Joeblade

Amazon Recommends

Amazon recommendations used to be more useful — there were times I would even buy CDs that they recommended. It’s a simple concept; track what the customer has purchased in the past, and with a bit of cross-referencing to what other people who bought the same items also bought, serve up a list of recommendations. Cunning. But what does it take to ruin the entire system?

Buy a Cliff Richard CD for your mother. That’ll do it.

I didn’t think much of it; there was a new Cliff CD coming out, she asked me to get it for her, I was sat in front of the computer, click click click, it’s done. But the consequences? Cliff’s ripped through my recommendations page — it turns out that what people who buy Cliff Richard CDs tend to also buy is — well, more Cliff Richard CDs. There wasn’t just one recommended, but nine. Nine! Why has nobody stopped this man?

In truth, though, my recommendation list has been in a steady decline for some time now, it’s just that the sudden rush of Cliff really drove the point home. I like to think that I have a fairly respectable taste in music, but what on earth did I buy that prompted Amazon to recommend the soundtrack to ‘Will and Grace’? A soundtrack featuring the likes of Cher, Britney Spears and Barry Manilow, for chrissake. Why is the woeful Natasha Bedingfield turning up alongside Kasabian and the 22-20s? Who, exactly, is Diana Krall, and why does Amazon think I’ll be interested in her ‘interpretations’?

The deeper I delve into the recommendation list, the more random the choices appear. A 2-disc collection by various artists entitled ‘Sad Songs’, featuring such musical luminaries as LeAnn Rimes. A self-titled album by ‘Los Lonely Boys’. Another self-titled album, this time by ‘Mystic Chords of Memory’, with song titles such as ‘Like a Lobster’, ‘Sure, Bert’, and ‘Mongo and Arky’.

I begin to imagine myself leading a dual-existence, Tyler Durden-style. It would explain why I’m often so tired if, when I think I’ve been sleeping, my other self has actually been browsing Amazon and buying up the works of George Michael and Elton John. While I admit that it’s not quite Fight Club, it’s nearly as distressing.

It’s probably unlikely, though, that my alter-ego looks like Brad Pitt. I’m imagining someone more like Harvey Fierstein.

By Paul Haine, in