Netflix Apologizes, Renames DVD Service To Qwikster, Draws More Fire

A couple months ago, the household name, Netflix, brought household outrage by eliminating their popular DVD/Streaming package and replacing it with the option to purchase two separate packages at a large price hike. Today, it seems that the wisdom “better late than never” might not apply to the apology email that Netflix sent out to its subscribers and posted on its blog. If the comments on the blog post are any indication, Netflix is in for another round of abuse.

The Apology that was sent out on behalf of CEO Reed Hastings started out feeling very heart-felt, opening with “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.” Hastings follows this with his sincere apology for the way Netflix rolled out the price/package changes:

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

Qwikster

After the brief apology, the email goes on to point out that the pricing and package change was part of a much bigger move to turn the DVD side of Netflix into a completely separate company, complete with separate charges on your card if you have both services. The new company, Qwikster, will handle all the physical discs with Netflix freed up to focus on streaming. This leaves me with an obvious question…

What Are You Doing, Netflix?

As a subscriber only to the streaming service, neither the previous nor the current changes leave me with the feelings of betrayal others seem to have experienced, but as a business owner, I’m scratching my head. Netflix built a wonderful monopoly on the DVD-by-mail business and even began a decent transition into streaming. Despite kiosk offerings from RedBox and Blockbuster, Netflix still had the largest selection with a solid customer base. The pricing and package changes damaged customer loyalty, but this feels like Netflix is positioning themselves to move out of the DVD-by-mail arena completely.

At Least There’s Games By Mail Now

One thing I felt positive about in this announcement is that Netflix Qwikster will be offering games by mail as well. Though I’ve honestly never gotten serious enough about the idea of games by mail to sign up for a competitor like Game Fly, I love the idea. Sadly, the thought that I can’t do it through Netflix leaves me in the “maybe some day” area. Frankly, I’ve always had small nervous breakdowns when a disc from Netflix or RedBox looks like someone tried to watch it by scratching it up with a set of keys, so maybe this saves me from a mid-game mental meltdown anyway. You disc-scratchers know who you are.

The Streaming-Only Upside

Because I only subscribe to the streaming service at home, this change may actually present a large benefit to me. I often wonder when Netflix will bring the streaming library up to speed. They have millions of discs for mailing out, but far too often do I find myself searching for something only to find it unavailable for instant watching. I’m crossing my fingers that we’re headed for a larger Instant Watch selection, but I’m not holding my breath.

Harnessing the Twitter API for an Online Radio Station

Some of you already know about things I do aside from this blog, and one of those things is a radio station I run called GotBlack Radio. The station plays gothic, industrial and electronic music and is mostly automated. I won’t get into all the details here, but the station is essentially just an ever-changing one-song playlist that is randomly re-generated via a PHP script that grabs a random track. I had a colleague modify an existing flash music player to my tastes and built the rest on my own.

Previously, I had gone with a couple different community-based platforms, but they either wanted to run ads or I had to run the station from a PC in my house or they just didn’t offer the level of control I wanted. Because of this series of cons I experiences, I decided to build my own radio platform, as simple as it is, giving me all the control and making it easy for me to add any feature I wanted. The best examples of this new-feature control have come recently in integrating the station with Twitter.

Why I integrated with Twitter
Some people still don’t know what Twitter is, and that’s understandable because people seem to have a hard time trying to explain it. Technically, it’s a micro-blogging platform. What that means is that a user writes just a snippet rather than a whole post like this. It’s like telling a whole bunch of people all at once what’s going on in one or two sentences. This seemed to me like the perfect place to let existing listeners know about radio updates while letting new people know about the station.

A little birdie told me
Every five minutes or so, GB Radio plays another track. While people could always sit and listen 24 hours a day to know what’s playing, most people don’t have the time. I took a little of the code I use in TwitterTech.com and plugged it into the custom PHP radio server code and in about 15 minutes, @gbradio was serving up updates on what was playing live. Now, instead of having to visit the site to see what’s playing, anyone on Twitter can simply follow the station for live updates.

Tweeting radio tracks

More than 40,000 updates later, it’s still running on its own without me having to even check up on it. Sadly, I hadn’t even logged into the Twitter account in months or told many people about it, but the account seems to be working for me. The updates have created searchable content for Twitter. This means that when someone searches for an artist’s name or a song title on Twitter and it’s an artist or track that I have in the music database, there’s a decent chance that person will come across a tweet from gbradio, finding a new station to listen to.

Tweet your request and hear it played
Sometimes you want to hear a particular piece of music and you just don’t want to wait. Before, I didn’t really have a request system in place because I just haven’t built the whole web interface for requests. Luckily, the Twitter API is dead simple, so I slapped together a request system in about 15 minutes and after another half hour of debugging (oops!), the request system was live.

Twitter radio request

The station doesn’t have a ton of followers yet, but as more and more join, it becomes clear that not only will my listeners benefit from the added functionality, but so will my follower (and listener) numbers.

Will code for followers
What happens when you add useful functionality to the web? Sometimes people notice and you reap the rewards. While my gbradio Twitter account isn’t exactly swimming in followers, it’s clear that the live updates are helping get it there.

Twitter stats for gbradio

Just to put things in perspective, when I created the account, I searched for and followed maybe 100 people who showed some interest in the music that’s played on the station. Like I noted above, though, I hadn’t even logged into the account in months. Looking at the graph above tells me that followers didn’t come in when I went looking for them, but with the new functionality, they’re just coming in on their own.

What’s next?
If you want to succeed at something you need to not only recognize your failures, but you must also pay attention to what works. What works here is programming to the wants and needs of the people who listen to the station and are also on Twitter. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I’m open to ideas, especially since the API makes everything so terribly easy.