An amusing reference spotted on Joi Ito’s blog, with the title, “Oh no! My Tivo thinks I’m gay!” I have similar sorts of problems with Amazon, in that it can’t seem to get its vast electronic brain around the combination that I (a.) have given up being a hardcore web programming geek, at least for the moment, (b.) am fascinated by graphic design, especially fairly esoteric typography, (c.) buy the novels of a few specific hard SF authors, (d.) look at a fairly wide range of history books, mostly monographs about weird things like waterwheel design, or the phlogiston theory, and (e.) buy the sort of contemporary literature that gets reviewed in the Guardian.

Don’t get me wrong – Amazon’s recommendations are at worst amusing, at best downright useful. But it strikes me that most of us are not a single person – or at least, should not be considered such for the purposes of profiling. Amazon, Tivo et al should be looking for instances where choices fail to fit the profile, and forking off a new persona rather than trying to integrate the two. Maybe they do, I don’t know – it doesn’t seem to work all that well, anyway.

Hmm. I could get rather interested in how the profiling is parameterised, come to think of it. I wonder what Amazon would make of that.

3 Comments on "Profiling"

  1. Amazon’s profiles seem rather heavily weighted towards recent purchases. Rather like you, Jonathan, I buy several distinct classes of books that Amazon doesn’t think should be bought by the same person: science fiction & fantasy, the better kind of books on programming and software engineering, rather hard-core books on development and welfare economics, a totally random selection of history, philosophy and popular science and occasionally totally random things to throw it off track.
    Amazon inevitably produces recommendations that similar to the last book I bought, plus a few things that it produces again and again regardless of being uninteresting. It is a big fan of “Learn C++ in 21 days for complete idiots” type books, which I’d be fired from my job merely for owning.


  2. Amazon does more than track what you’ve bought; it also tracks what you’ve looked at. Luckily you can edit what it remembers about you, but it can take a long time.
    My guess is that most of these tools work based on the Law of Large Numbers – the more you look at / buy, the better it does, since the fluff gets washed out.


  3. I thought the Amazon profiling was quite neat when I went there last, had me puzzling, “Wow, how does it know I’d be interested in all these things?” Until I realised that it was just showing me the stuff I’d already bought last year, but in a different media format… 🙁
    Still, was exciting at the time. And it did work, I spent faaaaaaaaar more than I’d intended.


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