recommendations: not that smart

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Technology
February 19th, 2004 • 2:23 am

You would think that, over the years, Amazon would have had the opportunity to fine-tune the algorithms that they use to come up with “recommendations” for you as a regular customer.

First of all, even though I have been purchasing stuff from for years and my shipping address has always been a Canadian address, still insists on including recommendations for hardware such as the Canon PowerShot S400 4 MP Digital Camera. Yet whenever I try to purchase any kind of electronics device/hardware from, I am politely reminded that is not allowed to ship such hardware to Canada. So why on earth are they still including such items on my “Recommendations” page?

It gets more interesting when I click on the “Why was I recommended this?” link next to the Canon PowerShot link. opens a new window in which it states that I have been recommended the Canon PowerShot camera because I purchased things like… All the Rave by Joseph Menn (a book about the rise and fall of Napster) and the Oklahoma! film soundtrack on CD (that was a gift for my mother-in-law :-)).

No matter how hard I think about this, I really cannot see the connection between the fact that I bought a book about Napster and a soundtrack CD and the fact that I might be interested in purchasing a Canon PowerShot digital camera (which of course I am not).

Granted, I have never actually taken the time to manually “rate” such recommendations in order to help fine-tune their future recommendations. But even without any help on my part, should be able to figure out 1) that I live in Canada and therefore cannot purchase hardware from them; 2) that the fact that I purchased a book about Napster and a soundtrack CD has absolutely nothing to do with my supposed interest in a digital camera.

I guess we still have a long way to go before such recommendations can claim to be based on any kind of “intelligent” evaluation of my tastes.

3 Responses to “ recommendations: not that smart”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    ssp: Yes, I agree that the recommendations that they give about “People who bought this also bought…” are sometimes useful. They make much more sense than these recommendations anyway. These ones are effectively useless.

    Patrick: Yes, I don’t have to pay attention to it — but it still takes up a tiny portion of my valuable screen space and bandwidth every time I visit the site, so I figured I might as well see what it was all about. I won’t be going back any time soon, that’s for sure.

    It just seems to me that, by now, Amazon should have had the opportunity to come up with a much better system, which indeed caters to the needs of those who do not travel down the well-worn paths. That’s precisely one of the things that on-line stores have over regular stores: They can (and do) cater to a much wider variety of tastes and preferences. Amazon should take advantage of this to expand their offering.

  2. Patrick Wynne says:

    What, people actually pay attention to those recommendations? I just ignore them. I know what I want, I know what I like, and I don’t think any such “service” could ever hope to give me recommendations that would actually be useful.

    Looks like they are pretty much as useless as I figured.

  3. ssp says:

    I agree, their recommendations occasionally range from stupid (like recommending DVDs although I never bought one, or after buying an electric device that you only need one from, offering me different brands of the same) to insulting (Windows software – what kind of creep do they think I am?).

    I must admit, that in the trivial places their recommendations aren’t too bad. For example, based on my past purchases, some of the CDs recommended to me by amazon are those which I have already bought at the local record store. But I assume those links are rather easy to make.

    In particular, I find it upsetting that amazon always tends to recommend the most obvious and popular thing that other people may have bought. Those ‘recommendations’ would only be worth their name if they helped me discovering new exciting things as much as they helped amazon’s bottom line. The way they’re run now, there is no benefit for me. In fact, I may even feel slightly insulted by the fact that amazon thinks I’ll only treat the most worn out paths rather than wanting to see new things.

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