Netflix is testing new multiuser personalized profiles for single accounts with a limited number of subscribers. The new functionality lets you create a profile for each member of your household, complete with personalized viewing recommendations and independent streaming queues. There are also parental controls for profiles for children under 12.
Netflix has a long history of trying to perfect personalization for its customers. The company's most famous attempt was the Netflix Prize, which offered a cash reward to anyone who could improve Netflix's algorithm for movie recommendations. Netflix also offers a "Personalize" function where you can rate previously viewed titles to help Netflix improve your recommendations.
I recently signed up for Netflix and have access to the new profiles, so let's dive in for a detailed look at the new multiuser profiles on Netflix's Web browser interface for PCs.
It's not clear whether Netflix plans to roll out the service to all users, and as with any beta product any features you see here could change in the future.
Creating a profile
To start a new personalized profile you choose an avatar from a list that includes images such as a cowboy, football player, ninja, pony, blank face and dinosaur. Currently, there is no option to upload your own photo, and it's not clear whether Netflix plans on adding that feature.
Next, you fill out a brief questionnaire about the types of movies you like to watch; this will determine what Netflix calls your taste preferences, a feature first introduced in 2009. The questionnaire has two sections that all start with the phrase, "How often do you watch," and then you are asked to check off "Never," "Sometimes" or "Often" for each question.
The first section is called "Moods" and includes items such as absurd, campy, dark, goofy, heartfelt, inspiring, mind-bending, violent and witty. The second section covers genres with options such as action & adventure, animation, documentaries, dramas, independent movies, sci-fi & fantasy, TV shows and thrillers.
If you're not clear on what Netflix means by a genre name or mood such as "mind-bending," you can see examples for each. Violent, for example, included movies such as "Gladiator," "The Matrix," "The Patriot" and "Silence of the Lambs" -- a fairly broad definition of violent to say the least.
After the questionnaire is finished, Netflix generates your personalized recommendation lists and takes you to your profile. At the top of the page, you get a list of your top 10 recommendations. This appears to be based on your taste preferences, your Netflix movie ratings (if you have any), and what you add to your streaming and DVD queues. After I added the documentary "Frankensteer" and the cartoon "Justice League: Doom" to my instant queue, my top 10 included an overwhelming number of superhero cartoons and one food documentary.
After the top 10, you have sections that include the most popular movies and TV shows on Netflix, followed by recommendation lists based on your taste preferences.
Netflix uses your taste preferences to create hyper-personalized categories such as "foreign TV comedies," "mind-bending independent dramas," "sentimental thrillers," and "critically-acclaimed violent documentaries." Alongside each of these personalized sections, Netflix displays exactly which parts of your taste preferences it used to create the new categories.
The personalized hybrid categories are interesting, but as others have complained about this feature in the past, I felt they tended to be hit and miss for things I was actually interested in. After your hyper-personalized recommendation sections, Netflix shows you some non-personalized generic sections such as new releases, TV comedies, TV dramas, and classic movies.
To switch between profiles, you just click the avatar in the upper right corner of the screen and select the next profile from a drop-down list. One nice little touch is that when you switch between user profiles, the avatar for the profile that's loading appears in the center of the screen.
For parents, Netflix offers specialized profiles that control content appropriate for children under 12. You can also further restrict viewing by editing your child's profile so that only content with specific ratings such as G, PG and below, and PG-13 and below are included. I didn't see a big difference between children's profiles when I selected specific movie ratings. Netflix seems to be playing it pretty safe for kids' profiles, and by default it shows its Just for Kids section introduced in 2011.
Netflix's multiple user profiles didn't appear to have any password protection features in my tests. So while kids' profiles may help restrict content in their profile, there doesn't seem to be anything stopping them from switching over to yours to check out the content you have.
If Netflix does roll out multiple user profiles to everyone, I think it will be a handy addition just for the fact that you can divide up personal viewing queues -- at least for streaming, I didn't sign-up for the DVD option. And if Netflix can tweak its algorithm for controlling taste preferences, maybe one day the "feel-good romantic independent comedies" section will actually have a few movies I'd like to see.