be clear, this isn't direct criticism of the GP comment, which is high-quality overall)
I've read this in a lot of places. My personal experience with this has been quite the opposite. Amazon's UX has no parallel, and I don't really mean it in a good way. It's just unique in how it lays out things. Once I got the hang of how it works, after that "aha" moment it became way more navigable.
They are now finally better than Netflix (in that regard).
Now they need to get a better player and stop it with louder-than-the-shows-I'm-watching adverts in German and clearly mark the shows they don't have English subs/dubs for and I'd be happy (well, as far as I know, they don't have as much data as, because of the bad experience, I often ended up looking for others sources than prime video)
Amazon Prime Video has exceptionally bad UX. But then again Amazon shopping experience is also rather abysmal.
People like to watch trailers.
They need to fill the first row of titles with trailers. People need to get hooked via these trailers. Hell, they need to hype their future show with trailers.
Netflix I know you are reading this.
> I’ve always required television to get to sleep, and I’m not a good sleeper.
> Why watch the same thing if there was all this newness to explore? My nighttime viewing hours grew later and later.
> For those of us who used television as a sleep aid, we now seem to be facing a new phenomenon.
> All these streamlined UX features mean that when I’m tucked in bed in the dark, I barely need to think about what to watch when I’m trying to get myself to sleep.
I understand the idea of television as a sleep aid. I used to use music in the same way. But I don't think the Netflix UI is as great a contributor to Morley's issues with sleep as much as her sleep hygiene which uses "television as a sleep aid", an oxymoron at best.
I recognized this was a terrible pattern. I began shutting off the tv when I was going to bed. Eventually I moved the television out of my bedroom.
This is learned behavior and it can be unlearned. There's one simple solution to the problem posed in this article. Get the tv out of your room; it's not doing anything positive for you and I'm fairly certain you won't crave to have it back once it's gone.
They perform the ritual and then take the TV out of the room.
What I've learned helps me is watching TV / listening to music while laying on the couch, and moving into the bedroom with a dim light once I feel myself drifting. Still, I often fall asleep next to the TV, but its better than tossing and turning half the time until I have to take melatonin to force my body to fall asleep
1) obfuscate its surprisingly shallow library
2) encourage user interaction (more telemetry data)
3) promote Netflix original content
As a user, I don't want any of this. A small cottage industry of alternative Netflix UIs has popped up, because sometimes you just want some good old fashioned filters and sorts.
A few examples:
A thousand times, this. Netflix should take all the money they are spending on ML to solve a discovery problem that they don't even have, and instead buy up rights to flicks from the period 1950-2010. A lot of these movies can't be streamed or downloaded anywhere - the only legal way to get them is to pay a grossly inflated price for the DVD on Amazon. This is actually a massive archival problem, and I would love to see someone tackle it. Unfortunately, it almost certainly won't be one of the current major streaming platforms.
(1) Competitors (eg. Disney+)
(2) Studios leasing the rights to competitors (eg. Amazon)
(3) Studios that want to expand into the new streaming market (all the rest).
The remaining few indie or abandoned flicks are not really worth it.
The problem is worse if A) you're not in the US and B) you are interested in stuff that wasn't a box office top 100 hit.
It's an empirical question as to whether, as you say "the remaining few indie or abandoned flicks are not really worth it." Netflix has certainly decided that this is the case, but it's not obvious to me that they're right.
Really? I often find myself learning about Netflix stuff I want to watch only from friends telling it to me, and then having to seek it out in the search function.
They are a public company now. I find it hard to believe they could not afford US licensing deal.
And since they actively enforce their geofencing, the shallow library argument becomes even more apparent.
I really dislike streaming wars. We are basically reinventing cable. Any moment I expect unskippable ads in the middle of the show for all paid plans and people defending them as.. it is only 30 seconds..
Netflix revealed a way to monetize the long tail of media content, owned by big studios. To those big studios, Netflix is just a middleman; they'll raise rates until Netflix has no profit left, or give discounts where there's a marketing tie-in (this is why the earlier movie shows up in Netflix when the sequel is on in the cinema - it won't hang around for too long though).
This structure is why Netflix is turning into yet another cable channel. There's no network effect beyond an install base and a bunch of customers paying monthly - not nothing, but also not actually much of a moat if users are using things like Amazon Firestick or something else that apps can easily be added to.
If anything, copyright is the problem. Copyright ought to enable rent extraction to cover the cost of production and a healthy profit premium to encourage quality and have hits that cover losses. But beyond a certain point (and it's measured in years for cinema, not decades) the output probably ought to be considered cultural capital and have capped and non-discriminatory broadcast and streaming costs.
All that said, as a customer I don't care. I have been spoiled by near instant access to anything I want free of ads. If Netflix does not want my money, someone else will.
And if no one else will, then that is how we get piracy.
To sum up, I really do not disagree with you. I just think customers are less tolerant today.
It’s a shame there aren’t more dictatorial Jobs-esque CEOs striking out all the bullshit vanity-metric-chasing the upper/middle managers will do if you let them. The world would be a better place.
Who are these people who watch so much stuff they run out of things to watch.
I used to go to Netflix for a few core shows (and still do) but they've slowly moved off. 30 Rock, Buffy, Sunny in Philly - all are gone, which means the number of shows I actually care to watch on Netflix was cut in about half.
They may have a million other titles, but it's extremely rare that I'm in a "browse and pick something" mood these days.
It's also why I hate the fragmentation. All 3 of those shows are from different networks - one day they will all be on their own respective subscription based websites. And I'm gonna just go back to pirating.
> It's also why I hate the fragmentation. All 3 of those shows are from different networks - one day they will all be on their own respective subscription based websites.
All 3 of those shows are on Hulu, so you only need to sign up for one additional subscription. So far. I expect that the fragmentation will only get worse from here.
I subscribe to Hulu (Always Sunny, Brooklyn 99, Bob's Burgers, Rick and Morty), Netflix (Black Mirror, Arrested Development, Bojack Horseman, Great British Baking Show), and Disney+ (The Mandalorian). I'm paying $31 a month for these subscriptions. I keep wondering if I'd be better off buying DVDs/Blu-rays and ripping them all to a plex server instead, but that seems like a lot of work, even if it would pay off in the long run.
Money isn't an issue, it's mostly just annoying to have N services to juggle. Pirating's really easy - I use exactly one pirating website, and it's free. Way simpler.
For me, Netflix is just another channel with maybe some interesting shows this season.
There's a difference between a deep library and a comprehensive library. Netflix's library is quite extensive, so shallow isn't the right word for it. But it isn't a corpus that includes everything you could possibly want to watch--nowhere really is right now, and historically, corpuses like that have been rare and short-lived.
I've overextended the analogy.
The content available on Netflix is great, but the discoverability UX is atrocious.
Only if you are in the US
It would be hard to watch everything on Netflix, but it would be a short list to scroll through, especially when you apply some filters (e.g. romantic comedies with a rotten tomatoes rating > 70%).
> why should my subscription fee pay for the license fees of stuff that doesn't interest me?
So obviously different people will have different interests... yet you don't think your monthly payment should subsidize any of those other things? How do you imagine that working exactly?
You have no idea how much I prefer this over the dominant competing model which is "promote content that costs extra because it is not actually included in the subscription I already pay".
Netflix at least is trying to make me satisfied with the content available, instead of making me yearn for more in order to upsell.
They just try to avoid you canceling your subscription when their licensing agreements are not getting renewed and everything else except their original content is gone.
Is this true? Lately I stumbled upon some movies made in India. And suddenly there was a whole new catalog available.
I think it just sucks to discover new content because you always get stuck in the 'more like this' search loop.
I just want something simple and minimal. No bullshit fullscreen autoplaying trailer at the top. Just 3 sections: Shows I've been watching (with an easy button to remove any i'm done with), shows I have marked as interested in, and then at the bottom, there can be recommended shows and new content.
That's it. It shouldn't be that hard. Some day I might code it myself.
Watched 2 seasons of 2 different series in less than 48 hours.
- I want vertical browsing
- I want to be able to remove items from the list, mark them "not interested"
Maybe some people prefer this layout. Fine! Make it optional. Give us the "pro" user interface as an option in the menu. My bet is all Netflix programmers want one. I can't imagine that there is one Netflix programmer who thinks this interface is how they would make it. This interface screams "marketing". Fuck those guys.
Maybe I'm just pining for a streaming service in the terminal program.
At the current subscription cost, keeping Netflix is a negligible expense for me and I'm not wealthy. So long as they put out 3-4 interesting things to watch a year (be it originals or something licensed) I can't imagine I'd cancel. I'm not looking to fill my days and nights, just something to kill a little time here and there or unwind for an hour or so a day. Am I an outlier? Do sub numbers drop if users can't sustainably spend 4+ hours a day on their platform?
From Netflix perspective, the income per subscriber is fixed, so now focus on reducing operating expenses (including content acquisition). Maybe?
Only problem is, by the sound of the comment sections in these netflix threads cropping up on HN and Reddit once a month or so, people are being pushed away. The whole thing appears to be backfiring from the outside, but who knows what their internal data tells them.
I would think they will start charging more if the growth stalls AND enough stickiness of the platform is proven. Currently, they are making profits and growing in terms of revenue, so as long as the founder keeps the control and the company is profitable, I think it might make sense to pursue more subscription at the cost of short-term profitability.
Anyone from Netflix claiming that they truly want their customers to watch more on Netflix is delusional or lying or both! For example, Netflix customers have complained about the auto-playing previews for a long time and there's no solution from Netflix.
Do that enough times and you have a subscription cancellation fast approaching.
I mean objectively speaking it's all fine as it's on some form of "blog" for "interesting thinks about design". Which is what the article is about (design which keeps you watching). Still for some reason I can't pin down seeing it on a adobe domain irks me...?
Why does it have to do one click play and auto play without even clicking? It’s the most annoying feature ever and they seem to love it. There is no way to disable it. What are they getting out of it? It has gotten to a poi t where I expressly avoid Netflix unless I know there is a show I want to watch. All because of auto play. May be my hatred of it is extreme but I don’t get the point of it.
If people subscribe to 3 TV streaming services and realize they're mostly watching only 2 of them, they'll cancel the 3rd.
So for Netflix, it's extremely important that you watch a lot, because that's precisely what prevents you from cancelling.
Competitors don't sit still either - they're busy trying to put together a package of good content and improved UX as well in order to better compete with Netflix. Incumbents generally are harder to unseat though, whether it be in politics or in business, the bar that needs to be passed is "Why should I move from/pay for X?" - in this case, Netflix wants to be the X.
It's awful. Very obnoxious.
Even for TV shows with plots spread over a season, each episode has an arc of an intro that hooks you, development, and then a satisfying conclusion. And we can only hold so many plot details in our head at once, which is why movies and plays generally aren't longer than 2 hours and change.
A 9-12 hr megamovie would be deeply unsatisfying to watch, without the carefully structured resolutions along the way. You need satisfying "stopping points" along the way where a few things get resolved but a few more things keep you watching the next night.
It's the same way fiction books need chapters and symphonies need movements. Episodes are a basic creative organizational principle.
1. Auto previews is probably the worst thing they've come up with. I just want to read the description, not be assaulted with trailers and ad for the show. This means you need to scroll faster than it can be invoked. This also means a tense experience where I can't just take my time to find what I want to watch or I have to look elsewhere.
2. Constantly moving 'Continue Watching' . I just want to get back to the show I was watching. Why is that so difficult to understand?
3. Showing me previews by cutting out the end credits. It's like no one at Netflix has any idea how to watch a movie/show. Sometimes you want to reflect on what you just experienced. Or talk to the people around you about what happened. This is just extremely bad behavior on an app that's paid for.
4. The discovery is straight up garbage. A rand() function on the top global watched tv shows/genre will result in a better selection then the crap their ML algorithm puts out.
Ironically all their 'engagement' tactics had moved my household from Netflix to Hulu and prime more. 2020 is probably when we'll cut the cord on Netflix.
Netflix had a huge advantage of being the first and the biggest in streaming services. They could have been easily the Google Search equivalent in their field. Instead, today their just one of the very many services with no discernible difference.
Netflix has solid engineers who were amazing to work with, but their product management teams would be people I'd never hire because it's very clear no one really understands the product.
That is most definitely incorrect.
Peak viewing, at least when I worked there, was during prime time in that time zone.
Except for kids shows. Peak viewing of kids shows was Saturday morning.
I worked at Amazon and I found that the horror stories were generally not true, but that if you ended up with the wrong manager could be very true. Always been curious about Netflix.
Everyone fears getting fired for the first few days, until you realize they don't really just fire you on a whim. Then you get over it.
People don't get fired for making mistakes, so there really isn't any blame shifting or undercutting. Making mistakes is encouraged -- it means that you're innovating and trying new things.
Making the same mistakes repeatedly is what gets you in trouble.
The main difference between Netflix and other places is that at other places, when your current skills are no longer needed, they will move you into a new job and give you time to ramp up.
At Netflix, they will say, "here is a big fat severance check, let us know if you need any glowing references".
The main argument seems to be that binge watching makes it worse. But in reality there’s only a small amount of shows that are worthy of binge watching and Netflix has a very finite amount of them...per year.
More to the point: just like the author, there's a very particular kind of TV I'd watch to sleep: nothing for the first time, and nothing tense. The West Wing and the US version of The Office were both great for me, since there's so much of it to get through. I've probably seen every episode of The West Wing at least 15 times by now.
Which, to me, sort of answers/challenges the concern the author has about binge watching. On a normal night, I'd barely make it through half an episode before I'd notice time slipping as I watched, my cue that I'm nodding off and should shut the laptop. I'm never watching first-run stuff like Mindhunter or Russian Doll, the stuff Netflix really wants me to be streaming, because it'd keep me alert.
By making people search and find content, there might be some subconscious effect on people that makes them think the service has more value. Tricking people subconsciously means less cancelled subscriptions.
What's scary is that all these dark patterns Netflix and other tech companies are using are completely obfuscated. No one really understands what's going on because the patterns are part of some complex neural network. In the past they would have been shamed publicly for stuff like this, but now it's only 20% of their users who have such-and-such psychological profile can be exploited this way, while others can be exploited another way and no one knows what's happening.
My theory is the more powerful AI becomes, the more it will exploit human psychology until everything sucks. Everyone will have the overwhelming urge to keep spending money while being miserable because that's the optimal customer according to the AI.
It can hardly do worse than what human beings have done to themselves over the millennia and continue to do to each other every day. But it can probably do it faster and more efficiently.
I made the switch to International Shows (that are not in English) where I am forced to read subtitles. I am forced to pay attention. If I don't, I have to rewind or pause.
It's actually a great system b/c:
#1 - Netflix has a pretty solid international library b/c they've been making the global push
#2 - Every country has some good shows (at least a few)
#3 - It's pretty interesting seeing how the other half lives
Also, to a lesser extent, Hulu and Amazon Prime also have good international shows, often licensed from real studios operating in foreign countries.
Occasionally I will watch an English speaking show, but it's an exception now.
Amazon's is designed to sell you episodes, meaning that it's complete garbage for actually trying to view shows. Instead of coalescing all the seasons and episodes for a particular title, they'll break them up into individual seasons that are usually NOT in alphabetical or chronological order.
Hulu? I tend to watch a couple shows on Hulu when I'm not viewing live TV. It is ALWAYS a giant pain in the ass to find those two shows. If I were at a computer it'd be one thing, but I'm sitting there with a remote trying to input text into a search bar.
I know that everytime I happen to watch cable TV with commercials the experiences feels a bit dated; I can only imagine what it feels like for the 20 and under crowd.
These two statements are correlated. Television in your bedroom makes you a worse sleeper, and you can immediately improve your sleep quality by removing it and keeping your room as dark as possible. I was skeptical of this, but after a month of insomnia, I went to a sleep lab for a consult and took all of their advice. I'm still not an amazing sleeper but it's been a huge improvement.
This reminds me of a project to make cigarette packaging less convenient in order to discourage smoking.
I think it's something that William Gibson notes that in the US in everyday language, phenomena are somehow always tied to brands.
It's good while it lasts.
If they have cache servers at most ISP maybe bandwidth is not really that expensive.
Horizontal browsing on desktop (or even mobile for that matter), are you kidding!?
Mouseover will completely change the layout, etc. etc.
Just very bad in general.
I do doubt that it's UI really makes anyone watch anything or binge.