Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about the “Netflix friends” tool, which allowed friends to find each other on Netflix and to see how those friends had rated particular films (some of those reflections eventually found their way into Reinventing Cinema) I expressed ambivalence about having others see how I had rated movies (or knowing which movies I had seen), but ended up trying it out for a while. Eventually I forgot about it and didn’t even notice when the Netflix community features were closed. Apparently Netflix eventually created a tool that allowed you to integrate your Netflix ratings with your Facebook profile, and although I never did this (as far as I can remember), I don’t think that it’s something I likely wouldn’t have chosen to do. And, given this recent announcement by Netflix that it is “retooling” their Facebook integration application, it would appear that many Netflix users likely agree with me.
Netflix’s reasons for creating the program seem reasonable enough: it’s useful and interesting to know what movies and TV shows your friends and community are watching: word-of-mouth recommendations can be very powerful in navigating the massive menu of media content. But the comments to the Netflix post are extremely instructive in showing how hyperconnectivity has its limits. Some of the commenters emphasize that they are not on Facebook, many of them due to privacy concerns about the site. Others don’t want their friends to know how they’ve rated certain films (one commenter suggested it would be “embarrassing” if her friends saw that she had rated more than a dozen or so films). Others pointed out that the feature clogged their news feeds on Facebook, turning the ratings into a version of Facebook “spam.” Although I have little doubt that Netflix will develop another friends feature, I am intrigued by how this “failure” illustrates some of the potential limits of the uneasy intersections between social networking, marketing, and privacy. But I am also intrigued by the degree to which many of the Netflix commenters are thinking critically about these issues.