Bad news on the Netflix front…

I got an e-mail yesterday that Netflix is discontinuing their “Profiles” feature, which allows customers to have multiple users under a single account, each with their own preferences, queues, and so forth.

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s a little angry about the issue because it’s really a useful feature for anyone who shares their account with someone else. Sara and I have been using Netflix for almost two years now and Profiles has been a godsend for our both being able to use the account together. We each have our own profile, allocated with 1 disc at a time each, so we can both rent DVDs without interferring with the other’s viewing habits at all. If she goes on a watching spree and spends a week or two watching her selections just as fast as Netflix can ship them to us, it doesn’t matter in the slightest if I sit on the latest DVD of my own to show up for the entire time – each queue advances at our own paces, and ultimately it provides this couple a really cool way to share their rental service while still maintaining our own viewing preferences.

It seemed simple enough to us, and yet Netflix cited the reason for this feature being eliminated as “too many members found the feature difficult to understand and cumbersome, having to consistently log in and out of the website.” The thing is, anyone who’s worked really anywhere in the computer industry knows that it’s usually not a good sign when a company discontinues a key feature of their service altogether. Some additional discussions surfaced today which explained that the implementation of Profiles, along with other since features, have made the site’s code too messy and it’s slowing down the experience, and that only a small fraction of users (allegedly 1%, or about 80k) actually use the feature today, which albeit is a little better than yesterday’s abrupt response to the user community simply stating that “the decision is final” in a crude and unfriendly manner, but it still leaves me wondering what we’re going to do in a few months because A) we are a part of that 1% and we do use Profiles; and B) if the feature is going to be yanked in the manner in which I’m interpreting Netflix’s announcement, it sounds like Sara’s queue will just magically disappear and if we want to continue sharing the account, we’ll have to figure out a way to manage the both of us sharing a single queue on our own.

And not for nothing because I’ve really enjoyed Netflix all of this time, but I just don’t think that that option is going to work for us. Sharing a queue means trying to alternate discs between the two of us, and re-ordering the queue if one person gets ahead of the other – the total hands-off approach that Profiles offered was really ideal for us. Which sucks because I don’t want to cancel our account, but if a viable alternative isn’t available when Profiles goes away, I’m just not sure if it’ll be worth the hassle to try to manage things on our own. While I can appreciate the need to re-evaluate a feature that only a minority of your users utilize, I think it’s also important to consider which users are taking advantage of this feature – are these your early adopters, your high-volume accounts, your customers who provide positive word of mouth advertising whenever their friends and family talk movies? If anything, I would’ve hoped to see something more along the lines of, “As of September 1, we’ll be transitioning our current Profiles feature into a new system that will provide a more user-friendly experience and make it even easier to share your Netflix account across the entire family.”

Instead … we’ll see. Netflix is taking a bit of a beating from the “vocal customers” who make use of Profiles, and I can’t exactly say that it’s unwarranted. You can’t come out with an announcement like that taking away a key feature for some of us without offering really any substantial explanation, then getting defensive when your users complain about it – it’s just bad communication. Also, “we recommend you consolidate your Profile Queues to your main account Queue or print them out?!” Seriously, who wrote this announcement and what kind of a technology company is this? No, “consolidate your queues automatically by going to the blah blah option in your Account…” at the very least??? Come on, now…

So anyways, whether anything will actually come of all of this “feedback” that’s been pouring in the last two days, it’ll be “interesting” to see what happens to my favorite DVD rental service here at the end of the summer. If a replacement isn’t offered, I certainly won’t switch to Blockbuster Online because I still hold a grudge against them from the retail days, but I might lean more towards just saving our money for Movies on Demand from our local cable company instead of using Netflix. Again, I sincerely hope that doesn’t have to happen because hands down, Netflix is a cool service, but disabling features that I personally use just because others didn’t understand them certainly isn’t a way to earn any brownie points with me.

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