Sometimes I get frustrated by Amazon’s recommendations algorithm. They’re usually pretty good once they get to know you, but I still, annoyingly, get recommendations based on things I’ve merely looked at. Amazon has a longstanding bug in which when you turn off your browsing history, it doesn’t stop tracking what you look at and using that for recommendations. Periodically you have to go to the area where it shows products recommended based on your browsing history, and clear that history. It’s annoying, but I’ve reported it to them before and they don’t seem to have an interest in fixing it.
My most recent bizarro recommendation was for romance books by a certain author, based on the fact that I’d shown an interest in romance. I don’t know how I could be clearer about this, but I actually have zero interest in the romance genre. I’m not even sure what book I looked at to trigger this, but right now I have no items in my browsing history on Amazon. Or so they say, anyway. I went to my account options, found the Personalization section, and found a link that said View and Edit Your Browsing History. When I first went to that page I had a Delete All Items button; I don’t now that I’ve clicked it.
All I can figure is that I followed a link from another author’s signature because I thought their cover was cool, or they were saying something about a review and I wanted to see it too, or something like that. I’ve been known to look at previews of other people’s books, not because I was interested in the book but because there was a question about what a reviewer was complaining about.
Once I saw a guy annoyed that a reviewer gave him two stars after just reading a few pages and declaring he needed an editor. The reviewer actually had specific comments, but had trouble articulating them. When I checked out a preview I understood the problem; then I inadvertently crossed a line by trying to explain what the reviewer meant, because I took the author’s confusion as a request for clarification. (In a nutshell, he had what some refer to as “head-hopping”, taken to an extreme. It was written in a third-person omniscient perspective, but kept shifting between viewpoints of characters willy-nilly, in many cases characters who were clearly ancillary to the plot and didn’t even need names, so it was hard to tell who the protagonist even was. While the setting was barely described, the author felt it important to tell readers the name of the tavern’s proprietor even though the tavern itself was left nameless and vague. Yeah, he needed an editor.) I got recommendations for that book and others like it for a while, just because I’d looked at it and gotten a preview. The fact that I never put it on my wish list or bought it should have been better clues.
I believe the Amazon bug is partly an implementation issue. That is, I think they’re using two different ways of tracking browsing and at least one of them sucks. I suspect one is cookie-based, and the other is tied into your account information on their servers. The reason I suspect this is that the browser history collection setting is itself cookie-based; they clearly say that setting applies only to one computer. But also, the fact that I was told I had no items in history on one page, but had a conspicuous delete button on another (that disappeared on later views after I had clicked it), indicates they’re storing history two different ways.
The frustrating part is that I do want Amazon to recommend me things. I even want them to e-mail me about it. Their recommendations system is an all-or-nothing proposition, though, no way to say “Look, even if you do collect my history, which you’re not supposed to, at least do me the favor of not assuming I’m interested in every little thing I look at.” I follow Amazon links all the time, sometimes because I’m curious about a product, sometimes because I want to research something, sometimes because someone posted a link with too vague a description and I didn’t realize it was a link to a book or something rather than a blog post.
Well, it’s not the end of the world. I just wish they’d get their ducks in a row.