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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