Ville Salminen didn’t realize just how big of a problem Netflix’s search functionality was until he stumbled onto a Reddit post.
Salminen, the creator of a site called Flixable, told Polygon he was trying to help his parents learn how to navigate Netflix’s search system when he happened upon a thread in the Netflix subreddit dedicated to that exact topic. The thread contained thousands of complaints from Netflix users about Netflix’s browsing feature, and Salminen said it inspired him to try and create an easy solution. Flixable is that: a website that collects all of the movies playing on Netflix, what’s coming to the platform and what’s leaving in an easy-to-digest format.
“I wanted to create a site that could be beneficial for Netflix subscribers when deciding what to watch on a movie night, but I was mostly thinking of my parents, who had been complaining about decision difficulties,” Salminen said.
Although he saw it as a programming challenge, this wasn’t the first time that Salminen tried to build something of this magnitude. AllFlicks, a site that showed Netflix users new movies on the platform and the top-rated titles, was one of Salminen’s earlier projects. Salminen said he always wanted to return to recreating something like AllFlicks after the site was sold in November 2014, but never had enough time.
Noticing that his parents — and thousands of Netflix subscribers around the world — were aching for a tool like AllFlicks, Salminen started working on Flixable. Using a very simple and basic editor that he equates to Microsoft Notepad, Salminen set about tying to figure out how to create a simple-to-use, pleasant-to-view website that provided users with easy search tools. Salminen said he could have gone down a much easier path but wanted to learn how to create the entire website “by hand,” an expression that he jokingly used to describe the step-by-step process.
Even with his experience building databases there were some challenges with the project. It only took him a couple of weeks to create, but Salminen recalls it feeling strenuous at times trying to remain on top of every last detail.
“The biggest challenge in the project was to remember everything,” Salminen said. “I had the whole project in mind without any written plans, and handling everything from country-specific metadata to presenting that data in an adequate way wasn’t always so straightforward. I was so eager to see the results that I kept coding sequestered in our apartment, unable to sit down.”
All those weeks of coding paid off. Salminen said he’s received hundreds of emails from people who are using the site, asking him to add new features to address smaller frustrations. He has no plans to abandon the project, but Salminen thinks there’s a much bigger market for creating similar service websites for other streaming services. Hulu, for example, reached out to Salminen to work on a similar feature for its library of programming.
The big question is whether Netflix will buy Flixable from Salminen or institute its own version of the site, one which could potentially live on the company’s blog.
“I’m sure that Netflix’s coders are some of the best coders in the world,” Salminen said. “So, I don’t think this kind of project would take a lot of time. I’d really like to cooperate with Netflix somehow, since Netflix is the reason why I left my earlier life as a researcher studying the history of psychosurgery and immersed myself in computer science.”
As the thank you emails and comments on Reddit threads pile up, Salminen said he’s genuinely surprised by the reaction. The response suggests to him that most Netflix subscribers are interested in an alternative user interface than Netflix’s current option. He believes it has to do with minimizing “time spent on searching for something to watch.”
Whatever the reason someone may have for tuning into Flixable, it’s evident that Salminen’s site is a hit with a great many of Netflix’s most exasperated subscribers.
“Within one minute of being on that site I saw movies I had no idea were added that I wanted to see more than the movies Netflix recommends to me,” one user wrote on Reddit. “Well done sir.”