Netflix axes 'friends' feature due to unpopularity

For more than five years, Netflix has had a feature called "Friends" which lets users connect their Netflix account with others so they can view each other's queues, suggest movies to each other, or see how a movie ranks against their peers' ratings.

Todd Yellin, Netflix VP of Product Management said that after six years, only two percent of subscribers actually used the feature, so it is going to be phased out in the coming months.

"No company has unlimited resources and we decided to move engineering development time and resources from a little used feature to support and maintain the things that benefit all Netflix members as the service evolves -- more devices for streaming and better encoding, for example," Yellin said.

Streaming, by comparison, is an absolute smash. Yellin said that roughly 50% of all Netflix subscribers use the Instant Streaming feature on their TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles.

Unfortunately, the way the change became evident was rather clumsy.

Last week, Netflix implemented a new "Movie Detail" page on its Web site, which eliminated top 10 lists, friend ratings, and the ability to send movie notes. The features were still on the site, but their tabs were just removed from the page. Customers who used the "friends" feature were upset.

On a Hacking Netflix article about it last week, one commenter said, "The Friends feature and Top Ten Lists are *not* on individual movie pages any longer. Reviews from random Netflix users *are* there, however, and that makes absolutely no sense. Why would I care more about a random Netflix user's opinion than my friends'?"

Rather than letting subscribers know up front that the feature was in the process of being removed, Netflix just pulled the feature from its prominent position and relegated it to the background.

"We fumbled the ball this week," Yellin said. "In making some changes to the Movie Display Page we didn't fully communicate how they impact users of the Friends feature, and we owe you that. We've read every blog post, Tweet, news article and call log to Customer Service by those of you who are upset about this decision. To you, we apologize for not being more upfront earlier. We appreciate your passion and we understand your disappointment and frustration. Our decision is meant to benefit all Netflix members by allowing everyone to enjoy more movies and more TV episodes on more devices while still receiving the unbeatable convenience, selection and value that are the hallmarks of the Netflix service."

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