Monday, December 18, 2006

When Automation Goes Off The Rails

I have been a Netflix customer for over a year. It's a wonderful service. Its automated tracking system has completely shifted the entire rental business. Not only in movies. You can now rent every thing from jewelries to clothes based on the keep it as long as you like system.

For some time everything has been hunky dorey.

Until now.

It is a truism in software that if an automated system goes off the rails, it's hell to get the train back on the track.

I originally signed up for the standard package. Three movies per month. It suited me at the time as I had just purchased a new tv and spent a great deal of time just watching movies.

Back in November, I believed I had my usual three movies. Two of them were out in the open on my desk. The third had gone missing. It was one I had already watched so I assumed that I placed it in my ridiculous to do list pile. I knew that I would eventually have to ferret it out but since Netflix policy is keep as long as you want, I procrastinated.

Then one day, something odd happened. A new movie came. Well, I thought, I must have mailed the missing movie back and just forgot. No biggie. Everything should be straight now. Until I went to the Netflix web site. The missing movie was still listed as "at home". The new movie I just received was still in my queue. Okay, I thought. Easy fix. I used the very effecient customer service site to tell Netflix the missing movie had been sent to them. I got a very nice email essentially saying these things happen but with a stern warning that if it became a common event I could get in trouble.

Then another movie came.

Apparently the automated software recorded an "at home" movie returned and spit out another one. So, now, I have four movies. When I am only supposed to have three.

Just to add another sliver of murphy's law into the soup, I decided at the time to reduce my subscription to one movie per month. When you change subscriptions, Netfix simply stops sending you movies until you get below your new limit. Super! This should fix everything!

So I dutifully watched all four movies. Then sent all four movies back on the same day with the expectation I would receive one movie back.

Two days later, I received my email notifications of my return. Two had been received. The third was still listed in my queue as "at home". The fourth, which I now don't even remember the title, is completely off the grid.

The next day, even though the queue is still showing me as having a movie at home, I receive my next movie envelope. This is insane but as long as I am receiving my one movie at a time, big deal. Except the envelope is empty. With a note from my postal worker that the envelope was received without contents.

So in summary, Netflix thinks I have a movie that I don't have, I don't have a movie that they don't think I have and I will not be surprised if there's another little red envelope in my mailbox today. I could report the third movie as having been sent and not received but that will just move this next movie, the empty envelope movie, to the top of my queue which I will then have to report not arriving. All which I am positive will put me on the Netflix black-list of DVD stealing scum.

I have entered software automation bizarro-land and I'm not sure I will ever return.

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