If you've been taking in some of Netflix's freshest and newest content lately, you may have stumbled upon some of their original series, like Queer Eye or Love, Death & Robots.
These shows are special in terms of television programming, partially because they are non-linear in terms of narration. You don't have to watch them in any particular order to know what's going on.
And now, Netflix is taking advantage of that and presenting these shows in different orders for different viewers.
TL;DR Netflix is experimenting with shuffling the order of their episodes for shows that run a non-linear narrative. This means that you may experience shows in a different order than your friends. Details below.
Just discovered the most INSANE thing. The ORDER OF THE EPISODES for Netflix's new series Love Death & Robots changes based on whether Netflix thinks you're gay or straight.— Lukas Thoms (@LukasThoms) March 19, 2019
The tweet above, by Squarespace product manager Lukas Thoms, first called out this phenomenon yesterday.
At the same time, here at the MTL Blog offices, we were having a very similar conversation about Queer Eye.
My co-worker and I were bonding over our love of Queer Eye and I said, "The last episode was my absolutely favouite. The Jones Sisters were the best."
Her response? "They totally were... but wasn't that the second episode?"
On the left is my account, starting with the one with a lesbian storyline, and the right is my straight friend Andrew's account, starting with the one that has the most realistic and explicit hetero sex. pic.twitter.com/kSMuaFhSbU— Lukas Thoms (@LukasThoms) March 19, 2019
My co-worker then explained that she had already had this conversation with her partner, as well, as they had seen some Queer Eye episodes in a varied order as well.
Netflix then responded to Thoms with the following tweet:
We've never had a show like Love, Death & Robots before so we're trying something completely new: presenting four different episode orders. The version you're shown has nothing to do with gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity — info we don't even have in the first place.— Netflix US (@netflix) March 19, 2019
The new series Love, Death & Robots is an 18 episode series of short-film style stories that range from Wall-E inspired to animated Black Mirror tales about robots.
It makes sense, then, that they would take the opportunity to vary the episode order for this show, too, considering each episode is a standalone story that doesn't require the context of other episodes.
so... all the times I've been raving to my friends to watch at least the first episode, there's a chance they've been watching the really frickin' hetero episode and not the lesbians and monsters episode that I clearly mean to reference?— Jennifer Wolff (@JennyWebtoes) March 19, 2019
It's interesting that Netflix has made this choice, though, as Thoms explains below, it is just more of Netflix attempting to keep us engaged longer.
Even still... it makes talking about shows with our friends a little tricky. We'll have to abandon the episode number approach in lieu of more specific descriptors... everything is going to sound like a FRIENDS episode now...
"I loved that ep...Y'know... The One With..."
A final update: a friend I trust at Netflix looked into this, and apparently the episode ordering is just a 100% random A/B test that doesn't involve any ML. Identity-based recommendations are still a good discussion to have, in this case it was just random!— Lukas Thoms (@LukasThoms) March 19, 2019
The above tweet clears up Thoms initial reaction about Netflix targeting gender or sexual orientation as motivation for varied episode orders.
It is apparently a much more random algorithm at play. And I can appreciate personalization... if I know it's happening.
But Netflix, ya couldn't give a girl a head's up?