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Underwhelmed by ScreenClick

For the past few years, I’ve been a very happy user of Netflix, the innovative web site which let you receive DVDs via the post for a flat fee per month, for US residents. When I got back to Dublin, I was very happy to see that there was a local equivalent, in the form of ScreenClick — so I signed up.

However, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with their service, for the same reasons as Adrian Weckler writes about here

Turnaround time: this varies wildly, and can take nearly a week to turn around a DVD from dropping it in the postbox to receiving the next one. Netflix was reliably two days for me, out in suburban Orange County, California; Even this Kansas blogger noted that the longest they’d waited was 4 days.

This may seem to be an externality for Screenclick — but really, it shouldn’t be. Their business is built on the postal service, and they have to have decent results for it to work.

The ‘wishlist’ model: Netflix uses a queue, operating on a first-in, first-out model, while Screenclick uses something they call a ‘wishlist’, where the DVDs are delivered based both on position in the list and availability — in other words, you can find you’ve been delivered the DVD at number 10 in your list, instead of whatever’s at the top.

Again, superficially a minor point. However, one important factor is that these services are bought by households, not by individuals. Chez jm, that means that we operated a pretty strict alternating system in our Netflix queue — one movie for me, one movie for the lovely C, repeat. This is now thoroughly scuppered with a random ‘lucky dip’ system. On top of that, forget about watching a serial in order. The end result is a mess.

The website: it’s atrocious, a hodge-podge of ads for third-party sites, press coverage of Screenclick, more ads for Screenclick (hey, I’m already a customer!), and news clippings I couldn’t care less about — with finally a few tiny sidebar boxes containing the things I want (login, search box and wishlist). My impression: it’s designed to sell the company to investors and advertisers, not for customer use.

On top of that, it’s all squished into a tiny window — Irish web designers need to buy bigger screens! That late-’90’s Jakob Nielsen thing about users not knowing how to scroll? They’ve learned by now.

That’s not even talking about the awful Javascript that’s used to edit the wishlist ordering, where little buttons need to be clicked repetitively, one by one, to reorder the list. Surely someone took a look around at other sites first — Amazon perhaps — to see how other sites do it?

Anyway, on this count, I sent in a mail containing a batch of bug reports and unsolicited opinions, and got no reply. ;)

Less bang-for-buck: pretty simple. Netflix: 3 movies at a time, more movies in the collection, $17.99 per month; Screenclick, 2 movies at a time, EUR 19.99 ($25.56, $10 more expensive than the equivalent Netflix service) per month. Surprisingly, this is actually a minor issue compared to the others, though, since it’s made plain from the outset.

These may seem to be minor points, but when selling a disposable-income service to consumers, the difference between an essential leisure-time service and a waste of pocket money is a very fine line. Looks like Adrian eventually cancelled. I’m not at that point yet, but it’s heading that way…