*looks at clock* The trouble with Tweetdeck, right, is that it's feeding Twitter to me instead of me having to go and actively refresh my homepage. It's fucking addictive. However, it does mean I spotted Marie and Graham Linehan tweet the problem with Amazon.
It seems that, a few weeks ago, Amazon.com (don't know if it's Amazon.co.uk as well) decided to remove sales rankings from what it considered to be 'adult' material. Amazon's reasoning for this was that it didn't want 'adult' content to show up in everyday searches that people were doing. How high up a search result something appears is determined by its sales rank, so they stripped entire categories. One category that seems to be suffering is the LGBT section: no sales rankings for Stephen Fry, John Barrowman, EM Forster, Sarah Waters. Yet Playboy has a sales rank, along with others that you can see listed by Heather Corinna.
I've done some random searches and it doesn't seem to be affecting all editions of all books, but as Mark Probst got Amazon to admit, they are doing some censoring. And censorship is what it is.
I'm an interweb spod, right? I have to know about search and stuff for my livelihood (such as it is). If you know what you're looking for, and you type "stephen fry moab" into Amazon, you'll get Moab is my Washpot returned. But if you're looking for something on, say "homosexuality"… go on, follow the link. See how the top results are now about preventing homosexuality – because the algorithms that decide which are the most popular books, and hence which to present at the top of the search results, are no longer taking sales of LGBT works into account. It doesn't think they're popular. It doesn't know they're popular. It barely even knows they exist.
If Amazon's so damned concerned about people being offended by 'adult' content, then create an opt-out. But they'll also need to be much cleverer and targeted about what they then choose to filter on those opt-outs. Because 'adult' content, to most sentient people, is pornography and erotica, not classic works of literature that just happen to be on gay topics. Amazon appear to have ham-fistedly slashed entire categories on a poorly thought out whim, or perhaps catering to what they think middle America wants. (Don't shock them with the gay literature! Oh no! Remember the outcry over Oranges are Not the Only Fruit? Oh look, it doesn't have a sales rank.)
There's a Googlebomb in progress – Amazon Rank – and a Twitter tag, #amazonfail, which is going mental at the moment (over 1,000 tweets in the time it took to write this post. And I'm a fast writer.) And, as Zoe Margolis points out, "For a 2.0 company, no PR response to a 6-hour-long Internet shit-storm is amazingly crap". Fail? I think so.
(What's also more insidious is that the internet is now almost entirely based on tagging, categorisation and search. Because virtually all content is now set up this way, it only takes one major company to decide it doesn't like one particular category for all that content to, in effect, drop off the face of the internet. Tagging is a really useful and intuitive way to order content, but I think this may be the first big example of the system being abused in this way. Other instances, anyone?)