What a Crock: Netflix Removing Profile Feature

This one just gets my blood boiling.

I’ve been a Netflix subscriber for four years now, and I’ve loved it. My favorite feature quickly became the profile feature, allowing my wife and I to have separate profiles that allow us to have separate queues and rate movies separately. This is important to us, because we don’t have exacly the same taste in movies, but we enjoy using the recommendation system that Netflix has set up. It is pretty accurate in its predictions. We’ve found several excellent movies based on the recommendations. Then, last week, I received this email:

The infamous letter

When I got it, at first I thought it was a phishing scam. “There’s no way that Netflix would get rid of Profiles,” I thought to myself. I didn’t click on any links in the email for fear that it was some sort of scam, but went directly to the Netflix Website. Sure enough, it was all there, albeit buried in the “help” section. Netflix Profiles are going away as of September 1.

What’s more, if you’re a sub-user on an account, then you have to manually record your ratings that you’ve done for other movies, because there is no way to export them. That means that people like my brother-in-law, who has rated literally thousands of movies, has to do everything all over again, either on my sister’s account, or on a separate account of his own. That brings us to the crux of the matter.

Why exacly are they doing this? The email says that the change will help them “continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers.” IMPROVE? How is taking away one of the best features of the entire system enabling improvement? I’ve read things all over the internet regarding this, including discussions of the fact that it’s an “advanced feature” that people don’t use enough. I love that line of thinking. Oh, it’s an advanced feature that only a certain set of people use. Let’s dumb down the system so that the ‘idiots’ aren’t confused by it! Give me a break.

My wife called Netflix up to complain about it, and she was told that they were “retiring old code,” and that was the reason that Profiles were going away. She told me this and I just about died laughing. That didn’t fly for her or for me. My wife’s response was, “I’ve worked in information technology my entire career. That answer doesn’t fly with me. You don’t just ‘retire’ code because it’s ‘old.’ ” Which is the truth. Unless you’re doing a platform shift, you don’t just retire old code. What’s more, if you do make a major software upgrade like that, you keep features that were preexisting in the system.

What’s more likely is that the Netflix people realized that they might be able to get a few more subscription dollars out of these people by eliminating profiles and requiring them to either use one account or get a separate account. That’s right, yet another user-friendly, customer-focused feature sacrificed on the alter of the almighty dollar. It’s the only explanation that makes any kind of sense at all. But what’s more, even if you do get a separate account, there’s no way to transfer your sub-Profile to the new account. If you have a lot of ratings on the sub-Profile, there’s nothing you can do but get screwed by Netflix. It’s insulting to me that they think they can explain it away as an “improvement” or “code retirement.” Sure, not everyone has knowledge of software development, but if it’s an “advanced feature” on web-related content, you can bet that at least a decent chunk of the user base that takes advantage of the feature will have an idea of the complete ridiculousness of the statement.

I’m fairly certain, though, that if they do go through with the plan of eliminating the feature, they will lose my business. I won’t get another account and we won’t start from scratch on our movie ratings on one profile. How could we, anyway? We don’t always agree on our movie ratings. What we will end up doing (Blockbuster?) is something that remains to be seen.

Well done, Netflix.

Official Netflix Blog
Indiscriminate Prose
Hacking Netflix
Don’t Touch Me
The Consumerist
Dave Talks Shop (good post from a software development perspective)
Save Netflix Profiles Petition
The Motley Fool



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