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A couple of social ideas for Netflix

Like many others, a couple of weeks back I started using video streaming service Netflix, following its long-awaited launch in the UK. Within minutes of deciding to use it I was streaming top quality video, free of lag, ads and usual gumpf that plagues other video platforms. Put simply, it works. This blog post isn’t a review of the service itself, but an exploration of what I think it could do with social media.

So what’s it missing?

When you first sign-up, the service asks you to sign in with Facebook, but provides little reasoning for doing so other than personalised recommendations and the ability to share your viewing habits with your friends. Like Spotify and many others, Netflix is (in my opinion) encouraging a lazy and irritating form of sharing. As each of our digital worlds becomes increasingly populated by choice, I want fewer, but more highly considered suggestions, not more. Knowing the intricate viewing (or reading or listening) habits of a growing number of friends has no interest to me.

As Charlie Brooker pointed out last week:

When Sony launched the Walkman back in the late 70s, its main appeal was that for the first time in history you could stroll down the high street listening to Neil Diamond belting out Sweet Caroline and no one could judge you for it. It made you the master of a private world of music. If the Walkman had, by default, silently contacted your friends and told them what you were listening to, not only would no one have bought a Walkman in the first place, its designers would have been viewed with the utmost suspicion.

I feel the same with Netflix. Despite the wealth of documentaries and independent movies I’d like the world to think I was watching, my first few hours with the service consisted of a Jersey Shore marathon – probably not something I should be proud of, or would want to share.

So what could they do differently?

Encourage and create a platform for curators

Most people will probably have a couple of friends who read Timeout religiously, visit the cinema on a weekly basis and/or sit through hours of dross on television every single night. Whether they’re cinema buffs or simply sofa-straddling viewing behemoths, these people are invaluable as they watch stuff so that you don’t have to. They digest vast amounts of data, and then use their human, bespoke understanding of you as an individual to recommend good stuff.

If Netflix allowed these people to rise to the fore, through the recommendations of others perhaps (like LinkedIn Experts), they could impart their knowledge on a wider audience. Netflix could give them subscriptions for free in return for the vital community role they’d be playing – it would be a simple win-win.

Have a Soundcloud style comments system

For me Soundcloud trumps other music services as popular tracks gain digital detritus over time. The jumble of comments along the timeline are way more interesting that the listening figures, and longer mixes gain useful tags over time as listeners name tracks and celebrate certain moments.

Video is largely still a lonely experience – you watch stuff, form opinions in your head and perhaps share them after. Unless you’re watching a movie in a cinema or tv at home with a group of people, it’s difficult to get a shared experience. By allowing users to comment on content as they watched it, every Netflix movie of episode would build up a secondary, shared experience.

Obviously not everyone would want this all of the time, but imagine watching an episode of the Inbetweeners and sharing in the jokes and tangents of others, or watching a documentary which had generated an ongoing debate among other viewers. This second track could be turned on and off much like a directors commentary, and could eventually become a useful source of feedback for movie/tv creators.

So there you have it. Two ideas. There was another but I’ve forgotten it. Anything you’d like to see on Netflix?

Image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user nickstone333.

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