I use NetFlix to get movies. NetFlix has made quite the transformation from a marginal service to a highly usable Web site.
The latest feature that I really like is the ability to look at lists of movies and while you’re hovering over a title get more information about the movie without clicking into the detail. Here’s what it looks like in the browser:
This is not terribly novel – the code behind this uses XmlHttp to retrieve some XML and display the pull out data – but it’s an excellent use of the technology. It really makes movie browsing much more efficient and quicker.
Here’s what the XML they pull what they pull over the wire (retrieved with Fiddler):
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?>
<MOVIE ID="60022626" POS="0" DS="0">
<TITLE>Robert Thurman on Buddhism</TITLE>
<SYNOPSIS>Robert Thurman is professor of Indo-Tibetan studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University and one of the West's foremost scholars of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the author of Inner Revolution and Circling The Sacred Mountain.</SYNOPSIS>
<DETAILS RATED="NR" RELYEAR="2002" GENREID="379" GENRENAME="Special Interest" CMURATE="0.0" CMPRED="3.0" CMWGTR="3.0" />
<GLYPH REC="false" FRND="false"/>
<PERSON ID="20031195" NAME="Robert Thurman"/>
That part is pretty logical and easily hooked up.
What I’d like to know is how they are doing the cool popup effect with the shadows. I haven’t looked closely at the HTML to see how this overlay affect is accomplished. Notice that the shadow is transparent and it works both in IE and FireFox and it's smart enough to keep the display visible in various parts of the page without getting cut off.
Part of the appeal of the above mechanism is that it’s really pleasing to the eye (at least to me). It just feels right and is intuitive. And it's considerably faster than clicking on the link to get the movie detail the go back to the list etc. It's all about browsing and keeping your current context, something at which Web applications (including the NetFlix site's plain HTML interface) are bad at. For example, if you browse for movies and select or even view one you immediately loose the list you were just on. Making a selection drives you back to the base selection or a new list of choices based on teh current one. For browsing staying in the current context surely is the better way to go and this is why this appeals to me so much - it's rare that you get that.
Somebody clearly understands user interfaces at NetFlix. If you’ve watched that site go from a so-so usable site to what it is now you can probably appreciate a number of the cool features they’ve implemented to manage your movie queues.
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