There's a New York Times article today about online recommendation engines from stores like Amazon, NetFlix, and iTunes. The highlight:
Earlier this month, Walmart.com issued a public apology and took down its entire cross-selling recommendation system when customers who looked at a boxed set of movies that included "Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" were told they might also appreciate a "Planet of the Apes" DVD collection, as well as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and other irrelevant titles.
That's great. So I decided to try a little experiment. I signed up for a new Amazon account and added the most offensive products I could think of to my wish list, to see what recommendations I'd get. I made a wish list consisting of:
- Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler
- A confederate flag leather vest (check it out, it's really ridiculous)
- David Duke's book, Jewish Supremacism (according to one of the Amazon reader reviews, this is the edition "with the addition of a section on the Israeli foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks." That's a relief.)
- Bring It On, by Pat Robertson (a book of Robertson's answers to questions like "Do Clones Have Souls?" -- seriously, that's an example listed in the excerpt)
- Gigli DVD (Ben Affleck & Jennifer Lopez)
Among the recommendations generated:
- Mariah Carey's Glitter DVD
- An appropriately-titled book called "Why Johnny Can't Think" (well, if he's reading everything on my wish list...)
- "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History"
- Alfie, with Jude Law
- Maybe the world's worst-titled book ever, "Hell's Best Kept Secret." The very first line of the first Amazon reader review on the page: "Satan does not want you to read this book! Though it has been out for a decade, it has really been continually suppressed by the Devil. Not anymore! With the Internet as a resource, as long as there are brothers like myself who are convicted of God's word, I will make sure that this secret is no longer kept hidden!"
This didn't actually teach me anything, but it was sort of fun to fool around with.