About that Amazon debacle that seems to have blown up in Amazon’s nest. . . .
I suspect VERY strongly that what we are seeing is not a deliberate attempt to drive away business and make themselves the laughingstock of the business world (which is what is happening, what with people vowing never to shoppe there again and to throw Oobleck at the heads of the management), but A SCREWUP. Now, they said it was a “glitch” on the Publishers Weekly site, but they didn’t give details. My thoughts run sort of thus:
1. Some middle management moron decides that it would be good PR to “keep the DIRTY BOOKS out of the general searches.” Perhaps this guy/gal is a religious fanatic, or uptight, or whatever–or perhaps he/she was lobbied heavily by some group of people to do this. No matter.
No definition is given of “DIRTY BOOKS.” “You know the ones,” the moron insists. Perhaps some rubric is cobbled up using keywords. Ignore the fact that this issue is extremely complex, and that most judges have thrown their hands in the air and declared that they have no idea what is “obscene” anyway.
2. Some programmer/IT type is assigned the task of “working on this.” This involves some experimentation with pretend databases, but when it comes time for final testing, he/she has to use the Real Thing as a guinea pig. This explains the people who have had this stuff happen to them starting in February, as this would be the time the programmer would be doing initial testing. Perhaps he or she puts in a few keywords (for it has to be running on keywords, or on some kind of secret squirrel signal, because this CAN’T be other than an automated thing) and sees whether the rankings can be taken out.
The programmer is mostly concerned with making the deadline and having the thing work with the examples that Management has given for “sample data.” There is no way to do exhaustive testing of the thing on the real database in advance. Testing is always fun, anyway. You just never know for sure what might happen when you get to the Real Site and install an app. Trust me.
3. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Amazon has likely always had some policy or another that said, “We will not rank DIRTY STUFF in our sales rankings.” This was what they came up with to appease whatever special interest group challenged them. Here’s where Ashley the Customer Service Scapegoat got her boilerplate text that she mailed out to the first few complainants who landed on her inbox doorstep. This policy is vague. She is vague about it all. She probably has NO IDEA that the programmer was sent out to do what the middle management moron asked, and is taken by surprise today.
4. THIS MORNING: “Hey, we’re ready to unleash this sorting/ranking algorithm!” Perhaps it was bought from a contractor or a third party. Perhaps it has only been tested with limited parameters. No matter! Let’s unleash it on the system on a holiday when there isn’t too much business traffic. Easter Sunday, anyone?
5. Algorithm hears the starting gun and bolts out of the gate. It only knows what it has been told to do. It has NO IDEA how much trouble it is getting into because of the weird instructions it has been given.
6. Firestorm rages across the ‘net. Amazon realizes it will take time to yank the new algorithm out of the system, let alone figure out what exactly it has done and decide what to do about it. Major PR crisis ensues, no matter WHAT they do.
7. Amazon novel contest finalists burst into tears at the thought that they’re finally gonna win a contest, but the sponsor is going to be in full disgrace when they win. Poop!
8. Programmer points finger at middle manager. Middle manager says it’s all Programmer’s fault. Chaos ensues.
Even if this isn’t exactly what happened, I don’t believe they would start something that they could easily predict would be a HUGE MISTAKE and that would not have ANY benefits at all. For what reason would they DO this right now? The conservative right is not in power, and no one is banning books wholesale, and there’s no pressure on them to “filter” anything. It simply makes no sense that it would be an intentional thing. It was clearly an unintended side effect of something they came up with that wouldn’t have even been noticed (I’ll bet) if it had worked the way it was meant to originally. I mean, how could they miss the Playboy Playmates Confessions bios and all those nasty old Henry Miller books again?! (Henry Miller is always a sure bet to get onto banned-book lists. If you must read porn, go high class and read Henry Miller, as my old professors always said.)
I wouldn’t get too upset about this just yet. I really, REALLY think they’ll spend a bit of time doing damage control as soon as people get back to work in the morning, and then they’ll come up with a plausible cover story. Nobody’ll even know what really happened, but they will fix this. After all, it is to their benefit that people find the books they want when they search!! It never benefits a business to have things for sale and then hide them away! Even a middle management moron knows THAT!!
So I wouldn’t get too worked up over this for the moment, unless and until they come out and announce that they’re going to do this stuff on purpose and no matter what we say. Calm thyselves and rest. This, too, shall pass. Tomorrow’s another day (they almost never recycle on us).