Thursday, May 5, 2005

My War with Amazon

One of my favourite web sites is Amazon.Com. As an individual living in a small town, who doesn't always have the time to go to Barnes and Noble in Columbia or the money to pay their prices for that matter, it is an invaluable resource in getting many books and DVDs I want. One of the best things about Amazon is that they allow one to select his or her own Favourites with regards to their shops (in my case, Books, DVDs, and Music), as well as the various categories within those shops and subcategories of those categories (for instance, the Rock category of Music and the Power Pop subcategory of Rock). Amazon uses these Favourites, as well as the stuff one already owns, to make Recommendations as to other books, DVDs, or albums one might also like. For instance, if one owns DVDs, of On the Town and Singin' in the Rain, then Amazon might recommend An American in Paris to that person (for those who don't know, all three are Gene Kelly movies). Now for the most part Amazon's Recommendations are fairly accurate. It was through their Recommendations that I learned that both The President's Analyst and The Assassination Bureau, two movies I dearly love, are available on DVD. Unforutnately, there are those times when Amazon's Recommendations are way off base.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this happpened not long after I opened my Amazon account. Every time I checked my music recommendations at Amazon, there would be several Country music albums listed. Allison Krause, Tim McGraw, you name it. Now I like Country music about as much as I like getting root canals. I rated each of these albums "not interested." If that wasn't bad enough, for a time Amazon decided to recomend varoius Rap albums to me. 50 Cent. Eminem, so on and so forth. Now I like Rap music even less than Country. Given a choice between the Chinese water torture and listening to a whole 50 Cent album, it would be a very hard decision for me to make.

Of course, Amazon's errors in recommending material to me has not been confined to music. As far as books go, they actually recommended Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right by Ann Coulter to me, desptie the fact that I like Conservative Republican politics about as much as I like Rap music. They also insisted on recommending various weight loss books to me (including French Women Don't Get Fat, even though I am not French, a woman, or fat), despite the fact that I am one of those unlucky people who actually needs to gain weight! And then there are those Business and Investing books they kept recommending me (if I want to lose money, I'll do it at a casino, thank you...). I have consistently rated all of these "not interetsed."

Of course, I would not mind the mistakes Amazon makes when it comes to Recommendations if they would simply leave my Favourites alone. Unforutnately, they sometimes insist on adding Favourites that, well, are not exactly my Favourites. As I said earlier, I have consistently rated "weight loss" books "not interested." Despite this, early last month I went to Amazon.Com to find that "Weight Control" had been added to my Favourites under Books! And while I have also consistently rated "Business and Investing" as "not interested," at one point "Business and Investing" was also added to my Favourites under Books. Of course, in both cases I promptly removed them from my Favourites. Amazon has also meddled with my Favourites in Music. Remember those Country music albums and Rap albums I kept marking "not interested?" Well, both Country and Gangsta Rap wound up under my Favourites on music at different times! I promptly removed both.

As near as I can tell, these sort of errors with Amazon's Recommendations and adding things to one's Favourites that one may not necessarily like arise from the fact that Amazon tries to determine one's tastes in Music by one's tastes in DVDs, one's tastes in Books by one's tastes in Music, and so on and so forth. At Amazon.Com one can click on a recommended album, DVD, or book and it will often tell one why the album, DVD, or book was recomended to him or her. In the case of those Country music albums it was always recommending me, it was apparently because I love John Wayne's Westerns! As to Gangsta Rap, apparently it was because I am interested in Everquest! Now I know plenty of people who like Westerns but do not like Country music (gods know, I am one of them). And I know of no one who plays Everquest who listens to Gangsta Rap (if you're out there, please speak up). I think that is the flaw in Amazon.Com's system for generating Recommendations and Favourites. One simply cannot use one's tastes in books to figure out one's taste in music, or one's tastes in games to figure out one's tastes in DVDs. Simply because someone loves the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow does not mean he or she is going to love electronic music. Simply because someone loves Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories does not mean he or she is going to like ragtime.

Of course, there are those changes to my Favourites for which I have no explanation. A few months ago I went to Amazon to find that they had added Baby to my Favourite shops. Now I love babies. They're cute and cuddly and fun to play with. But I don't have a baby of my own and, unless I get married in the next six months or something has happened, I doubt I'll have a baby of my own very soon. Amazon's Baby shop is then of little use to me. I am not exactly going to be buying a pram or tons of diapers. I then doubt that it could justifably be counted among my Favourites. To this day I am puzzled as to why they added the Baby shop to my Favourites!

For now it seems as if Amazon.Com has decided to leave my Favourites alone. They have not altered them in the past month. Perhaps after removing things they have added such as Business and Investing, Country, Gangsta Rap, and so on, they've realised it is best to leave well enough alone. Still, I am on my guard as to what they might possibly add next. With any luck it won't be Salsa music....

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