Earlier this year, Netflix made a huge change to one of the key features of its interface: its rating system. For years, the Netflix rating system was based on a scale of five stars; users could rate series and films anywhere along that scale. In March 2017, that rating system changed to a much simpler system of thumbs up or thumbs down. Many users were incensed with the change, claiming it no longer gave users an accurate picture of how the Netflix customer base responds to Netflix programming: does a thumbs-up mean a user loved a series or thought it was just so-so? Does a thumbs-down mean a film isn’t worth watching, or just that the last ten minutes were a letdown? Such are the deeper mysteries of life in the Netflix-and-chill age.
Some outlets even suggested that Netflix might have changed the system in order to hide poor user ratings of some of its original content. Whatever the reasoning behind the change might have been, Netflix saw a huge jump in the number of ratings it received in the weeks following the update. Now, however, many users are requesting that Netflix bring back an older, now-retired function: the ability to hide user ratings.
According to Polygon, Netflix users have taken to online forums such as Reddit to request that the company allow users to hide the thumbs up/thumbs down ratings listed for each series and film. One Reddit user, PaulMorel, writes that “The new system seems like it was designed to obfuscate ratings, with the goal of getting people to watch garbage content. I think it’s much more difficult to find something I like now.” Many users have turned to third-party rating sites like Letterboxd which give users much more flexibility than the new system.
Changes to user interfaces are tricky, and tech companies must proceed with caution whenever features are taken away. Users can become fiercely territorial about their carefully curated online spaces, particularly when it comes to ratings of cultural products like films and television series. Ratings have become another means of online identity production for many netizens, and removing this feature essentially removes another way these users interact with the world and each other. Netflix has yet to respond to these complaints, but given their history of making headstrong like-it-or-leave-it decisions in the past, they likely will not.