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Practicing social distancing during coronavirus doesn't mean you have to give up TV watch parties with your friends thanks to Netflix Party. USA TODAY

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The coronavirus pandemic doesn't mean you can't watch your favorite movies and TV shows with your loved ones. 

As much of the country practices social distancing and everyday life is radically changed by the COVID-19 outbreak, small things like a movie or TV night with friends and family are no longer on the table. But through technology, you can still virtually have a group hang. 

Among many tech solutions to stream over a distance is Netflix Party, a Google Chrome extension that lets you chat with friends while watching a film or series on Netflix. It's easy to set up, as long as everyone has Netflix, Google's Chrome internet browser and a computer to watch on. 

But is it really fun to type and watch at the same time? USA TODAY's Kelly Lawler, Bill Keveney and Erin Jensen, tested the technology with the first episode of "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," Netflix's true crime documentary released Friday. (Jensen had already seen the episode once; the others watched for the first time.) 

To set up a Netflix Party, it's pretty easy, especially if you are already familiar with Google Chrome extensions. Each member of the group adds the extension by going to the Netflix Party website here. Then one member of your group opens Netflix and chooses a movie or show. Once it starts playing, hit the "NP" button at the top right of your browser to generate a link that you send to your friends. They click on it, then click the NP button on their own browsers to set up your personal TV room. You can choose nicknames and avatars for each user. The organizer can choose to control play and pause for the group.

We simultaneously watched the first episode of the exotic-animal crime documentary Friday, and chatted using Netflix Party. A transcript, as well as our thoughts on the technology, edited for length and clarity, follows:  

Netflix Party: lets friends have movie nights while social distancing. Here's how it works

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Erin 
First impressions?
Kelly 
OK, that was a great intro; I'm so ready
Erin 
Hahaha
Kelly
AH SNAKES NO SNAKES
Bill
I like the species diversity
Man, Florida is not dull
Erin
Lolololol
Bill
World's Largest Big Cat Park - who determines that?
Erin
His name is Joe Exotic, Bill. He has authority
Bill
Joe Exotic - best name ever, at least until I hear the next best name ever.
Erin
187 big cats!
Kelly
I am already so scared
Erin
It's a wild ride
Bill
You can already tell this does not turn out well
Erin
Joe is giving me the false sense of confidence that I too could interact with tigers
Bill
Ah, conflict with Carol of Big Cat Rescue! This looks interesting
Kelly 
"She's dressed perfectly": wow
Bill
i like her. i hope i'm not going to be disappointed
Erin
.....
Kelly 
Erin, is she the murder victim?
Erin
Twist and turns....Twists and turns....
Bill
That's OK. I love Kim on "Better Call Saul" and I know something bad is eventually going to happen, but I can still watch.
Kelly
I do not like zoos, I am on Carol's side
Erin
The irony!! SHE IS ALLERGIC TO CATS!
Bill
I understand the issue with zoos, but I think there's an important educational aspect that can lead to greater support of animals.
Kelly
That is fair!
Bill
Ooh, a new major character!
Kelly
More hats, more mullets
Bill
Excellent point
Bill
Bhagavan "Doc" Antle - that's the best name ever!
Kelly
I am so worried about the cubs!!!
Bill
they're so cute!
My mashup dream is for that gung-ho FBI guy from "McMillions" to come investigate the crime here
Erin
Doug!!! He would show up in a tiger suit... probably go undercover as one
Kelly
It would be beautiful
How have I never heard of any of this
What was I doing in 2011 I did not hear about that
Bill
the sheriff: we get our share of crimes "but then there's Joe Exotic"
I feel for this sheriff
Kelly
OMG A TIGER STRIPE GUN
Bill
With their names on the bullets!
So, Joe is at war with PETA. Not surprising
This is good. I'm interested in how Big Cat Rescue is similar to and different from the other operations
Erin
It's very interesting, what's in the episodes to come
Kelly
Are you noticing anything different the second time, Erin?
Erin
No. (A rewatch) just helps me know which characters to pay attention to. I remember being overwhelmed with all of them the first time
Bill
the exotic animal world does seem to attract strong personalities on all sides
Kelly 
I am overwhelmed by being worried about the animals
OMG snakes in the mail, I want to make a joke about Snakes on a Plane but that seems inappropriate
Bill
it's OK. You're among friends.
Erin
There must be something with snake mail and snail mail
Kelly
OK that was a great cliffhanger
Ha I gotta pause it before we binge too much!

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What did we think of Netflix Party while we practice social distancing?

Bill Keveney: I thought it was fun and a good way to connect with friends and family in different places, especially in the time of coronavirus. However, I would recommend it more for shows or movies people have already seen or lighter programs that don't require intensive focus. I could see it being a hoot for "Schitt's Creek" or "The Office." I enjoyed my fellow viewers' comments, but found it took my attention away from the program; so did my efforts to make trenchant observations (Epic fail, if that's still used). I wouldn't recommend this for first-time viewing of a complex show that requires one's full attention, like "Stranger Things" or "Breaking Bad." 

Erin Jensen:  Netflix Party, Netflix Party! This is a great way to pass the time while also getting social interaction, which for some, is in short supply these days. It’s convenient that the product provides a platform to chat and also allows everyone to be watching the movie or show at the exact same time. There are some minor drawbacks. There are only a certain number of icons to choose from. (I found out after the party was over that I could’ve changed from a hot dog avatar to my addiction, dark chocolate). And there isn’t a way to quickly react to a message someone has sent with a thumbs up, or heart, the way you can in iMessage or other chat services. GIFs would also be great!

Kelly Lawler: This was a wonderful hour spent with friends and giant tigers. The sound was slightly out of sync for me, but I was afraid to refresh the page lest it mess with my friends' viewing experiences. But I just put on the subtitles and enjoyed myself all the same. Even though we could have just texted while watching the same thing, the in-app experience was much better. Our reactions were instantaneous. I agree with Bill that it's best for something you don't have to pay total attention to, maybe a home renovation show or animated film. 

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