{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Some Thoughts On Amazonfail & Some Final Stats

Day One | Day Two | Day Three (Final Stats)

A recap for those following along at home:

This may not be my final post on the topic, but with so many news articles and blog posts circulating, it’s essentially impossible to keep track of them all. I may post a final recap — mostly for my own benefit as someone looking to write up a comprehensive case-study on the topic for professional reasons — later in the week, but unless something new develops, this is probably my final comment.

Obviously the first half of this story — that GLTB, feminist, and disabled sexuality books, many of them not containing any erotic content, were flagged as "adult" and stripped of their sales rank, affecting their searchability on Amazon — is well-reported and what caused the internet to rise up and strike at Amazon. And while I share that outrage, many people have spoken about why this matters very eloquently elsewhere, so forgive me if I switch to more professional gears for a moment.

The second half of this story is that news of this broke in social media, primarily Twitter, and Amazon was already attempting to fix the problem long before mainstream media news outlets even got a hold of the story. Also puzzling is why Amazon’s PR department allowed this upsurge of bad PR to rise unchecked for so long, and why they are still continuing to allow bad opinion to circulate largely unchecked after their short and altogether unsatisfying statement about the issue without getting into the game. For a company that uses social data to great effect on their site and is considered one of the great Web 2.0 pioneers, their blasé attitude toward the negative up swell is at the very least shocking, and at the most dangerously ill-advised. I suppose we’ll have to wait to see how their pre-canned comment strategy works out for them as things die down (or perhaps don’t die down) over the next couple of days.

Was it a glitch? I think that’s mostly spin. (And so does most of the rest of the internet.) At the very least I think this was probably and badly thought out attempt to "protect the children" without fully understanding their own complicated and increasingly irregular tagging and category structure. As an e-commerce professional specializing in usability, I can say in my professional opinion that it’s a good thing most (if not all) people use Amazon’s search tools to find what they’re looking for, because their catalogue hierarchy is nightmarishly inconsistent, with different editions of the same book having different tags (some examples of which have been highlighted in this excellent post on Amazon’s meta data).

This also may go to show how middle-management of a large corporation can be a flimsy creature indeed, and how someone in the middle-to-upper echelon of a large company can perhaps push through changes without considering their full implications or spending the time to do a thing properly. Was it a knee-jerk response to a right-wing trolling effort, similar to the infamous Livejournal strikethru incident? Was it a hacker? Was it a policy shift that got executed too quickly and very badly? Was it a translation user-error made by a French employee? As long as Amazon continues to be tight-lipped on the topic, we can’t know for sure. Certainly anything that comes as an official statement from them will be painted up and spun round.

I tend to think it was another one of those unintentional things that reflects underlying social privilege and inclination to misunderstand and misrepresent those things that are different from so-called mainstream. Having said that, it was uplifting to see so many ordinary people rise up so quickly and say: no, this is not acceptable, and this is why. Rest assured that Amazon felt that slap, and hopefully other big corporations (and even governments) will think twice before implementing similar changes without a significant amount of research, thought, and openness.

Good job, internets. Sometimes you use you’re flaily powers for wank and eye-roll worthy silliness, but this time you have used your powers for good. Well done.

ETA: I’m going to link some "fallout" articles here, mostly for easy finding.

ETA: I’m going to link some "fallout" articles here, mostly for easy finding.

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