Thanks to Netflix, I’m starting to think social networks based on individual content providers are a lost cause.
Netflix announced this week that it’s abandoning a Facebook program that let subscribers rate movies and TV shows and share those ratings with friends. Never heard of it? You’re not alone; user disinterest is the reason Netflix is shutting it down, regrouping and coming up with a better strategy.
This is the second social networking effort that Netflix has scrapped over the last year. Last September, the company discontinued the “Friends” feature on its own website, which allowed users to view each others’ queues and recommend videos. Again, unpopularity was to blame.
Maybe Netflix is just really bad at social networking, but I’m more inclined to think that social networking and services like Netflix don’t mix.
For another example, look at Ping, the iTunes-based social network Apple launched last September. Some pundits heralded it as the MySpace killer, but if Apple’s desperate e-mail reminders are any indication, Ping’s been a cultural dud so far (and MySpace has enough problems of its own).
I’ve got a few guesses why social efforts from Apple and Netflix’s don’t work: Cultivating a network of people with similar tastes in music or movies takes a lot of effort, and most people don’t have time; people don’t want to be tied to a specific service for making recommendations; and watching a movie or listening to music is often a personal thing, and only folks who are really confident in their tastes will care to share.
To put it another way, social networks like Ping or Netflix “Friends” aren’t natural. They’re a forced conversation that very few people want to have. Next time I get a recommendation for music, movies or games, it’ll probably bubble up organically from my pals Twitter or Facebook, as it should.