Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taking the Netflix Experience to a New Level: An Interview with Sean Kane

Making a usable website ...

"UIE’s Jared M. Spool recently had the chance to talk with expert user interface engineer, Sean Kane, to discuss the benefits of a truly usable web site, measuring web site changes, moving from a large corporation to a start-up company, rapid iterations during product launch, and hiring the right people.

Sean Kane is co-founder of GetListed, a new start-up company that is set to revolutionize the way people find and fill jobs in the employment marketplace. Before starting GetListed, Sean was the former Director of User Interface Engineering at Netflix, where he led the development of Netflix's award-winning web user interface, which was rated #1 in customer satisfaction by independent researchers five consecutive times.

UIE: During your time working as Director of UI Engineering at Netflix, the service grew tremendously. How many users did Netflix have when you first started?

Sean Kane: I was at Netflix for five years. During my tenure, Netflix grew from 500,000 to about 7 million members. I saw the company move from its old little building that was falling apart to its new glamorous headquarters. There was a lot of change over those five years, a lot of it for the better. I learned a ton about the way to build really fabulous web sites.

UIE: Netflix is a business that runs entirely off its web site. If the site isn’t working, is the company completely incapacitated?

Sean Kane: To some extent. But there’s also an offline component to the Netflix experience, which is the shipping portion of the business.

With Netflix, users build a queue of movies they want to see. Then, in a separate system, the movies get shipped off to the user through postal mail. If the site is down because of a technical problem or update, the shipping portion still carries on. People still can receive and return their movies. They just can’t pick them out on the web site. Unlike Blockbuster where people can go into the store, Netflix’s website is the only interface users can interact with. Users have the option of calling customer service or using the website, and that’s it.

UIE: Did you find that the management team at Netflix really understood the value of the website and why it had to be usable?

Sean Kane: Absolutely. In my experience, Netflix’s management is as good as it gets. Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, is a very smart guy who focuses on data mining and letting data prove everything. As a result, we were driven to create a compelling user experience across the board, with everything from picking a movie on the website to getting it shipped within a day to your house.

We wanted to create an incredible experience where brand new people show up to the Netflix site and think, “Oh, this might work, this might not.” But then, when the movie appears on their doorstep the next day, it’s always an amazing thing.

We not only wanted to create that experience, but we also wanted to make sure that we deeply understood the “why” of everything that was happening. We monitored and measured any user interaction on the site to ensure that the experience was a better one than any of the alternatives we worked with in the past."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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