On the Internet, everything is connected.
Case in point: Amazon recommendations. I was a loyal Barnes and Noble shopper up until Christmas, when I got my beautiful Kindle and abandoned the brick and mortar B&N for Amazon ebooks. As is often mentioned, digital books cost less than physical copies (and for online shoppers, eliminate the need for paying postage)—but Amazon probably makes up more than the difference in the sheer volume of books people are buying. A lot of Amazon testimonials say something about users reading more on their Kindle because of the ease of purchasing, 60-second delivery, and 400,000+ title selection. But in my experience, the real reason I read more these days is because I’ve learned something very important—the Algorithm knows best.
I like new fiction. I didn’t know I liked new fiction until this year—because I didn’t know what was out there. And then came The Algorithm.
The Algorithm is Amazon’s recommendation system, that takes into account past purchases, search history, purchase history of other customers, and the whole great cloud of interconnected tags (I’m pretty sure a couple accio spells are involved too). It’s like a book club with millions of members.
The Algorithm is scary accurate.
Back in ye olde simple days, I thought I could pick out my own books. But after a couple weeks with Mr. Linus (my Kindle), I came to the realization that the group mind of the Internet knows me better than I know myself. I’d bought Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series online at B&N; Amazon didn’t know about it. But after I came over to the dark side, I got an email recommending China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, which has a narrative style so amazingly similar to Peake’s that I was almost jumping up and down.
I think that sealed the deal.
That’s why I don’t buy the arguments that Apple’s iPad is going to kill the Kindle or loosen Amazon’s hold on the market. The balance of ereaders might shift, but Amazon’s group mind, at this time, has no parallel. Even people who’ve switched from the Kindle to the iPad (which can run a Kindle app) say the same. From a comment thread on Facebook’s Kindle fan page:
I hate to admit it, but I just gave my Kindle 2 to my sister. I *LOVED* my Kindle, but I bought the iPad and the Kindle just sat on my nightstand. Yes, the Kindle is lighter and yes, the eInk is easier to read, but I will say that the backlight is nice at night (vs. a clip-on light). Anyway, I’ll NEVER leave Amazon – I now just read everything through Kindle for iPad.
Am I a Kindle traitor? LOL
No, not a traitor. I love my Kindle, and extol its virtues to strangers on the bus, but the group mind’s the thing. The accumulated search and buying histories of millions of customers is a major databank, and not something an oversized iPod Touch is likely to beat in the ebooks market in the near future. And hey, if the Apple Algorithm can generate recommendations that good, more power to Steve Jobs. It’s still a win for the customer.
But still, stop calling it magical.
Just an aside: speaking of Internet interconnectedness, Amazon’s beta-testing their new Kindle software (Kindle 2.5), which I’m told is going to allow the export of annotations and highlights directly from the book to Twitter or Facebook–which is kind of awesome, right?