We’re creeping closer to the one-year mark and HBO Max is still tinkering with its platform.
An update for the app that popped up earlier this week states in its App Store release notes that users will “notice new video player controls that are more streamlined and easier to use in this update.” In addition to addressing some unspecified bugs, the update also states that HBO Max “took a look under the hood and made performance enhancements to improve speed, so you can get to the entertainment you want faster.” On Android, it seems the service has also reintroduced a restart button for in-progress titles.
That’s all great, of course. But I can think of one thing that would definitely improve the service and hopefully help its algorithm out a little as well: like and dislike buttons. Currently, when you click on a title, you can add it to your watchlist, which is a helpful way to organise stuff you know you want to watch eventually but not necessarily right away. On mobile, downloads for offline viewing are an appreciated perk. But unlike Netflix and Hulu, HBO Max lacks the tools to tell the service which titles you actually enjoy and which you don’t want to see any more of.
To be totally fair to HBO Max, this is a feature missing from a lot of major streaming services. Disney+ and Prime Video both lack it, for example. But I think for HBO Max in particular, it makes a lot of sense. HBO Max’s recommendation and discovery tools are a mess, and they’re not exactly helped by the number of conflicting brands that live together under one roof on the service.
As one example, I was surprised at how long it took me to find Allen v. Farrow on HBO Max the weekend it landed on the service. In theory, it should have been fairly easy for me to find, as the primary genre I watch on the platform is documentaries. Had I been able to more aggressively flag that information to HBO Max with like and dislike buttons, maybe its algorithm would start serving me titles that more closely align with my interests. Then again, maybe not! But it probably wouldn’t hurt.
Last year around launch, an HBO Max spokesperson said that the site would use both human curation as well as data-driven curation to recommend content. Human curation was obviously very important as the service launched, but the spokesperson told Gizmodo at the time that “as we progress throughout the year and collect more and more data, we will be able to understand what people want and drive more personalised human curation for each user.”
Maybe the problem isn’t so much that HBO Max thinks it knows what its individual users want to watch as much as it is that HBO Max isn’t giving us the tools to tell the company ourselves.