With the fast-approaching arrival of Disney+, Netflix is no longer the only major streaming platform with a wealth of content. It is, however, one of the oldest, and its most powerful tool is known as the "algorithm": the all-knowing content curation machine that shows you what you'll want to watch based up what you've viewed before.
Netflix is often tight-lipped about their algorithm and how it works. Much noise has also been made over the program's sporadic ability to get the right shows in front of the right people, which can lead to unfair cancellations like the tragically short-lived Tuca and Bertie. While not perfect, the algorithm can be trained to follow your specific tastes so there's a higher chance of finding what you need.
Here's how to curate your Netflix feed to its maximum potential.
Step 1: Set Up Your Netflix Account
Setting up your own Netflix plan (or profile) is crucial to being able to curate. Multiple users on a single profile can throw off the algorithm and make it more difficult to find what you want. I discovered this the hard way when my brother used my account by accident about a year ago, and I ended up seeing recommendations I was decidedly uninterested in for weeks.
There are two ways you can set up your private "space" on Netflix:
- The first way (if you're not already a subscriber) is to sign up for your own plan: that way it's 100% yours and under your control.
- The second way is to have an individual profile on a Standard or Premium Plan. This is what I have, and my family and I share a Netflix account where each of us has our own profiles and (lists) that we curate. A shared plan is the most cost-effective way to do this while still maintaining customization.
Step 2: Begin Watching Shows You Like
This step is easy and fun. To start curating, all you have to do is watch TV shows and films that interest you. There's a couple different ways you can find initial content to watch.
Netflix Search Bar
If you know the exact name of the TV show or movie that you want to watch—and you want to see if it's on Netflix—go to the search bar at the top of your screen and type in its name. Netflix will either pull up its title, or it will pull up titles related to it if the requested title is not available in your country.
You can also use this search bar to pull up general "categories" of content that might be filed in different places on Netflix's internal system. For example: typing in "vampire movies" will get you movies about vampires, regardless of their subgenre.
The other way you can find content is by browsing Netflix's catalog directly. When you first log into your profile you'll be faced with your home page. There, Netflix will display the things you've watched, what you're currently watching, shows that have been saved to you List, Netflix Originals, and recommendations for unrelated TV shows or movies you might be interested in.
In the beginning these recommendations might not match your tastes. However, you can still scroll through them and see if there's anything you're interested in. You can also click on the TV Shows or Movies categories at the top of your screen to begin browsing through the different categories contained under both.
Step 3: Vote Up or Down for Shows
After you watch a bunch shows on a particular topic, Netflix will recommend other shows related to it because the algorithm has determined "Hey! You might like this." But what the algorithm can't determine is whether these films were actually any good for you. They might have had terrible acting, or tropes you don't enjoy. Pressing Play on them is not a vote of confidence.
With this in mind—when you finish watching a show—it's important to vote thumbs up or down on it, to tell Netflix whether you actually liked it. If you vote down, Netflix never shows you this movie again (it greys it out in the search function). It also begins to weed out shows that are very similar to it.
If you vote up, the algorithm will recommend movies within the genre that are a very close match to the one you just watched. Each time you log in, your home page will refresh to reflect your changing viewer preferences.
And that's it, really—that's all you have to do to curate your Netflix feed. It's very simple, but like all well-tended plants, it takes some time to curate the algorithm. Practice makes perfect.