Commercial data aggregations: New social features at Netflix

We’re regular, but not heavy Netflix users. For the most part, Dina and I have our own entente cordiale regarding our movie selections, meaning that we can each watch the other’s “dumb movies”. What is still difficult is the handling of whose movies will come by post next. (Netflix is a DVD rental subscription service where the DVDs are sent and returned by mail.)

Netflix has added two features; one of which they call “Profiles”, where multiple queues can be established, and each allocated some share of the account’s total number of loaned DVDs. We’ll still have a problem with splitting three discs two ways, but I hope this feature will address queue juggling, where we each reshuffle the next 10 titles based on our distinct preferences: “Why did we get recent romantic comedy? I was expecting three years’ ago’s spy movie!” (Warning: transferring movies from a shared queue to individual queues has to be done by hand. Ick.)

Since I have a few friends who are also Netflix users, I’m interested in the “Friends” feature, too, where I can see their ratings of movies, and not just the Netflix customer average rating. The extra information can help, but it’s the aspect of an asynchronous shared experience that I find interesting. I’ll issue the invitations soon.

Since these are social usage features, I suspect we’re seeing Netflix execute on its strategy for competing with Wal-Mart and Blockbuster: as a pure Internet firm, they must maintain focus on creating an data aggregation that involves their customers enriching the aggregation, as opposed to purchased content. Given financial resources, anybody can build a (500 000 DVD) library, and even an infrastructure to rent and bill that library’s contents; the innovation has to come on the experience side: pricing is one approach, but innovating to make the richest aggregation is the right network-based company strategy.