Netflix in danger of ruining their user experience

Or, the moment when Netflix jumped the shark.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote a blog post yesterday explaining his company’s recent decision to split up the streaming and DVD delivery services of the company.

An Explanation and Some Reflections

The DVD delivery service (the original service) will now be called Qwikster. Yes, that’s right, Qwikster. The streaming part of the service will continued to be called Netflix. One explanation suggests this move was made in response to pressure from Hollywood who wants to charge per user access, not per copy. In other words, no ownership, nothing like owning or renting a DVD. Think Cable TV. The more things change…the more they stay the same.

Netflix is taking a huge risk here. They’re changing the user experience of their web apps to model the new company structure, not a structure that is most friendly to people. This is an extremely common problem in user interface design. Netflix is in serious danger of breaking the user experience they are well-known for.

As one commenter complains there will now be two separate movie queues, one on Netflix for streaming and one on Qwikster for DVDs. Hasting’s response is dismissive:

“We already have two queues. The two “sites” are a click between each other, so we think not that much different than two tabs on one site.”

Technically, Hastings is right about there already being two queues. But he’s dead wrong about it being much different. Obviously he’s never watched people use web applications before. Changing websites is not even close to the same thing as changing tabs. When you change websites you go somewhere different, you get a different UI, you’re using a different username, and you probably have to log in. You have a different payment system. Different family members to add. Different recommendations to look at. And that’s just for starters.

When you change tabs you don’t lose any of that context. You stay in the same place, you just get a different list.

This is a fundamental change in the product, and Hastings just dismisses the concern with a wave of his hand. Not only that, but this is a branding issue as well. When you switch sites you’re going from Netflix, a brand people know and love, to Qwikster, which sounds like the latest get rich quick startup without a real business plan.

It may be that the split was inevitable, but why not name the DVD service “Mailflix” and give people a chance to understand what’s actually going on? Give them some semi-logical name that actually makes sense? Mailflix for movies in the mail, Netflix for movies on the Internet?

Also, people don’t think they’re buying two services right now…they’re simply buying Netflix. As another commenter points out:

“You’re continuing to make a classic mistake: thinking you’re something different than what everyone believes you are. You’re not a DVD company and a streaming company: you’re where I go to watch movies. That’s it. The future clearly is streaming, but by separating and charging more for access, you’re wildly less valuable to me. I’ll likely cancel. You haven’t listened to customer feedback. You’re delusional and you’re lost.”

There is one angle where all of this makes sense. Let’s assume for a moment that Netflix is knowingly trying to kill off its DVD rental service. This is the way to do it…separate it out completely, give it a ridiculous name, and keep your brand equity with the newer streaming service. This almost makes sense…except for the fact that the content in Netflix streaming has gotten worse, not better, over time. If they really wanted to focus attention solely on Netflix going forward, they would create a catalog worth watching. Right now the streaming catalog is abysmal, and with movies that can only mean it gets worse over time as you watch the one or two you haven’t seen yet.

So as a Netflix subscriber who doesn’t even use the service anymore (outside of my kids watching educational videos) I’m left wondering…what is Reed Hastings and Netflix thinking?

Published: September 19th, 2011