Love It or Hate It: Netflix Has Changed

When a company with a dead giveaway like "Net" in its name redesigns its webpage, it's big news. And as we've seen every time Facebook or Twitter revamps its landing pages, or Yahoo! updates its monstrously popular Yahoo! Mail, disgruntled users come out en masse to complain about it.

That's where Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) stands today. The landing page for its increasingly central Watch Instantly service just got a severe overhaul, and many users hate it. The announcement on the Netflix blog had received just 38 Facebook "likes," but more than 800 mostly negative comments as of this writing.

Why all the rancor? In short, the browser-based streaming spread now looks and feels more like the custom menu systems on your Roku box, Blu-ray player, or gaming console. Categorized cover images fill the page with larger and more detailed covers than before. Star ratings are hiding in pop-up balloons that activate when your mouse hovers over a movie long enough, along with the usual brief synopsis, an option to add the item to your streaming queue, and a link to the detailed information page. Clicking on a cover defaults to playing the movie.

It's a radical departure from the DVD-browsing interface, which remains unchanged in case you want a before-and-after comparison, and even that slightly more traditional presentation is a serious shift from the Netflix of old.

There was a time when Netflix looked like Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , with text-packed sidebars and cluttered presentation. That's fine for general retailing, but Netflix now caters to impulse clicks that don't cost you a dime. So now it's easier to just start watching something to see if you like it, than to spend a few extra clicks to see a rating or read reviews.

Whether that's good or bad is up to you, the consumer. I'm still getting used to the change and am not sure I like it. The website is handy for doing research and loading up your instant-watching queue, but I still don't like to watch movies on my computer screen. So why make it harder to find the info I'm looking for?

The answer may lie in operational efficiency. This looks like an attempt to share code and development efforts between the webpage and the programming interfaces presented to outside developers. And as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) has shown, there's value in having a consistent user interface when moving from one device to the next.

In the end, Netflix lives and dies by user satisfaction. If this revamp leads to happier users and better word-of-mouth marketing, then it's all good. An unpopular interface will go the way of the dodo bird in short order. But you can bet that CEO Reed Hastings has applied his engineering background and tested the changes with impunity before rolling them out to every customer.

Despite my misgivings, I expect the change to help Netflix more than it hurts. And if I want sortable lists or at-a-glance ratings, I can always just use the DVD pages instead -- or go look for browser extensions that change the Netflix experience back to the old model.

One thing is for sure: Netflix is never boring. Click here to add the stock to My Watchlist, just to make sure you don't blink and miss the next mini-revolution in digital video.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Yahoo! and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Netflix, Yahoo!, and Apple, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple and buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (4)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2011, at 4:25 PM, MutualFundMonday wrote:

    "Despite my misgivings, I expect the change to help Netflix more than it hurts."

    Huh? When your subscriber base is clearly upset about the changes, how is this going to help Netflix? The changes will not help subscription rates. If anything, it gives people one more reason to cancel if they were about to.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2011, at 5:00 PM, Borbality wrote:

    Wahh. it's the same for every website, maybe most pronounced on facebook. You get used to it, some bugs are worked out, and then you don't even remember there was a change. It's the internet.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2011, at 5:02 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    @MutualFundMonday, that makes sense if you assume that most users are on the brink of canceling anyway. I don't think that's even remotely true. @Borbality explains in layman's terms what's happening here.

    Anders

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2011, at 6:03 AM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    Should also have mentioned this: the new design is full of "hover here" features. It's how you bring up the info balloon, scroll movie lists, and more. How do you hover the mouse pointer on a tablet? Perhaps not the most forward-thinking idea of the century.

    Anders

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2011, at 5:00 PM, willnott wrote:

    Not sure how a hovering system works if connected via Roku either.... Didn't check it out yet, but gotta wonder - wanna use just my programmable remote - nothing else.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2011, at 5:04 PM, willnott wrote:

    Sometines engineers (like Reed Hastings) and other "techies" just do not comprehend "ease of use", but seem to prefer adding innumerable gadgets & gimmicks.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2011, at 1:28 AM, optofonik wrote:

    Anyone who thinks the new interface will help Netflix retain customers and expand isn’t thinking like a customer. That’s the problem and with alternatives to Netflix preparing in the wings you can be sure that, in the future, the company will be mentioned in the same breath as companies such as Alta-Vista and Netscape. They are ignoring their customers concerns and that is the beginning of the end for any successful company. Sell now or pay for their folly.

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