If you’re frustrated by the recommendation bubble Netflix seems to have you trapped in, we’ve got some tried and true tips to help you break out and get more from your Netflix subscription.
What Is the Netflix “Recommendation Bubble”?
Netflix mostly does a good job recommending new content you’ll enjoy, but that their recommendation engine does have its shortcomings. There are three distinct ways you can find yourself stuck in a bubble of suggestions on Netflix, and it helps to understand how they happen so you know how to fix them.
- Netflix recommendations skew heavily towards what you’re currently interested in, but have a blind spot for content you watched before Netflix (or never rated on the service). That’s great for serving up content that jives with your current obsessions, but it also means you can quickly get stuck in a recommendation rut.
- Recommendations get diluted if multiple people use the same account without taking advantage of separate profiles. Differing tastes can muddy the water, and the Netflix algorithm is left floundering around trying to figure out if the person that just sat down is a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy, My Little Pony, or both.
- Finally, the star ratings are something of a bubble in and of themselves. You might think the Netflix rating is an average of all the users who’ve rated an item, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead, the star rating is an average of people who Netflix has decided have similar viewing habits to you. That makes some sense in that ratings are more likely to apply to you, but it’s also a bit misleading. While it might be good for some comfort-food-style TV viewing, it means you’re missing out on a lot of good content.
Let’s take a look at how you can both improve the recommendations Netflix gives you and burst the bubble you’re stuck in to see even more great content.
Fix Your Recommendations on Netflix
Before we get into reaching beyond the service itself to get better recommendations, let’s focus on how we can use the tools built right into Netflix to significantly improve and diversify recommendations.
Rate Everything, Old and New
Don’t be a dirty non-participant. If you watch Breaking Bad and think it’s the best show you’ve ever watched, give it five stars. If you watch a third-rate sci-fi show and it makes you want to gouge your eyes out, give it one star. If you don’t rate things, then Netflix simply goes off the premise of “Well they watched, so they must have been interested!”
Furthermore, don’t just rate what you’re watching today. Take the time to rate old content. If you watched Dexter before you even had a Netflix account but you loved the show, then take a moment to look Dexter up and give it five stars. Anytime you see a TV show or movie that you liked while you’re browsing through Netflix, take a moment to rate it. You can also run through and rate stuff you’ve watched in the past pretty quickly by logging into Netflix with a web browser and heading to Account > My Profile > Ratings.
Remove Viewed and Ratings
At the same time you’re busily rating content, be sure to purge old content and check to see that old ratings—or those you left accidentally—aren’t messing up your recommendations. To tidy up both your watched history and your ratings, log into your Netflix account with a web browser and navigate to Account > My Profile > Viewing Activity.
We detail the process in our tutorial here if you want step-by-step guidance. Not only does this have the benefit of improving recommendations but it also tidies up the “Continue Watching” queue in the process—Netflix will never bug you again to finish watching that show you rage-quit halfway through.
Take Advantage of User Profiles
Netflix has supported profiles for ages, and even if you’re the only user in your household, you should still be using them. In a multi-user household, the benefits of profiles are obvious—each person’s ratings, recommendations, and “Continue Watching” queue stays separate. In a single-user household (or if you don’t want per-viewer profiles), you can still do things like:
- Set up a guest profile so when you have company over, their viewing habits don’t muck up your recommendations.
- Set up a temporary profile for special occasions—like a “Horror Movie” account for that Halloween party.
- Set up one profile for movies and one for TV shows, so it’s easier to find what you’re in the mood for.
- Set up a profile for a new genre you want to check out.
Check out our Netflix profile tutorial for the full run down on how to configure profiles for everyone in your home. If you don’t bother to set up profiles, you have no reason to complain when Netflix constantly recommends movies based on your 10-year-old daughter’s viewing habits.
Pop The Netflix Bubble with Third Party Tools
Netflix’s greatest strength—a pretty well-honed recommendation algorithm—is also its greatest weakness in many ways. Netflix is so good at pegging who we are based on what we watch, that we end up in a little viewing bubble. No amount of poking and prodding the search results, as we did in the previous section, is going to pop the bubble. For that we need to turn to third party tools and tricks to get a big-picture look at what’s on Netflix.
Tap into Netflix’s “Secret” Genre Categories
Our first trick is a hybrid of using Netflix (like we did in the last section) and using third-party tools. In addition to the regular categories you see when you’re browsing Netflix, like “Critically-acclaimed Comedies” and whatnot, there is a whole level of very granular categories within the Netflix database.
You can’t just pull up the hidden genre categories from the regular Netflix interface (there’s no master list accessible either in the Netflix apps or on the Netflix site), but you can take advantage of category lists other people have put together on your behalf—like the list found at Netflixcodes.me. Check out the full run down in our guide to tapping into Netflix’s secret codes in our tutorial.
Search Netflix with Non-Netflix Search Tools
As we highlighted earlier, Netflix ratings are tailored to you: the rating you see isn’t a global rating, but a rating for people with similar viewing habits to yours. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could search the Netflix catalog with a broader rating system like, say, the ratings on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes?
Thankfully, there are plenty of third-party tools that mash up the Netflix catalog with external ratings. What Is On Netflix? uses Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and Metacritic to help you find films. It even has a New on Netflix category and a Random Pick button (for those times you really want to watch something but you’ve got Netflix paralysis). The service is available both as a web app and a mobile app.
Upflix is a similar tool–mobile only, though—that taps into IMDB, Flixster, Rotten Tomatoes, and TMDB (for TV show rankings). Not only is the mobile experience polished, but it’s super easy to jump from a search listing on Upflix to the actual listing on the Netflix mobile app.
If the very idea of wading through recommendations is just too much, you can always cut out the search experience altogether and go right to Flix Roulette, a random movie/show picture that includes category and keyword filters.
Track What’s Leaving Netflix
Netflix is very hush-hush about what’s leaving the service, presumably because they think advertising what’s leaving damages their “everything’s-on-Netflix” allure. However, finding out what is leaving Netflix is a great way to not only get exposed to new content but to enjoy that content before it’s gone.
The whole topic of “What’s leaving Netflix” is hot enough that many websites have a regular monthly article about it. The Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and other publications routinely publish such lists. If you’re not a regular reader of a publication that already works the Netflix beat, you can use dedicated websites like the Leaving Soon category from What is On Netflix.
It takes a little extra effort, but the end result of cleaning up your recommendations, rating what you watch, making use of profiles, using Netflix’s quirky genre codes, and tapping into services like Upflix is a radically enhanced viewing experience and fresh content you might otherwise have missed.