Why Isn’t Netflix Social?

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Netflix has received a lot of good press lately due, in part, to the success of it’s newly released original series House of Cards.  It’s created a solid first season for the show and will only continue to build it’s credibility for original programming with the highly-anticipated release of Arrested Development this spring.  Publications across the web are predicting what the brand’s success will mean for the future of television and whether it can truly become a leader of the medium’s emerging “Golden Age.”

All of this is interesting commentary, but what I find myself more curious about is why Netflix still doesn’t have any social functionality integrated into it’s site.  This only recently dawned on me when a colleague and I were sharing movie recommendations with one another in conversation (ha, god forbid).  Regardless, one has to believe that some level of social functionality is on it’s way, and this gives us with an opportunity to discuss the evolution of the web experience and how Netflix could provide greater benefit to it’s customers while extending it’s reach.

The consumer behavior trends are there. Watching television, especially marquee programming is becoming more social by the minute.  Watching the Super Bowl, a Presidential debate or just your favorite show with your Twitter feed in tow adds a new dimension to the experience – more insights, more humor, more well-rounded experience. But, that’s just part of it, networks like FX go as far as to create live programming, like Talking Dead, in which actors discuss the shows you just watched, guiding conversation with the greater public through hashtags while allowing viewers to ask questions, and post comments, addressed in real time.

All of this is well beyond where Netflix currently sits with it’s user experience.  We use the service in a vacuum, oblivious to what our friends are watching and deprived of their reactions and preferences.  But, that’s not all. Despite the service’s highly detailed survey which can be used to narrow down user’s film preferences, it, unlike Facebook, has no idea what bands I love, how I spend my free time, what social issues I’m most concerned about, etc., all of which is data that could be leveraged to enhance the user experience through better recommendations.

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal, think about how much influence your current Netflix recommendations have over what you watch.  In my case very little, although they certainly improve with time.  But, what if the system could actually incorporate more salient data about what you’re reading, what links you’re sharing, or classes you’re taking in school?  It could actually start to generate recommendations based on more timely interests and fascinations and with it become a highly trusted source for what to watch next, at which point Netflix would become indispensable to it’s subscribers.  For more on this specific topic, see a previous post I wrote about the Rise of the Personal Assistant.

All of that aside, the main point here is that Netflix is behind in the social realm.  When the web first came about (and before Facebook) users traveled from page to page in relative isolation.  Now, (and largely because of Facebook) when we travel throughout the internet we carry tons of our personal information, preferences and interests with us.  But it doesn’t end there, we also bring all of our friends and their interests with us as well, hence the social web.

Take Etsy’s social shopping experience which allows shoppers to use Facebook Connect to incorporate the interests from their friends profiles, be it samurai films, classic cars, or Sesame Street to populate super relevant gift recommendations.  It transforms the Etsy shopping experience, making it much faster and more enjoyable to shop for others. If you haven’t tried it, do it.

It’s easy to see the benefit that Netflix could gain from incorporating this type of social framework into it’s site; the recommendations could become more precise and timely, I could connect with my friends to explore their preferences (the ultimate influencers in our lives), and perhaps most importantly, Netflix could grow from the outwardly-focused sharing behavior that would inevitably result.

The question isn’t when they’ll do it, its how well.

[Image via Mashable]

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