Nazreen is a software engineer who’s currently in London doing his Masters in Political Philosophy.
During the early stages of lockdown, he wanted to watch something on Netflix with his friend, but since they couldn’t meet, they needed a way to watch it online together, in sync.
A quick search led Nazreen to Netflix Party, a popular Chrome extension which had seemed promising at first.
“We tried to use it but somehow for my friend, it didn’t work. It was also quite confusing with regards to how to get it started because you had to wait for the icon to turn red and if you weren’t on the right page, clicking the icon does nothing,” he recalled.
“Going to the comments section of Netflix Party’s Chrome Web Store page made it obvious that it wasn’t just my friend who has issues using it.”
They ended up being unable to watch Netflix together, as some other solutions they came across didn’t work either.
Disappointed, Nazreen toyed with the idea of building an alternative the next day and pitched his idea to his flatmate and friend, Kumbirai. Over the weekend, they created the first prototype of Watch Netflix Together.
“We knew we wanted to make this as simple as possible, so that was probably the biggest challenge—to come up with a design that would be friendly to users,” Nazreen said.
The Same Concept, But Made Better
When it comes to accessing entertainment, convenience is key. Netflix Party doesn’t address this demand well enough.
Firstly, you had to learn how to use the extension on the Netflix Party website, and then teach your guests how to use it too.
Out of the 5+ times I’ve tried to use Netflix Party, it has either been a hit or a miss. Sometimes it will simply tell me “Invalid Session ID” and I can’t even start the watch party, and the other times I can get it to work will be after some wrestling with the extension (refreshing, refreshing, and refreshing).
I had someone else try to host a party for me too just to see if it was a “me” problem, but he couldn’t get it to work well, or at all, either.
As it wouldn’t be fair to compare the two without trying them both out, I had downloaded Watch Netflix Together too.
While Watch Netflix Together is almost perfect for the lazy consumer because instructions are given each time the extension is in use, we did have a little trouble on our first try.
However, once we learnt to give it a second or two for the extension to activate, getting it to work each time was easy, and guests literally have to do nothing more after clicking the link you give.
Emojis are an important part of chatting nowadays, and on Netflix Party’s Patreon (donation) page, they’ve said that they’re working on implementing emoji support, but it’s been months without any progress update.
Meanwhile, Watch Netflix Together already has a few emojis such as the “heart eyes” and “surprised face” ones.
The only real complaint I had about Watch Netflix Together was that there would be a bit of a delay or lag on guests’ screen when the host skips around to different durations of a show.
This was the only advantage I saw Netflix Party having over Watch Netflix Together, and I asked Nazreen if he would be addressing it.
“Yes! We’ve identified the reason for this and will be rolling out an update to make the syncing less delayed,” Nazreen promptly replied.
“The priority up until now was to just make sure first that the sync was working. Now that it’s been validated (we even had 400+ users in a single session late June, working fine), we’ll be optimising it.”
Aside from improving the syncing algorithm, he revealed that they don’t want to add too much to the extension.
“The main point is to enable people to watch things together on Netflix. We’ll be monitoring the usage and making sure that our servers can support the incoming sessions.”
The version you’d see now has been updated from what it looked like in its earlier prototype days, as Nazreen and Kumbirai got the help of a UI/UX designer friend, Ali.
Netflix Parties For (Almost) Everyone
At the moment, they’ve attracted over 1,000 users, with about 20+ new users a day.
“Funnily enough, we have most of our users from Latin America, with the rest coming from the US and Malaysia. The Malaysian share of users is around 30%,” he added.
Just like for Netflix Party, all guests who wish to join must have a Netflix account of their own as well, as you need to sign in to access the watch party.
Unfortunately, Watch Netflix Together also isn’t a way to access content that your region’s Netflix doesn’t carry.
For example, The Office is available in the US but not in Malaysia, so you wouldn’t be able to watch it in a watch party hosted by your friend in the US anyway.
“This is because we are not circumventing any restrictions set by Netflix. We don’t want to get into trouble for violating any of the streaming arrangements they’ve made,” Nazreen explained.
To keep Watch Netflix Together running, there are server costs that Nazreen and Kumbirai need to cover. However, they refuse to charge users for its use.
We don’t want to set a paywall for this because we love making cool things that are useful to people. We set up the Patreon to give people the option to chip in for server costs and also ‘tip’ us if they feel like the extension is of value to them.
Nazreen, developer of Watch Netflix Together
As our interview came to an end, he told us that Watch Netflix Together was actually microproduct number one of many more to come.
“I’ve convinced Kumbirai to embark on this microproducts journey where we’ll build a lot of tiny apps that will be of value to people, but we’ll go about it in a very rapid prototyping sort of way.”
“Our next microproduct is based around the idea of getting things done. It’s when you’re all alone at home and want to get things done, but lack that tiny push to get started,” Nazreen teased, adding, “I already know that a lot of people will love it.”
To that, I’d say sign me up, because that sure sounds like something I need.
- You can check out the Watch Netflix Together Chrome extension here.