Those darn spelling errors will get you every time

I love Netflix. I’m particularly fond of the “watch a movie instantly” option. There is nothing better than selecting and downloading a movie onto my Mac to enjoy on a snowy Saturday. It’s fantastic that I have great entertainment choices without leaving my home.

While I adore Netflix, there are a couple ways they could improve their service.

1) Netflix should take a more assertive approach in having its users recommend movies to add to their inventory of films. There have been a number of times when I’ve looked high and low on their site for a movie, but it wasn’t available. Netflix needs a “Are we missing one of your favorite movies? Click here and tell us which one” link on their site. I would enjoy helping Netflix build their inventory.

2) Netflix needs some help with their search. Presently, subscribers search in one search box for actress, actor, director, writer, movie title, etc. I long for an advanced search or a faceted search option. With these options, I could search for movies starring Julia Roberts, that are comedies, with a run time of less than 1.5 hours, that are available to download immediately. (The facets would be: actor/actress; genre; run time; viewing options).

Netflix should also work on their authority files with regards to names. What do I mean? Over the weekend, I was in the mood to watch a film starring Catherine Keener. I logged into Netflix and searched for her like this: Katherine Keener. Netflix said they had zero movies starring this actress. I knew that was impossible. And that’s when I realized I’d misspelled her name (it’s Catherine with a ‘C,’ not a ‘K’). A good search engine would have suggested I search for “Catherine Keener.”

I was dying of curiosity to see if Netflix was smart about the actress, Katherine Heigl. Sure enough, the search engine did its job, and when I typed her name as “Catherine Heigl,” I was given results for the actress “Katherine Heigl.”

It’s interesting that Netflix would correct one Katherine, but not the other. It makes me wonder if there is there a popularity contest factoring into Netflix’s search. Do the Indie actresses who star in awesome films that aren’t box office hits receive the same treatment as actresses who star in movies that gross millions of dollars? I’d love to know how Netflix makes these decisions.

Do you recall the Underwear Bomber who tried to blow up an airplane on Christmas? He was almost caught before he boarded the plane. But the people who searched the national intelligence database misspelled his name. They were off by one letter, just like I was with Catherine Keener. And because the national intelligence database only searches for exact matches, the Underwear Bomber passed through security with no trouble.

When I build authority files or controlled vocabularies, I always anticipate that searchers will have some problems with spelling. One of my techniques is to intentionally include misspelled words in the controlled vocabulary. So, when an enduser spells something incorrectly, they are still able to retrieve relevant results.

From movies to terrorists, it’s amazing what can happen when you are off by one letter while searching.

Netflix has a couple job openings. Maybe I’ll apply and give them a hand with their search. 😉


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