Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Changes at Amazon

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Back in February, a bug introduced into the code at Amazon.ca revealed a dirty, little secret that was suspected by many but not proven. The bug changed all the the pen names and anonymous names used to review products to the real names of the person who posted the review. The bug revealed that authors were posting good reviews to their own books and nasty reviews to their competitor's books.

Some might think that authors gaming the system is no big deal, but amazon has become a huge book seller and reviews can boost or hurt the sales of books. That is why amazon recently introduced a change that will award "spotlight review" slots and a special badge to reviewers that use their real name as verified with their credit card. Reviewers will still be allowed to write reviews using a pen name but they have eliminated anonymous reviews. Every reviewer will be required to log in and have either a purchase history or a credit card on file before they can write a review.

Some people don't like these changes claiming that amazon shouldn't be using names from credit cards. But you don't have to use the actual name on your credit card. If the name on your credit card is "John W. Doe", you can use "J. W. Doe", "John Doe", or "J. Doe" instead of the name on your card. Some people claim this discriminates against women because women are more likely to be stalked. Ignoring the issue of how often women have been stalked because of a review they wrote on amazon, the point is that you don't have to use your real name. Yes, your ranking as a reviewer may be effected but that is a small price to pay to improve a system that was broken.

Amazon has made some other changes to make reviewing easier for the serious reviewer. You can now edit a review without losing your votes and the review submission process has been improved so that your reviews appear almost immediately.

The main problem that amazon has faced with these code changes is that they did not do a good job of quality control prior to introducing the new code. There were numerous bugs, some of them a bit serious that should have been cleared up prior to the code going live. (One of the bugs exposed the real names of reviewers even if they chose to use a pen name.) They should have set up a test site and allowed some of the more prolfic reviewers a chance to review the changes before going live.

In any case, I am sure many of the Java authors who have complained in the past will be happy with some of these changes. Once amazon clears up their programming issues, I think this will be a vast improvement... at least until the cheaters find a new way to game the system.

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