Whoa! Amazon.com's
September 26, 2001 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Whoa! Amazon.com's added a new tab to it's menubar. And it's got MY name on it!
posted by Taken Outtacontext (46 comments total)
You idiot. It's been there for ages.
posted by skylar at 9:54 AM on September 26, 2001

Well, it's been about two weeks since I bought a book from them and this is the first time I've seen it.

I'm more than just an idiot, skylar. I've got a great body too.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:57 AM on September 26, 2001

they also have ads on other sites that manage to have your name in it. that's even creepier.
posted by manero at 10:01 AM on September 26, 2001

Actually, Taken Outtacontext, the new button has my name on it. Unless, of course, we are both Phil. You know, they never requested permission to use my name, now that I think of it. Can I sue?
posted by saturn5 at 10:01 AM on September 26, 2001

Has Amazon "recommended" to anyone else the "Oprah Book Club Edition" of Franzen's "The Corrections"? Is anyone else offended?

I mean, here we have a book that has been written about in nearly every semi-educated publication in the country, that the literary community has been buzzing about since Franzen's started writing it (what, 8 years ago?), and I'm supposed to think Oprah's recommendation is the one that counts?

(I dunno what the difference is, but Amazon is also selling a non-Oprah (TM) edition.)
posted by mattpfeff at 10:11 AM on September 26, 2001

Wow, my store wants to sell me Doom: The Book.
posted by badstone at 10:25 AM on September 26, 2001

it's taken about 3 years of heavy purchasing and rating to get the amazon recommendations to stop couging up the big O's monthly fare.

they need an Oprah opt out setting.
posted by bitcrank at 10:28 AM on September 26, 2001

Well, my name is "Music" and Amazon's had that tab for years.

Once I was on CapAlert looking for some funny and that Amazon Honor System box popped up with name in it -- scared the bejeezus out of me.

All Amazon has been recommending for me lately is Neitzsche, which is strange, since all I've been buying is Robbe-Grillet and DVDs.
posted by j.edwards at 10:30 AM on September 26, 2001

I wish they wouldn't call me "baby."
posted by Skot at 10:34 AM on September 26, 2001

Try changing your name to FUCKER. Yeah, it will work for a while, and it's amusing to feel like you're defacing the store. But a few day's later, expert to have your name changed to AMAZON.

I never claimed to be a mature adult.
posted by SilentSalamander at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2001

If they're going to call me by name, I wish they'd use a better dynamic image generator, because I hate to see myself all fuzzy and pixelated.
posted by owen at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2001

Not related to Amazon, but I bought a copy of the Al-Qur'an last week from Half.com, and after I checked out there was a box that said "We also recommend this!"

If I was a Muslim I would be MUCH more offended by this than by Bush's "crusade" comment last week.
posted by arco at 11:19 AM on September 26, 2001

posted by mathowie at 11:21 AM on September 26, 2001

I posted a review of Wally Lamb's book once...(She's Come Undone, Oprah Book Club Wonderbook) and it was....let's say less than positive. The responses starting pooring in to my email account, some just stopping short of threatening to chop my legs off at the knee. Let's just say, from personal experience, don't screw with Oprah. I think she has suicide bombers in her flock.
posted by bradth27 at 11:27 AM on September 26, 2001

A little off topic, but re: Oprah's book club. I spent this summer at the Columbia Publishing Course, and I cannot even tell you how many publishing executives paid homage to Oprah. Virtually every single speaker talked about how her book club has "transformed" the industry, how any book she chooses goes bestseller instantly and stays that way for ages. Every editor was DIEING to get a nod from from Oprah. That woman's got some massive power within the publishing industry.

Ok--now, back on topic, folks.
posted by arielmeadow at 11:28 AM on September 26, 2001

Oh damn, Matt, that is so funny.... I just blew sprite all over the keyboard.
posted by bradth27 at 11:29 AM on September 26, 2001

I think she has suicide bombers in her flock

You are definitely not alone in discovering The Cult of Oprah.
posted by owillis at 11:31 AM on September 26, 2001

What's messed up is that Amazon should differentiate between things you buy for yourself and things you buy for others.

Just because I bought a Spongebob Squarepants book for my nieces, I shouldn't have to have kiddie reccomendations crammed down my throat. Still, most of the time, they pick out stuff that I like (but usually already have).
posted by ColdChef at 11:31 AM on September 26, 2001

My friend is just a normal guy. But Amazon seems to have another opinion.


I guess "Christopher" is just too long for an Amazon tab. (And why did they use a JPEG? It's so gross!)
posted by dsandl at 11:44 AM on September 26, 2001

they ran it as a test for a while where about half of the customers saw it & half didn't, thus the discrepancy above. also, our own mockerybird was the coding genius behind it.
posted by judith at 11:50 AM on September 26, 2001

Thanks Judith. Apologies Outtacontext: may I stroke your great body in apology!
posted by skylar at 11:54 AM on September 26, 2001

Thanks SilentSalamander, Matt, dsandi.... Now I can't stop laughing... you bastards and your comedy
posted by srw12 at 12:05 PM on September 26, 2001

My Amazon store is chock full of Bruce Willis movies... what the hell did I do to deserve that?
posted by spilon at 12:15 PM on September 26, 2001

hey mockerybird: can you get me a fair hearing with amazon customer service? I keep getting back templates that have increasingly less to do with my query.

my last note said:

no one is reading my email, are they?

would you kindly forward this note to your supervisor?

posted by rebeccablood at 12:20 PM on September 26, 2001

also, how much do I love the page you made? the best part is always the DVDs and CDs that they recommend based on books that I've looked at. always only things I wouldn't watch or listen to with a ten foot pole.

it's also funny that the recommendation engine can't differentiate between editions of books. because I love dicken's bleak house, for example, they keep recommending further editions of it to me....
posted by rebeccablood at 12:24 PM on September 26, 2001

It's all part of Customer Service as R&D (scroll down about 2/3). And they are "this close" to making a profit!
posted by culberjo at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2001

ColdChef: you can customize your recommendations for just that reason. I did it earlier this year because I bought someone the John Denver songbook he'd requested for his birthday and ^&*$)(#) Amazon kept trying to shove Mr. Rocky Mountain High down my throat, which I found pretty painful.

Anyway, go to 'your store', click 'your recommendations' at the top of the left-most column, click 'improve recommendations' at the top of the right-most column, then look for 'exclude purchases'. Tada!
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:38 PM on September 26, 2001

Am I the only Mefian boycotting Amazon for their stupid One-Click patent?
posted by electro at 12:52 PM on September 26, 2001

Thanks, Sapphireblue! I keep forgetting to do that.
posted by ColdChef at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2001

Powell's to the people
posted by espada at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2001

Why not BookFinder?. Don't forget to check Alibris and ABEBooks for all your used and rare book needs.

What, you want new books? Watch Out: Amazon sells remainders as new.
Besides, Barnes & Noble gives free shipping for two or more books and 1BookStreet gives free shipping in the U.S. (Powell's [via espada] gives free shipping for orders over $50.)
posted by j.edwards at 1:53 PM on September 26, 2001

i am boycotting Amazon because their pricing sucks.

personally, i have found this company to have outstanding prices and service.
disclaimer: i have nothing to do with alldirect.com
posted by donkeysuck at 1:59 PM on September 26, 2001

self link ahead!

go to my books page and look under "comparison shop" for 5 services that will compare all the prices (including shipping).
posted by rebeccablood at 2:35 PM on September 26, 2001

I spent a year and a half in customer service at amazon (answering phones/email, and then training people to answer phones/email) before I became a web developer in personalization (the very area that most of the commments above seem to be directed), so I can give you excuses and stories about how the recommendation engine tries to keep editions in mind, and tries to keep your gifts separate from your real purchases, but I won't because it's actually nicer to hear complaining than to hear the lame excuses. And you guys can figure it out anyway. If you really want to know, you can email me.

Rebecca, I'd recommend sprinkling a few keywords in your email, words that a filter might pick up to get more attention. I can't say anything more because as you'd hope from a big company like this, it's not exactly suggested that any old employee go rifling through their friends' accounts looking for answers and problems to answers, as much as he'd like to. The same reason why they can't give order information to you about an order that you didn't make. ;) But I'll add your suggestions to our Q4 planning box.

Oh, and the name in an tab image has to be a jpg instead of a gif because you're not allowed to render gif's with anything other than Photoshop (who has already paid their licensing fees) and a few other programs without paying something like 1% of revenue for the patented image rendering technology (I'm not sure about the actual details of this at all). That's the story on the streets, at least.

And the last thing I want to say is that "Corrections," so far, is an awesome book, and if Oprah can use her powers to promote awesome books, then more power to her... even if she is a little late on the bandwagon... or something... right?
posted by mockerybird at 6:36 PM on September 26, 2001

Would clearing the cookies from your computer help get rid of Amazon's personalization? The site seems to remember the way you expressed your name in your most recent order.
posted by datawrangler at 7:09 PM on September 26, 2001

mockerybird, I wish I knew what those keywords might be. I was *most* impressed with the first reply I got that thanked me for my "strong feedback" since it helps amazon make their site better. I assume that's the note they send to angry customers, and if you think about an angry customer that way, I suppose you're much more responsive to thier needs.

thing is, I wasn't angry, I just had a complicated situation, but I don't know how much leeway 1st level customer service reps are given to deviate from the templates they're given. they might be encouraged to read the notes, though. ;) otherwise, why have reps at all?

but thanks for your insight into the byzantine amazon customer empire. :)
posted by rebeccablood at 7:29 PM on September 26, 2001

Clearing the cookies would limit the personalization, because you wouldn't be recognized when you visited the site, but as soon as you log in or buy something, all the personalization will be right back. It doesn't need cookies to remember you once you log in, it has another devious method of remembering you by passing that 17 digit number around in the url (curses!). There's no way around it really. If you don't want personalization, you can either exclude all your purchases as Sapphireblue mentioned, or better yet, shop at Powells.

Rebecca, a simple "URGENT!!!" always seems to do the trick. :) And customer service reps are given as much lee-way, even encouraged to stray from the templates (except in some really touchy situations), but at the same time they're expected to work fast, so they often choose to just stick with what's easy rather than best (I know that instinct is strong in me as well).
posted by mockerybird at 7:57 PM on September 26, 2001

Mockerybird: i know that most browsers don't support .png transparency in a very pleasent way but couldn't you use one for what you're doing?
posted by davidgentle at 8:51 PM on September 26, 2001

Perhaps Amazon needs a bit more refinement, like allowing customers to remove certain pesky recommendations or merely the ability to clear all recall of what should be recommended in the first place. NetFlix already does this, by allowing you to "rate" the movie titles you come across, and adjusting the recommendation list accordingly.

I agree that it's annoying to be haunted by a previous purchase you made for someone else, especially if it's stuff you're not fond of. Psychographic data collection is still in its growth period, it seems.
posted by Down10 at 12:47 AM on September 27, 2001

Mockerybird, I just need one thing: I don't want Amazon to recommend me stuff that I have already noted I own!

Is that too much to ask?
posted by kchristidis at 6:32 AM on September 27, 2001

Perhaps Amazon needs a bit more refinement, like allowing customers to remove certain pesky recommendations or merely the ability to clear all recall of what should be recommended in the first place

That's what the 'Not Interested' button in the recommendations pages does. And it recalibrates your recommendations based on whatever you say you're not interested in. They've almost got me to a point where I will actually be interested in my top 30 recs in any given category. Fun fun fun.
posted by dogmatic at 6:54 AM on September 27, 2001

kchristidis, you're right, Amazon shouldn't be recommending you those things that you've said you already own, but for a long time the performance problem of looking up and filtering out all owned and rated items has prevented us from putting that filter on the gateway on the homepages. Soon, that will change.... like in the next couple weeks, if not sooner. In the meantime, you'll still get the best calculated recs in the actual Your Recommendations area.
posted by mockerybird at 8:19 AM on September 27, 2001

Uncompressed GIFs are legal. (they'd be slightly larger, but not a terrible size.) see here for more info.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2001

/me gives mockerybird a big hug ;-)
posted by kchristidis at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2001

A day later, CNet picks up the story. Fascinating.

Here are two classic paragraphs:

But because of the costs, few Web merchants have been as successful as Amazon in developing this kind of "personalization" technology. And even Amazon's isn't always effective. Some customers have complained that the company often suggests products they have no interest in.

"Sometimes I don't want the stuff they put in front of me," Storm said. "But often I find myself buying them. I like the fact that they are showing me items I may not otherwise find on my own."

posted by mattpfeff at 4:58 PM on September 27, 2001

Thanks Judith. Apologies Outtacontext: may I stroke your great body in apology!

You may, but only if you call me by my real name in a fit of passion (and buy me something from my Amazon wishlist), skylar. And, um, how can I say this without rubbing it in... from my mouth to CNN's ears!!
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:29 AM on September 28, 2001

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