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24 October 2012

So, this morning Amazon sent me an email suggesting I buy this book called Supercritical by someone named Me. And this isn’t the first time they’ve sent me an email suggesting I buy one of my own books.

I get the idea behind it — based on purchases one has made in the past, an algorithm determines items that person is likely to want to purchase. The idea makes complete sense to me — where it’s off is the execution.

Forgiving the fact that the algorithm is suggesting I buy items I’ve already purchased from Amazon (so they really should have a record of that), it’s been very rare that any items Amazon has suggested have ever made their way into my shopping cart. Rare enough, in fact, that I think it’s never actually happened.

There are a couple of possible reasons for this — a faulty algorithm, a limited data pool — but I think the problem is a bit less mechanical. I think, simply, that an algorithm can’t predict human tastes in art. At least, not yet. Books, films, music, comics — all of these are art forms, and people’s taste in art is highly subjective, and highly specific. I can’t say that just because I like The Misfits and The Roots that other people will feel the same way — and two bands that sound the same to me might be night and day to someone else.

So, what about you, folks? Ever gotten a buying suggestion that was spot-on? What was the one that missed the mark by the widest margin?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 24 October 2012 0552

    A friend recently chatted about the Amazon algorithm, wishing it were more like Pandora, where you can fine tune it. I may have bought one book from the “Others who bought this, also bought this…” section on the site below the book I purchased. And that was only because I set out to find something new. From the email they send, I’ve never purchased a suggested book.

    Like you, my tastes are all over the place. And, like you, I see similarities in things that may seem totally opposite of what others see. I’ve found other bands I like on Pandora, but with books…I haven’t found too much based on my purchases.

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