Waaah, waaah, waaah! Ebooks are tooo cheeeeep! We big publishers don't make enough money on them, waaaaah! We insisted on DRM because we're sure that all customers are really thieves, but wonder why the customer doesn't want to pay more than $10 for an ebook! It must be all that eeeeeevil Amazon's fault, blame them, waaaah!

Really, that's what I'm hearing, and it's disgusting. In a "free market" that all these publishers say they believe in, price is set by what people are willing to pay, not by what it allegedly costs.
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People all over the blogosphere have been piling on Amazon about them going nuclear in response to Macmillan telling them that it (Macmillan) wants to set prices for Macmillan titles sold as ebooks. They call Amazon a bully, and take Macmillan's side, "of course Macmillan has a monopoly on their content", blah, blah, blah.

I heartily disagree, and that's putting it mildly.

First, some basics.
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I asked a couple unofficial sources about it. The Seattle PI article is pretty accurate.

It was one of the business people (not a programmer) in France trying to get certain things not to show up on the French "home page" (like the Digital Camera store shows up on the US home page.) They probably have to be "family friendly" in some way too. He probably didn't realize that what he did to "fix" what he saw as a problem on his site was wrong, and would ripple across the world. The reason that the main search was affected is that the search process takes the "adult" flag as just another data input, like the ISBN, author, title, etc. Several people, in Seattle and elsewhere, spent the holiday weekend on-call working on this high severity ticket, trying to figure out what happened.

It really was human error, and I expect that someone got a reaming when he got back from his holiday.

Generally, Amazon's PR types are a little slow to respond, and Amazon never likes to reveal the internals of how it does stuff. It is fairly complex to start with, and even when I tried to get a handle on it from a system flow perspective I got a headache and a data buffer overflow error from my brain.

No policy involved, just someone (maybe more than one for the earlier items) with too much access to muck around with things doing just that without double checking.

However, it is very likely that the long term fix will be a change in how easy it is to mark stuff "adult", and how blithely the search functions take such data as given. Maybe, if we're lucky, they will implement a "safe" search ala Google, so that people who don't want the real world to intrude can have the fun stuff filtered out. But that's just my suggestion.

Amazon has built its reputation on what is called the "long tail" - the stuff that your average bookstore, even a big one like B&N, doesn't stock. That's why they have third party sellers, and used books. They want to help you get what you're looking for, what you can't pick up at the corner store or some brick and mortar chain. That includes GLBT books, Sex and Disability books, Art books, and various sex toys all of which you can't just walk out and buy in small town America, or even big city America. Sometimes their catalog people and buyers are a bit thick (like classifying yarn as "thread" - definitely a non-native English speaker did that one), but they actually try to have the hard to find stuff.

They are not another WalMart. They generally treat their people far, far better than WalMart.
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AmazonFail: An inside look at what happened. I believe this - it checks with what can and has happened, including the stuff about programs being global, plus the trouble ticket type. The catalog stacks for the stores are separately indexed, but books are books the world over.

Just the search part has workers in 5 countries that develop and monitor it. That is smaller than the catalog part.

Not malice, or anti- anything. Just a regular guy, probably working late before a holiday weekend, who fat fingered a checkbox and didn't proofread his submission before he committed it.

So please, go back to buying from Amazon - I still own stock!
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OK, I had a feeling that this was someone making policy by program - ie using the software that drives the site and the searches to de-rank GLBT content by tag or keyword. IOTW, a scripted attack, either from inside or, more likely, outside.

Amazon is not anti GLBT. The attack could just as easily been against books on meat (ala PETA) - raising, slaughtering, cooking, etc.

Amazon runs a huge site. So huge that different 'stores' are run by different groups. They employ over 75 people just to handle its search functions. Think about that. Think about how many thousands of servers they have.

From what I've read, apparently the had an experimental thing to allow stuff to be de-ranked as adult if it got over a certain number of "complaints". This, to anyone familiar with the mail-bombing habits of the religious right, is a recipe for disaster (as we discovered with LJ's own Strikethrough.

But the fundies didn't do it - I watch them, subscribe to some of their mailing list filth (seriously, it makes me feel slimed to read it.)

Somebody with some unix and apache knowledge, and a hate on for gays did. Clumsily, in fact. He, or they (if more than one loser who couldn't get a date was involved), started back in February, with just one or two titles - probably to figure out the threshold of complaints that would get something de-ranked. Then they'd have to figure out how to crawl the site for keywords, and enlist machine capable of running a shell script to make the complaints.

They couldn't use Windows attacks, because big ecommerce sites don't run on Windows (too unstable). The big sites have to use Unix/Linux/BSD, with a ton of load balancing, replication, and fault tolerance. So it took longer, because Linux bots nets just aren't there. They needed friends to help - and that will be their undoing.

Yes, it could have been an inside job, but I don't think anyone in their right mind working for Amazon or its subsidiaries would be dumb enough to torpedo their entire career to get books de-ranked.

You see, Amazon, and its wholly owned subsidiaries, *IS* gay friendly. I ought to know, because I used to work for one of the subsidiaries. It has domestic partner benefits, both at the subsidiaries in California and for the main corporation in Seattle (and elsewhere). No one batted an eyelash when I registered my partner for benefits. I was out at work, and no one ever even got upset. I brought my partner to company picnics and holiday dinners!

They don't much like religion pushers in the corporate culture, either. You see, they want to sell you whatever you want to buy. Seriously, they want to have the biggest, most searchable catalog of stuff that you can imagine. Yeah, they try not to put non-"family friendly" stuff on the main page, but other than that, you can get pretty much anything that is legal to sell in your country. They don't sell alcohol, tobacco, or firearms in the US because of regulation on interstate sale of those items. (You can buy wine vinegar, but not wine.) But they will ship you a dildo or a but plug plus porn videos, with Prime, in an opaque wrapper.

This was targeted on a holiday weekend, when a lot of people were assumed to be out of the office either for Easter or Passover. Believe me, though, there are people working frantically to fix the error in the algorithm, and I'm sure that Bezos has yelled at more than a few people.

Amazon does not like being gamed, whether by hackers, DDOS, merchants, or groups with an agenda. They will be looking at logs, and IP addresses, and then they will call in the FBI.


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