The UX of Things Ep.1 — Netflix

You're cool and all Netflix but...

Introducing "The UX of Things" series

Hi 👋

Welcome to "The UX of Things"! A brand new series on your favorite weekly newsletter, where we dig into a particular product or a service and discuss how a product truly feels like.

And we're starting with none other than — ‘Netflix’.

Keep reading, as we'll be revealing some naughty UX patterns that Netflix uses for their gains.

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Did you know that Netflix started as a DVD rental website, back in 1997?

Renting a movie back then was a bit different experience. For me, at that time, it would mean taking a stroll to a movie rental shop. I remember being excited every time I would step in there. Back in those times, everything felt a bit more like a discovery. Renting a movie was no different. Today, everything is much more easily accessible and often taken for granted.

Today, as of October 2020, Netflix serves over 195 million paid subscribers, with an operating income of $1.2 billion.

Those are some serious numbers. I would imagine that there are quite a few UX talks happening in Netflix offices.

How it feels

On Netflix, we either want to find something new to watch, continue our previous watch, or let Netflix recommend us what to watch next.

For me, the experience of looking for a decent title to watch is not a fun one on Netflix. That’s mostly due to the quality ratio of all the titles available. For every good watch on Netflix, you would have to skip at least ten titles. As most of the movies listed are mediocre at best, I would often find myself strolling through tedious lists of genres in order to finally find something that’s a decent watch.

Netflix recommendations aren’t based on the quality of the movies themselves or user reviews. They’re based on our watching history and on what Netflix thinks is a good watch.

User reviews

There’s no better indicator if a movie is good than user reviews. Just try to imagine Amazon or an App Store without user reviews. Having user reviews is the most important metric that we can depend upon when making a purchase. User reviews best reflect the product, especially when in high numbers.

Of course, on Amazon, you’re spending money, while on Netflix you’re spending your time. It’s up to every individual to price their time. I tend to price mine quite high — way above money.

If Netflix would have user reviews, less time would be wasted browsing and watching poor titles. Obviously, for that to happen, Netflix needs to have a much higher ratio of quality titles on its repertoire. Even then, this would push their below-average titles all the way back.

Netflix is perfectly fine with us browsing longer, as they’re not able to support the elimination of poor titles. Even though having user ratings is a win for us users, it’s a loss for them. It would reveal the truth of the actual quantity of good titles that they have. I’m not seeing that happening anytime soon.

To be fair, Netflix did have star ratings but decided to remove it in 2018, because trolls would purposely “bomb review” the titles. The truth is, their comedy special with Amy Schumer wasn’t bombed purposely all the way to a single star rating. That’s the rating it deserved.

This is why I’ve never actually felt in love with Netflix’s service in the first place. It feels as if I was browsing through the App Store without having the ability to see and read the user reviews — with the promo videos playing as I scroll. It would feel unfair and forced.

Anyways, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be aware of these UX tricks and you will use their service a bit differently from what they’ve intended.

User reviews — Solution 💡

A little trick if you’re watching Netflix from the browser is to install an extension, that’ll show you IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings nicely in the Netflix UI.

But let’s have a look at what is featured on Netflix as I’m writing this.

This way, I won't have to spend half an hour realizing something that others have realized already. But imagine Netflix actually offering this by default. It would be quite challenging for Netflix to push a title with such poor ratings, and to call it ‘featured’.

Autoplay feature

Another place where Netflix intentionally introduces a dark UX pattern is their autoplay feature.

A feature where Netflix automatically plays trailers for titles, whether you like it or not.

Doesn’t come as a surprise that this feature has caused annoyance for one too many users. Regardless, for Netflix, the benefits outweigh the cons.

Autoplay feature forces engagement at the cost of the annoyance of the users. Not the worst tradeoff for Netflix, I admit. Still a very, very naughty UX pattern.

If Netflix’s service was a website, they’d click on a signup button for you, so you don’t have to.

Autoplay feature — Solution 💡

This has been a default feature for a decade, and finally this year, after countless complaints — Netflix has conceded. Since February this year, we’re able to turn it off ourselves in the settings.

To do so:

1. Log in to your Netflix account in the browser

2. Click on your profile in the top right corner and select ‘Manage profiles’

3. Select the profile you want to change the settings for

4. You should be able to find “Autoplay controls” and adjust your settings

This change alone vastly impacts the UX of Netflix. And if you’re using Netflix, it’ll do the same for you.

Even though they made this change possible, most users will never find this setting.

The good news is that we’re able to bypass both of these dark patterns. The bad news is that most users never will. The default setting is what users stick by. I would imagine that only a small number of users explore Netflix settings on a web browser.

Political bias

I’ve always been strongly against big tech and their political bias. It’s a very dangerous mix. Unfortunately, Netflix is no exception. Although Netflix has denied this, data is showing us just the opposite.

To give an example, according to this article, 98% of their total employee donations went to democrats in 2016, followed by 99.6% in 2018. Alternatively, have a look at their last original ‘Death to 2020’. A mockumentary that tries really hard to seem like it’s mocking both sides, but fails miserably in hiding their liberal bias.

Tech giants such as Netflix, Twitter, and Facebook are so influential that they are able to swing an election. This is a scary thing, no matter which side you’re on. Big tech companies should remain neutral. But if we look at the largest tech giants today, they’re all left-leaning.

In 2020, big tech finally faces pressure in courts, as the four largest tech companies go to trial.

The truth is, if big tech can influence who people vote for, I can see many ‘Black Mirror’ episodes coming to fruition.

Big tech needs to stay neutral for our own good.

Summary

Even with all the annoyances above, Netflix is still arguably the best streaming service out there. And one thing in particular that deserves praises is their original content, as they’ve been nailing it out of the park lately.

That’s one of the reasons they can afford to cut down on the UX to boost the engagement in return.

It’s no secret that engagement is what Netflix cares about the most. If we look at how social media works, engagement is valued way above the number of followers one has. Netflix knows that.

With giants such as Netflix, nothing is ever unintentional. Including the dark UX patterns.


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Wishing you a happy and healthy new year! 🥂

Have a wonderful day.

Filip