About Netflix-O-Matic

Netflix-O-Matic is a fun toy you can use to find something new to watch online. It was built by Good, Form & Spectacle, a London design firm focussed on cultural heritage projects.

This project started in December of 2013 as I tailed tweets about Netflix "micro-genres" by Alexis Madrigal. He was preparing to write an article in The Atlantic Monthly. One of his tweets contained a URL which I started poking at, just changing the numbers at the end, to see what would come up. Turns out it exposed a bunch of Netflix genres I’d never encountered before. I tweeted that link.

My friends, Paul Mison and Nick Sweeney, in California and North Carolina respectively, jumped in and started slurping up as many genres as they could find, and movies associated with them. Note that this is a limited set. After a pretty short time we had a database of genres and movies. Yeah!

That’s about as far as we got before Mr. Madrigal published his How Netflix Reverse-Engineered Hollywood article. He and his team created a widget to let viewers construct their own more or less arbitrary genre names, thanks to the deconstructive work Madrigal had done studying the structure of the genres.

"We've now spent several weeks understanding, analyzing, and reverse-engineering how Netflix's vocabulary and grammar work. We've broken down its most popular descriptions, and counted its most popular actors and directors.

"To my (and Netflix's) knowledge, no one outside the company has ever assembled this data before.

"What emerged from the work is this conclusion: Netflix has meticulously analyzed and tagged every movie and TV show imaginable. They possess a stockpile of data about Hollywood entertainment that is absolutely unprecedented. The genres that I scraped and that we caricature above are just the surface manifestation of this deeper database."

While it was an interesting exposition, I personally found the resulting widget more anatomical than useful, and thought it might be more fun to make a way to surf around the genres themselves, as they exist, because they’re fun all on their own — Exciting Sword & Sandal Action Sci-Fi & Fantasy = YES!! - and could probably help find a movie you’d never even heard of.

Fast forward to October 2014, London. You put me, Frankie Roberto and Dan Williams in a greenhouse for a day, and out pops Netflix-O-Matic, a fun toy to explore thousands of Netflix genres!

It’s hopefully quite simple, at least for Version 1.

When you see a genre, it’ll look like this:

Slapstick Comedies from the 1980s →

I thought it might be fun to split this one up into its constituent parts, as well as having a way to look at all the movies in that genre, so there’s a slightly clunky way* to surf both into and out of a single genre. Cutting them up can take you to:

[ Slapstick ][ Comedies ][ from the 1980s ], or the whole genre
[ Slapstick Comedies from the 1980s ] (view by clicking the at the end)

So, it’s rough, but fun, we hope. We also put a link through to Netflix itself once you get to a movie so if you’re a subscriber, you can watch something you’ve discovered practically by accident. Bear in mind that it’s not an exact copy of all the movies available at any time on Netflix. It might be better to just think of it as a genre browser in that regard. But, you might find fun stuff you wouldn’t have thought to search for.

* If you have an idea for a nice way to do that double-barreled navigation to either the sum or its parts of a genre, please do let us know with a tweet to @goodformand.

It’s a Ruby/Postgres app running on Heroku. I used a handy CSS library called Skeleton that helped bash out a responsive view quickly too. We were also sorry to discover that Netflix has decided to close down its public API on November 14, 2014, otherwise we might have tried to make more.

Thanks again to my co-conspirators, Paul, Nick, Frankie and Dan for helping pull this toy together. It was also fun to hang out in the new Greenhouse N16 space in London. Thanks to Rob and Tara for having us for the day. I've also written a blog post that goes into a little more detail about why the user experience is designed like it is.

We hope you enjoy it!

George Oates


Brought to you by Good, Form & Spectacle.