Netflix Friends, Privacy, and the Network

January 10th, 2005

One of the things I’ve always kind of liked about Netflix is the curtain of privacy it tosses around your viewing habits. It isn’t like you can rent porn on Netflix, but still you are alone with your tastes and indiscretions. Netflix is in a position to collect incredibly accurate information about viewing habits, because both renting and rating are done in private. Netflix Friends changes that dynamic.

With Netflix Friends you can see what your friends are watching and share your favorite movies with them.

Renting and in particular rating are once again performative acts. There is a real value there, and in services like Audioscrobbler, or All Consuming, or 43 Things, and even the undirected social network sites like Orkut or Friendster, and yet …

I mean, I already maintain a blog, do I really want to share what I’m listening to, what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what I’m working on, and who I know? I don’t know. I just know that even though I’m flirting with Netflix Friends, I am very aware of the virtual clinking of coins, as I barter a little more privacy for a little more leveraged access to the network.

(I also predict that Netflix will over the next 6 months see an increasing disconnect between what people rate high, and what they watch, the Masterpiece Theater vs. Jerry Springer syndrome, and an associated degradation in the quality of their data.)

When Nielsen used log-books to gather information on the viewing habits of their sample families, the results were heavily skewed to Masterpiece Theater and Sesame Street. Replacing the journals with set-top boxes that reported what the set was actually tuned to showed what the average American family was really watching: naked midget wrestling, America’s Funniest Botched Cosmetic Surgeries and Jerry Springer presents: “My daughter dresses like a slut!”

update: tom is already experiencing the “social” side of it all.

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