It just seems obvious that Netflix should fully open up its API to become a true platform, allowing developers to improve the user experience within its home environment. You know, much like Spotify, which lets third parties such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone put together packages that add to the art of music consumption. I made this argument back in May, but, alas, for some reason Reed Hastings still hasn’t listened to me. How dare he?
Thankfully, that hasn’t deterred developers from going ahead and building their own Netflix apps anyway. One of the newest is a neat product from a moonlighting Palo Alto developer by the dazzling name of Tolulope Akinola.
Akinola, who grew up in Nigeria and has a day job working on portfolio strategy at SAP and a side gig as a city council commissioner, grew frustrated by the amount of time he wasted on browsing the Netflix catalog looking for movies or TV shows he cared about.
“I thought, why not just build an app to store my wish list and have it tell me when stuff I like becomes available?” Akinola told me via email. “It seemed like a fun project, and once I built it, I realized lots of other people probably had the same problem, so I opened it up to the world.”
He calls the app StreamThing, and its simple proposition is that it notifies you when your favorite shows become available on Netflix instant streaming. A basic service that allows you to track five shows is available for free, but users who want to keep tabs on more shows than that will have to fork out for one of the two premium account options ($2 or $5 a month).
Akinola agrees that Netflix could do more to build out its app ecosystem. “I think Netflix would benefit if they worked harder to expose their users to the apps being built off their service,” he says. “Right now, Netflix has an app gallery that only developers know about. All these apps enhance the experience for Netflix customers and give them just a little more bang for their buck.”
Akinola does note that there are numerous Netflix-focused blogs, and a couple of sub-Reddits devoted to the service, “so there’s lots of potential for word of mouth.” But I can’t help feeling that Netflix is selling itself short by not taking advantage of the efforts of these independent developers. By moving even a curated selection of the best third-party apps “in house,” the company could not only make Netflix more useful, but it would also potentially open new revenue streams and convert the site into a more holistic experience, one that is deeply engaging and flexible.
In other words, I wish Netflix was less of a broadcaster and more of a multidirectional entertainment tool. Crafty developers such as Akinola prove that it can be so much more than what we’ve got now.