Friday, 17 July 2020

Reboot your pony

Delighted to say that The Overcast, who podcast 'The Trouble with Vacations' back in 2017, have picked up 'The Button at the Base of his Spine'.  Date of podcast tbc, but when it comes out, you can read along here or, indeed, here...

Twenty-four sci-fi, slipstream and new weird stories.
Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Available now on,, .de, .fr, .es, .it, .nl, .jp,, .ca, .mx, .au, and .in.  


Thursday, 2 July 2020

The thin end of the Orwellian wedge

We live in the information age.  If that's news to anyone reading this, then they may also want to make a note that there's a bug going around at the moment.  It's kind of significant.

We are so overwhelmed by information, that sometimes we don't notice the weird shaped holes in the data, the stuff that should be there but isn't.  And isn't for reasons that aren't immediately apparent.  It's the thin end of the Orwellian wedge.

I stumbled over (into?) just such a hole a couple of weeks ago, when I spent an hour or so on Netflix surfing the lists.  Tiring of the echo chamber nature of Netflix's recommendation algorithms that don't understand a desire to sample something that's the polar opposite of what your eyes have been consuming recently, I went looking for a comprehensive A to Z list of what's on offer.

And, do you know what?  It doesn't exist.

I expected it to be long and slightly tedious to spot diamonds in the rough.  I expected it to be little more than title and year of release, whether it's a film, number of episodes if it's not.  Maybe a hint at genre, but possibly not as Netflix's genres get as granular as 'Spanish language films with left-handed protagonist who smokes' (I just made that up, but who knows?).

But I expected it to exist.

So, I did what any right-minded person would do: I went to customer services to have an argument.  Not a five-minute argument, the full half-hour.

Netflix Sofia:  Hey! This is Sofia:, thank you for contacting Netflix.  Do you already have an account with us?
You:  No
Netflix Sofia:  I am afraid that then it is not possible to see all the content we offer, if you want you can ask me for specific titles and I can check here if we have them available in UK
Netflix Sofia:  Or, if you have a friend or a family member that has an account with us you can always check there all the available titles
You:  My wife has an account, so I know how Netflix recommends content and how I can search for it. What I want is an A to Z list.
Netflix Sofia:  Okay, if she has an account then you can look for all the content. We do not have lists like that I am sorry.  The only way to look for the content we have is through the account
You:  Okay, but is there a complete A to Z list there? Could you confirm how to get to it because all I can find is supposedly helpful categorised lists, without even seeing a complete list of categories. Do you have a single comprehensive list anywhere? Thanks
Netflix Sofia:  No, we do not have a complete list with all the titles we offer from A to Z, I really see your point but we do not have a list with all the movies and shows we offer so the only way to look for titles is typing them or going through the genre section
You:  Could you explain the thinking behind that? I’ve never been to a restaurant that’s asked me to guess what they might have on the menu. Why not just show me a list of everything?
Netflix Sofia:  I am a customer service agent so I do not know what is the thought behind it, But I believe that for a lot of people it is handy to get the suggestions of the titles they stream on the screen, so the genre that they do not enjoy or the type of titles that they do not like won't appear for them as a suggestion.  
Netflix Sofia:  I am going to write a feedback for you so the appropriate team can take into consideration your opinion
You:  I appreciate that you’re not able to explain policy. Could you give me an email of a senior person who may be able to explain this baffling approach?
You:  I’m not sure what ‘writing a feedback’ means, but it sounds a lot like ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. What I would like is an email I can contact to ask why customers are refused sight of the whole menu. Thanks.
Netflix Sofia:  I am sorry but we do not have an email where to contact or speak with a manager, what we offer is our Help center. All that I can do for you is send your feedback to the appropriate team
Netflix Sofia:  I understand what you mean but these are the tools we have, a manager won't be capable to offer you a A-Z list either because we do not have those
You:  I appreciate that. I’d like a CEO or similar email so that he or she can explain why Netflix refuses to show customers the whole menu.
Netflix Sofia:  I do know how the recommendation system works, I am going to send it to you so you can check it as well with me Click Here
Netflix Sofia:  We do not have that information I am sorry, I encourage you to check our Help Center
You:  Could you give me a CEO or similar email. Thanks
You:  What’s the most senior email address you can give me so that I can take a policy question to the right place and let you get on with helping customers? Thanks
Netflix Sofia:  I do not have the email of the CEO, the tools we have here to handle recommendations and feedback is writing a report
Netflix Sofia:  I do not possess that information, I only have emails if I have to address privacy issues with accounts, that is the only email I have
Netflix Sofia:  If I had them I would have given them to you, believe me
You:  Do you have a complaints email? I’ll go through that
Netflix Sofia:  No we do not have them, but I can write a report about your issue, it is the only way it can arrive to the appropriate team so they can be aware of the customer needs
You:  So how do I make a complaint in writing? Only through you? If I wanted to complain about you (which I don’t) are you saying I would have to complain through you? They seem to have given you a crazy system to work within.
Netflix Sofia:  Yes, it would be through me as well, so you make the writing and I copy it here in a form and I have to send it to the appropriate team so they can be aware of the customer concerns
Netflix Sofia:  yes I do believe it will be easier to offer more options but unfortunately this is the only one we have at the moment
You:  Okay. I can see Netflix have provided you with a corporate stonewall here. Stay safe and thanks for the help the system allowed you to give me.
Netflix Sofia:  You too! thank you for your time and patience, have a great day ahead

Is it me, or is that a bit weird?  Just as I put it to Sofia, what restaurant won't tell you what it offers, but asks you to make suggestions before offering, 'we can do that, but with courgette instead'?  There's a reason for this, and it's not customer convenience.  Various ideas began to coalesce in my minds, mainly around Netflix's desire to increase revenue and decrease outgoings, whilst maintaining a perfectly plausible front of giving the customer whatever they desire.  

Rather than write out my rather cynical thinking here, here's the email I sent to Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings:

Mr Hastings,
I wonder if you would be able to help me or, at the very least, direct my email to somebody better able to answer my query.
I recently had a pleasant online chat with one of your customer services representatives called Sofia.  I wanted to know how to access a complete list of Netflix films and shows.  Whilst personalised recommendations are all well and good, sometimes you just want to see a list of everything that’s available.  These were the facts that I managed to establish:
·         Netflix does not publish a complete A to Z list of content
·         Sofia did not know why Netflix is unable or unwilling to do so
·         She was not able to provide me with any email address for me to find out why this is Netflix policy
·         She was unable to provide me with any email to make a complaint to (not that I wanted to; I just wanted to find out how to put something in writing with more gravity than a simple live chat, and I thought you’d have a complaints handling procedure outside live chat as a bare minimum)
·         If I wanted to complain about Sofia (which I didn’t and don’t, I hasten to add), I would have to make it through live chat… with Sofia.
(I’d also like to put on record that the option for me to be emailed a transcript of the conversation mysteriously disappeared when I selected ‘no’ to the question of whether the live chat had answered my question.  As a customer, I’d like you to fix this bug, although I appreciate you may not be so keen.)*
I find the refusal (surely not inability?) to publish a complete list of content perplexing.  I’ve never been to a restaurant where I’ve only been allowed to see selections of the menu dependent on what I like or have eaten before.  The reasons I’ve thought of are:
·         You think it’s too much information for us to cope with (I don’t think you’re than patronising)
·         You think we won’t make it very far into the list and will all be streaming things from the start of the alphabet (surely no technical issues here? plus, I’m not asking you to replace your useful personalised lists, which most people will stick with)
·         There are things on Netflix you don’t want us to find.
The sceptic in me has settled on the last of these; I assume for monetary reasons, attracting us with the sheer weight of content, but steering us towards Netflix-produced content and away from independently produced material which, I assume, you may typically pay for on a per-view basis.  However, I would be fascinated to find out the real reason (happy for you to throw in the official reason, too) as to why I am unable to access a complete A to Z list of Netflix content.  (Or did Sofia get it wrong and it is there?).
I look forward to your reply,
Robert Bagnall

(* - in case you're wondering, being naturally paranoid, I took screenshots before the Netflix machine blanked the option of sending me a nice neat transcript)

If and when Reed (are there really people called 'Reed'? who knew!) gets back to me, I'll let you know.  I suspect that may never happen...


Twenty-four sci-fi, slipstream and new weird stories.
Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Available now on,, .de, .fr, .es, .it, .nl, .jp,, .ca, .mx, .au, and .in.