Netflix shows the world how not to treat your customers by dropping Profiles — Updated: Change of plans

Like many other Netflix customers, I received the “Important News Regarding Netflix Profiles” email this week stating that Netflix “will be eliminating Profiles, the feature that allowed you to set up separate DVD Queues under one account, effective September 1, 2008.” Upon reading it, the claim sounded so absurd that I assumed it was phishing/spam. Seriously.

Sadly, the news started showing up with quotes and claims that the statement may actually be true. “Netflix Eliminating Account Profiles” (on claims that “Netflix spokesperson Steve Swasey said that the decision to eliminate Profiles is a ‘final decision.’

Here’s the kicker though; The now famous email ends with, “While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers.” Really? How so?

For those not familiar with Netflix Profiles, the feature was somewhat unique. Instead of having a single persona per account, Netflix Profiles allowed a single account (ie., household) to setup multiple profiles (ie., husband, wife, kids, pets, etc.), so that each profile could manage their own rental queue. It also allowed the main account holder (ie. the parents) to review the other profile’s queue (ie., the kids) and set limitations, like whether the profiles were allowed to rent R-rated movies. The feature was amazingly helpful in eliminating arguments about who controlled the rental queue.

Removing features from a product can be a tough decision for any Product Manager. Features that are rarely used are easy to toss aside; But (market differentiating) features that customers love should never be thrown out without helping the customers replace or replicate the same benefit in another manner. In this case, Netflix dropped a much-loved feature, but left their customers without an alternative (other then opening more Netflix accounts, which isn’t a likely reaction for irritated customers.)

For more:

[Update: 2008-06-30] Complaining works! Netflix just announced that they are keeping Profiles:

You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.

We are sorry for any inconvenience we may have caused. We hope the next time you hear from us we will delight, and not disappoint, you.

Dashboard Widget to mash iTunes library with

Just the other day I had a friend mention a desire to scrape tour schedules in MySpace so that he can find out when artists he’s interested in are in town. (He eventually decided it was too much hassle and would like someone else to do it, which is why I’m able to mention it here.) It’s a cool idea, though the OnTour Dashboard Widget takes it to perhaps another level.

The Widget monitors tour information in and compares it to the music you have in your iTunes library. The downside being, of course, that you have to hit F12 to get a notification. But otherwise, the interaction model is perfect — meaning that you don’t need to change your behavior at all, yet you gain new value and information. Brilliant.

(Via Lifehacker)

Looking across the pond for new media innovation

I just watched the BBC demo from mix06. Stunning. But while watching it, it occurred to me that the BBC’s unique position of being publicly funded is a huge advantage for adopting new media technology, and that advertising-funded media in the States seems to be battling against these same advancements.

Since UK citizens fund the BBC (at least, that’s my simplified interpretation), it is in the BBC’s interest to make their content easily available to all (paying) citizens. In other words, DVR’s, IPTV, and video iPod’s can be embraced rather then feared. Additionally, since their funding is somewhat fixed and consistent (ie., no spiky ad revenue), it is also in the BBC’s interest to reduce content distribution costs where possible to free up money for new content creation (ie., P2P file sharing amongst their customers is a good thing since it cuts the BBC’s direct bandwidth costs.)

Where it gets particularly interesting though, is that the BBC should be in no way threatened by the idea that their viewers will be copying, re-mixing, fast-forwarding, place-shifting, and sharing the content. With no need to track ad impressions, there’s no dreaded “30-second-skip” attacking legacy business models. Surly they still need to track customer interest to know which shows to fund, but that seems a lot easier then developing content based on how lucrative a viewing audience is for advertisers.

What’s great about this situation is how well it demonstrates the connection between business models and the ability to embrace change and adopt to consumer needs. In the States, we are at risk of legislation making it illegal to watch movies on one’s computer and even more illegal to share a video with a friend. In the UK, IPTV and P2P networks might just save the country money.

“Embracing the Mobile Hacker Ethic”

Gizmodo has a piece today titled “Embracing the Mobile Hacker Ethic” that covers Python for Series 60, Macromedia Flash Lite, and the Maemo Platform as technologies that empower individual developers to create their own mobile applications. The article also happens to feature a few quotes by me :-)

“If people are going to innovate, they need to feel comfortable rapidly proofing new ideas and throwing away code when something doesn’t work,” Smartt says. “That’s less likely to happen if application development takes months. With Python for Series 60, it should be possible to produce a simple proof-of-concept application in an afternoon.”

Obviously that’s taking a narrow view on what “innovation” can mean, but it builds on my recent post: “Extreme Programming vs. Interaction Design” where I tried to make a point that high-quality design and user experiences come from iteration and trial-and-error, and the more places that an “iterative culture” can be adopted in product development, the better the products will be.

Thanks Gizmodo (and Carlo) for helping to promote the Python for Series 60 project!

And now the PS3…

Sony has now announced the PS3, and as expected, it’s processing power dwarfs the new XBox. These two consoles are touting technical specs that you simply cannot get in a desktop PC for anything near the expected street prices.

The original XBox is younger then the PS2, so it’s had the upper hand in graphics capabilities. But the third generation consoles will flip the status quo with the PS3 holding the lead position in raw power. That’s certainly a good thing for Sony, being the leader in the console industry. But is it enough? Obviously both consoles have the potential for some amazing game play, but Microsoft is positioning their device as more then a game console and building value with their XBox Live network.

I read a few scarce bits about a “PlayStation World” network that will offer an online retreat for PS3 owners, but nothing about improving their online game play business model. As I mentioned in my last post, Microsoft has a serious advantage with it’s unified online service and a media strategy built around their console. They are taking advantage of the position the console fills — being online and connected to consumers’ televisions. They are turning it into a media device to be used for games, music, and movies.

The irony is that Sony *is* a media company but they seem to be forgetting it. The PS3 has the power to be the center of my home media system if it can just get music and video from my file server (running OS X) and the internet without proprietary DRM. The XBox claims to pull media from Windows machines on the network, which doesn’t help me out, but at least they’re trying and hackers will get it working from other OS’s soon enough. I’m afraid the PS3 is going to be an ultra powerful video, sound, and graphics machine siting idle while some other device handles my movies and tunes (and it sounds like a Mac Mini is still the most capable option for the money.) It’s unfortunate, but there’s still hope. The PS3 isn’t shipping anytime soon and Sony still has time to announce and evolve it’s online and media strategy for the next gen console. Hopefully they’re thinking big.