Archive for April, 2004

Amazon, What Were You Thinking?

So, what the hell is the story with Amazon.com’s recommendation engine?  They’ve been trying to sell me all sorts of things lately, and while some of the suggestions seem reasonable, there are always a few weird ones in there.  What’s more amusing, however, is getting inside the recommendation engine’s head with the “Why was I recommended this?” feature.

For those who don’t know, the Amazon recommendation engine works on some proprietary algorithm that uses information about the items that you have either purchased, rated, or simply viewed (!) on their site to push items they think you’d like to buy.  Frankly, I think using items you’ve merely viewed is a little weird.

Anyway, Amazon recently suggested I’d like the Sarah McLachlan album Afterglow.  Not exactly my favorite, but nice try, Amazon.  So how did Amazon decide I’d like this CD?  Amazon selected several items I’d bought, rated, or looked at to make this decision.  I expected to see several CDs in this list, particularly other female artists.  There were only two CDs in the list: No Doubt’s Rock Steady and the soundtrack to Chicago.  Um, ok.  So what other items did Amazon think were relevant?  Well, among other things, a Linksys USB hub (that I vaguely recall looking at) and my Weber grill.  I don’t get it.

Sometimes even items that I’m genuinely interested in get recommended for crazy reasons.  For example, Amazon tried to sell me a Linksys wireless router.  Fair enough — I actually might buy that.  Why was I recommended this?  Among the items that Amazon used to make this decision were a T-Fal deep fryer and the real-time strategy game Warcraft III.  What the hell sense does that make?  Maybe Amazon thinks that dorky guys who play computer games and eat fried food have an inclination toward wireless networking.  Hmm, maybe there’s something to that.  You win that one Amazon.

One last quick one: Amazon thought I’d like Al Franken’s book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, a scathing attack on the right-wing media.  Why?  Well, because I’d purchased The Best of The Muppet Show on DVD and the old school classic rap album Raising Hell by Run DMC.  Makes sense to me!

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Fashionably Speechless

I can’t help but notice how fashionable it has become to be speechless.  Too often, when asked to comment on or react to some event in a public forum, people spit out clichéd statements such as “words cannot describe” and “I have no words for this moment.”   What’s annoying about this is that there are quite frequently plenty of words to describe the occasion; the speaker just hasn’t thought of any.  That’s what really bugs me; when people are too inarticulate or just too damn lazy to think of something thoughtful to say, and they try to cover it up by implying that the situation is simply indescribable.  Right.

Don’t get me wrong — when such statements are uttered in earnest by poised, well-spoken people it can be compelling.  There’s an understated, eloquent quality to it because you can sense the sincerity behind the remark.  Any event that can render an otherwise loquacious person speechless is a truly momentous occasion, indeed.

So, to all the simpletons who think you’re getting off easy with this trendy, hackneyed cop-out: you’re not fooling anyone.  Next time somebody gives you a chance to speak, make it worth listening to.

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