Netflix “Watch Instantly” website redesign is a step in the wrong direction

Netflix unleashed a partial redesign this past Wednesday, most notably their entire “Watch Instantly” section, and it’s fairly easy to say that it hasn’t been well received by their user base. As of this writing, there are 3,880 comments on the official blog announcement, and most of them are pretty negative. Now that I’ve had a chance to give the new design and functionality a good test drive, I have to admit that I absolutely agree with every annoyed and angry comment I’ve seen. I understand that people often resist change, even when it’s for the better, but this goes WAY beyond that.

Lets get right to the annoyances:

Side scrolling madness!

I love a good design, and well executed interactive elements, but Netflix seems to have gone over board. I don’t even hate the design itself, which is kind of clean and nice to look at with the large thumbnails. What I hate is that I am now forced into a world of left-right side scrolling, activated via an unmarked cursor hover point, in order to find new Instant movies. I’ve clicked all over the site, and I can’t find any way to get back to any form of text based list which I can quickly scan, which is amazingly frustrating. For example, if I go to “New Arrivals”, I see a few sub sections, each just containing big thumbnails. How many are in these lists? I have no idea. I have to move the mouse to the right or left of the row of thumbnails, and it scrolls continuously through the selection. That sort of looks nice at first, but just looking at this same list of items in text would be amazingly more efficient and comfortable for the user.

Why is the useful information hidden?

The scrolling part is bad enough. However, there’s more to this misguided redesign. As mentioned before, there is basically zero visible information about the scrolling thumbnails you see, and the movies/shows they represent. You have to hover over one of them, and then the standard information pops up. The information itself is fine, but having the thumbnails be scrolling by in motion, while you try to hover on just one to get it’s information can be annoying. Also keep in mind that there’s no way around this! So if I’m looking at a set of scrolling thumbnails, and I’m really opened to watching something I’ve never heard of, I would normally rely on the star rating. With the current setup, I would have to hover, wait about a second for the information to pop up, then read it. I would have to do this for EVERY thumbnail in the whole list if I really wanted to make a good choice. How is this a good usable design? It’s not, it’s horrible, and I hope it goes away.

Not even basic sorting?!?

It’s hard to even express how annoying this is. Basically, the heading says it all. Using the menu, if I choose a ‘Genre’ of ‘Anime’ for example, I get nothing but thumbnails of anime titles. Ok that makes sense. So now what if I want to sort them from newest to oldest, by release date? I CANT! What if I want to use the wisdom of the crowd, and sort based on the star ratings? I CANT! This is so annoyingly frustrating. This is all functionality that used to exist, why did Netflix make it harder for me to find what I want? You want to look up all ‘Action’ titles available on Netflix released in 2010? Too bad, you can’t.

Argh! What to do?

While there are other minor things that annoy me with this redesign, I wouldn’t go and cancel your account just yet. At the core of this all, Netflix actually did seem to add in more options to make it’s suggestions more relevant to you. They call these ‘Taste Preferences’, and they let you rank various things across 14 different categories. This is definitely a positive. The only problem is that this seems to be the ONLY way Netflix wants to let you find stuff, based upon their relevance algorithm. It’s nice to have that, but people like me, actually most people in general even, like to be able to just get a basic list and hit a button to sort. We want the choice to switch from the thumbs only view, to a more standard, less “sexy” feel that actually works.

The only hope for now, is to go to the main ‘Browse DVDs’ tab. That entire section still behaves as it used to. If you start browsing through a specific Genre, you’ll see a link in the top left of ‘Sortable List’. This will let you do what you’re looking for, but the only problem is that it shows everything, not just Instant titles. You’ll have to wade through normal discs and Instant in the same list, but honestly, I think this is what I’m going to do for now.

In closing, some hope

If the whole idea of a user revolt because of weird design choices sounds familiar to you, maybe that’s because it is. Digg.com basically did the same thing several months back, just in a different way. Users revolted, left the site, found ways to game the Digg ranking system, and generally complained non stop. Guess what happened? Digg eventually came around, and removed, or altered a lot of the most annoying ‘features’. I honestly feel that we’ll see the same situation here with Netflix. A company like this simply can’t ignore the overwhelmingly bad reception this redesign has received. At some point, they’ll come around, and bring back the ability to sort, and some titles without requiring a hover…at least I hope so.

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About the Author:

I like technology, sci-fi, fantasy, and anime. You know, cool geeky stuff.

4 Comments + Add Comment

  • YES! This design sucks! I have been using Boxee, but their interface for netflix has a whole stack of other problems.

    • Even with the miniscule traffic this site gets, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find someone that agrees. I had read somewhere that supposedly, someone on the Netflix call center side of things told a complaining customer that they were actually going to roll it back due to all of the complaints. However, this was 2 weeks ago, and I still see the atrocity up on their site, so I’m beginning to worry that we’re just stuck with it.

  • So sad. I’ve tried, but simply can not use the Watch Instantly interface. I do exactly the same as this author which is to page thru the DVD list looking for blue buttons. I keep thinking they will have to go back, but not happened yet. I’ve really cut back on Instant viewing due to this. Good news is I’ve got more variety in the DVD list.

    • What an awesome way to explain this-now I know evirgtheny!

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