Saturday, March 20, 2010

Netflix: Beyond the pale's pale

Robowriter here. I am apoplectic, speechless, aghast -- though I knew by Netflix's actions (contrary to its words) that you have been prejudiced against your most active and loyal (and evangelical) customers for years. We have appreciated some measure of community features -- better a brain-dead list-making capability at Netflix than a brainstem-dead service like Blockbuster -- yet you've threatened, attempted, and now accomplished a frontal lobotomy (and you seem fine with that). I'm not being reactionary with my metaphors, just vivid.

Admit it: You have never wanted to maintain the community features in the first place or you would have invested competent and even sufficient talent. (Who in the world offers a list-making system that can't be sorted or at least alphabetized, requires individual deletions or else 2n+1 list items are lost, and returns "Successfully saved" messages for list saves that fail? Who in the world ignores documented bug reports from its most active and dedicated user base for years and dedicates no personnel to addressing such issues?)

The only reason why Netflix grew to critical mass and then to dominate the market was these community features and the evangelism that its most dedicated members have provided for a decade now -- at virtually no cost to you (mainly because you were too cheap to spend enough). Don't think that Netflix is a "build it and they will come" story -- it has been a "build it with just-better-than-mediocre community features and they will come and build quonset huts from the cobblestones and clearly differentiate us from the surrounding wasteland" story. And now that you have your burgeoning town, you want to rip down the community center just to make room for a bigger Wal-Mart?

Here are my complaints: 1) You shouldn't give value for 10 years and then take it away. 2) You shouldn't insult then dump your most loyal (evangelical, viral) customer base TO WHOM YOU OWE YOUR EXISTENCE. 3) You shouldn't claim resources are the problem when you are front-loaded with cash and customers. 4) You shouldn't lie, dissemble, or fail to apologize for same and you shouldn't show a [documented] pattern of doing so. 5) You shouldn't claim a poor design was underused when you never worked to improve the design. 6) You shouldn't be arrogant and intellectually dishonest by cloaking what you've wanted to do for years with rationalizations that don't match with reality.

I'm seeing a growing swell of your most active members replacing hundreds of their reviews with protest messages -- and your response is to completely do away with all reviews and community features? With other active "citizen members," I devised workarounds this past week that allow me to keep using the community features with a minimum of hassle -- so I chose not to protest and to try to continue in my "citizen member" tradition. But now Netflix is beyond the pale. You've not only thrown your first and your best customers under the bus but you're backing up over them too.

Apple used to have 2% of the market too. It was called "the rest of us." Look what a loyal, dedicated, and evangelical fan base can do -- for a company that proves worthy of such a fanbase with innovation and "cool factor." If Netflix strips itself of its "cool factor" and chooses to become another commodity -- then frankly I predict that cable companies like Comcast will co-opt it in the marketplace. You know that the pipeline and media companies already have their writing on the wall.

Netflix: Be "cool." Reward loyalty. Be more than a cookie-cutter commodity company -- or those who own the pipelines and the media rights will ultimately bury you. You heard it here.