No, not you. Of course not you.
I’m talking about Amazon — or more specifically, the ‘Recommended for You’
bug prank ‘feature’ on their website. That nasty little bastard can go straight to hell, and I hope as many pitchforks as possible poke it right in the ass on the way.
“I thought from my previous experience that the worst thing Amazon could do is ignore me. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.”
Don’t get me wrong. I like Amazon; I shop there all the time. And I appreciate automagical systems that can figure out what I might like — when they actually work, that is. I only ask three things of a recommendation system — or for that matter, a friend, spouse, or government — and in the past week, Amazon has failed me on all three. Observe:
1. Pay attention to what I’m telling you.
A few days ago, I logged onto Amazon, looking for some CDs. Here’s the conversation (only slightly rephrased) that I had with the recommendation system:
Amazon: Hi, Charlie! Welcome back! Can I help you find a CD?
Me: Okay, sure.
Amazon: I bet you’d like Bridge. It’s by Blues Traveler!
Me: Oh. Um, yeah, I don’t think so.
Amazon: No problem! How about Save His Soul? It’s great!
Me: I dunno — who’s it by?
Amazon: Blues Traveler!
Me: You know, I’m really not a Blues Traveler fan.
Amazon: Say no more! I know of a great CD you’ll love!
Me: Fine. Just tell me it’s not by-
Amazon: The CD’s titled Blues Traveler!
Me: *sigh* Let me guess. It’s-
Amazon: That’s right! It’s by Blues Traveler!!! Gosh!
Me: Look, seriously. Not a Blues Traveler fan. I swear.
Amazon: But you said six months ago that you own Four.
Me: Yeah… I did. But-
Amazon: And that’s by Blues Traveler!
Me: I know. But it’s my wife’s, really. And I listed dozens of CDs I own.
Amazon: I know how you feel! Probably like buying Travelogue: Blues Traveler Classics. Right? Right?
Me: Dude. I gave Four two stars. Out of five. Two.
Amazon: That’s more than one! Bet you’d love Blues Traveler’s Greatest Hits. Betcha would!
Me: No. I wouldn’t. Look, see here? I’m telling you not to use Four to suggest music any more. Okay? I happen to own one disc, but that’s it. No more Blues Traveler, got it?
Me: No greatest hits, no tribute albums, no cover bands, nothing. Okay?
Amazon: You’re the boss!
Me: Great. So. Do you have any other recommendations?
Amazon: Sure! You’re gonna love this CD Zygote! It’s super!
Me: Okay, I’m game. What type of mu-
Amazon: It’s by John Popper!
Me: Wait. Isn’t he-
Amazon: He’s the lead singer… of Blues Traveler! Yippee!
Me: God, I hate you.
Amazon: How many copies should I put you down for?
Me: I absolutely fucking hate you.
Amazon: Don’t forget One-Click Checkout™! It’s the best!
I nearly strangled my monitor with the mouse cord. Evidently, I should stop being so fricking honest with Amazon about the music I technically own.
Lord help me if it ever finds out my wife has the entire Madonna catalog somewhere under our roof. Jesus.
2. Don’t throw ‘paying attention’ back in my face.
I thought from my previous experience that the worst thing Amazon could do is ignore me. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
See, I’m a big British comedy fan. Mostly the older shows — Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Kiss Me Kate, Keeping Up Appearances, just about anything. The subtle stuff, the bawdy stuff, the outlandish stuff, it doesn’t much matter. I once even managed to sit through nearly an entire episode of Are You Being Served?.
Just once. And I called in sick to work for the rest of the week. But you get the picture.
So, last night I was poking around Amazon again, trying to find a DVD with clips from the old Alas Smith and Jones show.
I’m not even going to bother trying to describe it, other than to call it ‘two-man sketch comedy’ and point you to the BBC’s take above. My wife walked in last night while I was cackling giddily over a Smith and Jones ‘Swiss News’ clip on YouTube, and — after I replayed it and made her watch it — all she said was:
‘It’s kind of cute. But not laugh-out-loud cute. You’re weird.‘
(Hence the name, you see. Clever ones, those British are.)
The astute film buffs among you may remember Mel Smith from his role as ‘the Albino’ in The Princess Bride, where he tended lovingly to the Pit…. of Despaaaaiiiir.
The less astute among you — including me — may not know that there’s also a Mel Smith (a different Mel Smith, presumably, what with her evidently being a woman and all) who writes gay cowboy erotica novels, and sells them via Amazon.
Astute or not, I’d like to believe that if my recent browsing history included the phrases ‘John Cleese’, ‘British comedy’ and ‘Blackadder’, but not — I can’t stress this enough, now, NOT — any phrases such as ‘burly cowhand’, ‘assless chaps’, or ‘rope my dogie, Tex’, then you would probably guess the context of the ‘Mel Smith’ search correctly.
As opposed to waiting until I logged in tonight and saying:
‘Hi! Welcome back! Can we recommend ‘To Love a Cowboy’ for you today? It’s a wild, steamy tale of a young boy and the older man he… no? Okay! How about ‘Twice the Cowboy, Twice the Ride’? You’ll lose yourself in… not interested? No problem! ‘Stallions on the Range’ it is!‘
A ‘Mel Smith’ search is one thing. But I still can’t see why Amazon loaded up so far on gay cowboy fare. Maybe Blues Traveler fans watch a lot of Brokeback Mountain. I dunno.
3. Make me feel cooler by taking your advice.
Following the Blues Traveler debacle above, I finally managed to straighten Amazon out regarding the kinds of music I like. And generally, those kinds fall into one big category — old.
I remember the days, back in the mid-to-late ’80s, when I would laugh — laugh! — at people listening to the Beatles, or the Doors, or early Rolling Stones. ‘Geez,‘ I’d say with a wrinkle-free sneer, ‘some of that crap is twenty years old. Get with the times, already!‘
I still listen to a lot of the same music I did back then. Which was, it turns out, just about twenty years ago. It seems the sneerer has become the sneeree. Ouch.
In my defense, at least I’m not listening to the drivel you probably cringe over when you think of ’80s music. I figure it’s pretty hard to point and laugh over somebody ‘still’ listening to a band, if you have no idea who the hell they were in the first place. I’d like to claim that was a carefully planned strategic decision; actually, it just turns out that I have weird tastes in music as well as comedy, apparently.
The point is, this is where I thought Amazon might actually be able to help me, for once. So while I whipped up an order for a few CDs (by the Broken Homes, Royal Court of China and Buckwheat Zydeco, from 1988, 1989, and 1987, respectively), I asked — nay, begged — Amazon to find me something hipper. Something I’d like, but could brag about to all the young whippersnappers at the parties with their droopy trousers and ball caps askew.
So I hit Amazon with my (ever so slightly) more modern preferences. I may have one foot in the auditory grave, but there are some bands I like that have seen the light of this millennium, if only barely. So I rated up my ‘cool’ bands, like Soul Coughing and the Propellerheads and the Crystal Method. Find me something like these, I told Amazon — something good that I’ve never heard of, and that all the cool kids are into these days.
The Recommendorator beeped and booped for a while, and finally spat out a name that wasn’t simply the ‘limited edition’ version of one of the albums I’d claimed. Nor the import issue of the same album. Nor some Blues Traveler shit. Instead, the name was: ‘Fluke‘.
Nice. I’d never heard of Fluke. The ratings looked good. I saw comparisons to Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers and the like — another positive sign in my book. So I amended my order to include the suggested disc from this hot new act, this ‘Fluke’ that was no doubt all the rage at the raves and clubs and raves and yes-I-know-I-already-said-raves and clubs and raves and I-just-have-no-freaking-clue-where-else-kids-hang-out-these-days and raves where the kids are hanging out these days. Smugly satisfied with my newly purchased street cred, I eagerly awaited delivery of my CDs.
They came today. Four CDs in total. The old stuff is great — just like I remembered, catchy and clever and steeped in nostalgia. Better yet, the Fluke CD is awfully good, too. After a couple of turns through the disc, there are only a couple of songs that I’m ‘enh‘ about, and three or four that really stand out as gems. As a newly-bought and never-heard disc, it’s really quite a catch.
And as a conversation piece and ticket to street cred, it’s a steaming pile of dingo shit.
Turns out this ‘new‘ band that’s all the rage with their new CD was, in fact, all the rage back in 1997. They released their first single back in 1988. And the Wikipedia blurb including the CD I bought is two full sections before ‘Current work’.
Fluke’s not new; I’m just old. And they happened to stay off my radar for, oh, twenty years or so. But I never would have realized the tragic depths of my unhipness, were it not for Amazon’s trusty ‘Recommendations’ system taunting me with decade-old CDs and laughing and pointing.
So thanks for zippo, Amazon. Take your ballad pop and your cowboy porn and your aging techno albums and shove them up your mail slot. Next time I want recommendations, I’m going to fricking Pandora.
(But I can still come back to buy CDs, right? That Super Shipper Saving™ is awesome!!!1!OMGeleventy!)Permalink | 2 Comments