We know that Netflix personalises its home page for all algorithm-based users, offering specific categories that the company thinks will encourage the user to start watching a show, film or special. And as I scrolled through my Netflix home page the other day, I noticed that the suggested categories had a current theme: I think I wanted to look at a “cynical” or “dark” thing.
Sometimes the categories are like “Suspense TV Shows.” Sometimes they are like “Teen TV for BFFs” or “Girls Night Night”. Sometimes, as in the other day, they uncomfortable close to home.
A few years ago, people were armed when revealing that Facebook offers its members an opportunity to find out if the social media company thinks they are liberal, moderate or conservative. The Facebook algorithm could guess the political bias based on member habits and served ads accordingly.
Similarly, Netflix uses an algorithm to track its own users. Netflix's algorithm considers what subscribers want to see on an individual basis, since all subscribers surrendered personal information about their company and disliked them. Theoretically, any subscriber can find out what Netflix thinks about his personality.
And Netflix thinks I'm not cynical, which means it's wrong.
Netflix also personalises the images it uses to advertise all content on the home page. As the company explained in a 2017 blog post, various participants will receive different images based on their viewing habits. For example, a person who likes the genre of love could serve a picture with two characters looking at each other slowly, even if the film doesn't have the same thing as a romantic plot.
As you can see in the image above, Netflix gave me a category “Technical Technical Shows”. Within this category, the company recommended “Russian Doll,” a comedy that I must admit I love to tone (recently I named the best Netflix Original show of 2019 so far). But rather than show a picture of the visualist Nadia Vulvokov in sight, Netflix gave me a customized image of Nadia wearing sunglasses in a change of symbol of skull and crossbones. Cynical!
Next to that image, Netflix gave me a picture of Ricky Gervais who was looking sadly into the camera to promote her show “After Life”. And next to that, a show “Hot Date” has no “hot date” image and instead has a dark bar with a person acting as a mess on one side and a pattern passed out on the other side.
What is Netflix trying to tell me?
I should make the caveat that the algorithm is unlikely to work on my particular account, since I have to review as many television shows. It may have been three weeks to look at “Black Mirror,” the German bleak show “Dark” and the special music program “Anima”, the sad one Thom Yorke, in a row for various articles.
Netflix gave me personal categories “Dark TV Movies” and “Sci-Fi & Fantasy Television”, which I have to imagine I have to do something to look at a sci-fi thriller called “Dark.”
But if you also do not review TV shows, then you should be able to see if you see the algorithm.
So what does this mean to you?
We hope that Netflix finds that you are smart and cool when you go to your home page. Or it may suggest “Friends” and “Office” in a variety of ways with categories such as “Casual Watching” or “External Sites” (though it may stop those shows since that Netflix will lose both of them soon).
If you find something that is very worrying, you can tell yourself just that Netflix was testing to find out if you like a new thing, other than your already proven interests to demonstrate in that case. The company always experiments with the extent to which subscribers will persuade them to stay longer on the service.
You can also mess with the algorithm. Think about an article I did about the 10 most hidden items on Netflix to check out (such as color tests and a long film that follows a train traveling across Norway in real time). Look at the few times and who knows what Netflix will recommend.
And the fingers crossed that you do not find that Netflix is of the opinion that you are excellent. But if you do, give up your cynical tendencies for a moment and look for the bright side … at least not think Netflix would like to watch “Teen TV for BFFs.”
Unless, of course, there are two of the teen BFFs that bind to each other in a trench coat to remind all the Netflix eye to think that you are not just one user to share subscription expenses. Then there's no shame at all.
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