Netflix Is Testing a Shuffle Mode for Our Chaos Future

Netflix Is Testing a Shuffle Mode for Our Chaos Future
Photo: Olivier Douliery , Getty Images
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With film and TV production struggling to limp along amid the covid-19 pandemic, people looking for new entertainment at home are having to do some deeper crate-digging. Now, Netflix is testing a feature that could help you out when things get really dire.

Users on Twitter first noticed the addition of a shuffle button on the Netflix homepage earlier this week with reactions ranging from “this is something I needed that I didn’t even know I need” to “who would ever use this?” In an email to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for Netflix confirmed that the shuffle button is real and the streaming giant has high hopes for it.

A spokesperson for the company told Variety that “Shuffle Play” is part of a worldwide test. The button appears for test users in one of three locations, and it queues up titles that fall into one of three categories:

  • shows or movies similar to ones you’ve watched previously
  • titles in genres you’ve viewed
  • or content you have saved in the “My List” section

The test started running last month, and the spokesperson said that Netflix hopes to “absolutely productise something.”

The company has been trying to “productise” some kind of shuffle function for a while now, including a test for a random TV episode feature that it ran in April. Its stated reasons are to give users more discovery options and to give them a quicker way to jump into watching.

It seems unfortunate that Netflix is using yet another algorithm tailored to users’ viewing habits rather than pushing people outside of their comfort zones. The phenomenon of scrolling for half an hour through the same list of suggestions before giving up is a common trope, and the company buries a lot of its offerings. Vulture recently ranked Netflix’s original movies, and I was astonished to see it has over 400 feature films to its name, a ton of which have completely flown under my radar.

That raises another key point for Netflix: It should consider giving users the option to hit shuffle in specific categories. I might give the wheel a spin for films or anime. I don’t particularly want to jump into episode 8, season 3 of Ozark. But if the pandemic continues to throw a wrench in the production of new releases, I’ll probably get a lot more comfortable with the chaos button.