Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Island of Doctor Moreau, America's No.1 Home Computing Book?

I think Amazon's computers have problem: they act like literal-minded machines. Which they are--sometimes to a fault.

Examples: According to Amazon, The Island of Doctor Moreau, by Herbert George Wells is the No.1 bestselling book. My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse is No. 17. I got these as a result of browsing Books> Computers & Internet >Home Computing at Amazon.

While H.G. Wells was amazingly predictive at times, I don't see that computer mavens are going to find an antiquated novel of such interest as to propel it to lofty heights on Amazon's computer list.

And I'm sure that Pelham Granville Wodehouse never gave home computing even a passing thought, back there in the 1920s. Nor did Jeeves. Radio was the leading-edge technology in their era.

No doubt a couple of Amazon keywords associated with computing accidentally occur in Verne's book. though I can't imagine which words they might be, offhand. "Jeeves" of course is connected with "computer" Amazon's in database, for its association with "Ask Jeeves."

Why is this sort of thing a problem? Because it gets in the way of finding the books one is really after. I enjoyed reading Verne years ago, and while I do enjoy Wodehouse and Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, I am not seeking any of these when I'm browsing computer books. The result of books such as the aforementioned and The Life of Abraham Lincoln appearing among the top 20 home computing books is that my search is interrupted by irrelevant results, and books that I might be interested in are knocked off the top 20 (or 50 or 100) list.

Yes, it's simply a literal-minded program pulling out anything that matches a category's list of keywords. But it's inefficient. One would think the program would be smart enough to do some exclusions. (And to think that one of the three largest corporations in America uses this system for its internal-- never mind.) Ah, well--at least it's entertaining a few people who get a laugh out of seeing Thus Spake Zarathustra presented as a computer book. (Hm ... that was the title of 2001: A Space Odyssey's theme music--and a computer was one of the film's stars ....)

A proper search will eliminate such problems. But how many people rely on browsing rather on searching? I am told by eBay that more of their buyers browse than search. Is the same true at Amazon?

Then again, maybe I'm being unreasonable in expecting the computers behind such an icon as Amazon to be more disciminating.


K. said...

Minor correction I'm sure is a typo: Moreau is by H.G. Wells :)

Michael A. Banks said...

Oops! Thanks for the major correction--I've had Verne on my mind after reading about him in Panshin's The World Beyond the Hill.

Michael A. Banks said...

Not to mention the fact that I had a migraine headache when I posted this one. Note to self: think of something other than blog posting to divert yourself from migraines.