Monday, October 10, 2011

Every online service should have a data extraction feature

This post was initially inspired by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' blog post that apologized for the recent price hike and then announced that their movie-by-mail service would be spun off to a separate site named Qwikster.  My concern was that I would then have to manage two separate movie queues and, more importantly, two sets of movie ratings.

Sidetrack...  One primary driver that makes me like Netflix so much is my horrible memory.  I've seen a fair number of movies, but I don't really remember much about most of them.  But given any particular movie I can take a glance at my Netflix rating history and get an idea of how much I liked (or disliked) it.  This seems like a pretty simple idea, but for me it's pretty great.

Anyway...  The announcement of Qwikster even had me considering quitting Netflix for about half a second.  But Netflix does not provide a way to extract your rating history from their service.  And I've rated a lot of movies on there - 1120 at latest count (though I'd estimate that I've only watched 700-800 on Netflix).  There are, or at least were, some ways to hack your rating history out of Netflix, but the couple that I found appear to not function any more (though I did not verify this myself).

Wouldn't it be great if Netflix, and other online services, had a data liberation team like Google's?  The folks at Google even have a feature called Google Takeout that allows you to download your data from an expanding list of Google services.  Even Facebook has a way to archive and download all your Facebook data (there's a link that says "Download a copy of your Facebook data" at the bottom of the Account Settings page).  This makes it easy to keep all your data if you stop using a service, or transition to a different provider.  Unfortunately, this ties into why they wouldn't want to provide this feature - they want to keep you hooked.

OK, so maybe Netflix doesn't really have enough of my data that they need a huge archiving system.  But I would have thought that it wouldn't be that hard to provide a simple API that allows external applications (that I authorize) to access my movie ratings.  In fact, this feature has been in request for over 3 years now.  It seems that the hang-up has been with the legal department - privacy issues and the like.

Anyway, Reed and Netflix today announced that DVDs will be staying on Netflix, and that Qwikster is not going to happen.  So the status quo will be maintained.  And I won't be leaving Netflix...which wasn't going to happen anyway.

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