Eureka on the Amazon Algorithm

I think I finally figured out why Amazon’s recommendation algorithm is so bad. I figured it out with no help from Kai-fu Lee who thinks it’s the bee’s knees.

The algorithm is quite horrible. I’m an almost daily user and I’ve bought piles of books from them since 2000. A brain-dead rabbit would have figured out what I like to read but Amazon still hasn’t.

And I think I know why.

The recommendations are bad on purpose. Because bad recommendations keep me on the website (or in the app) longer. If recommendations were good, I’d make a purchase and leave the website. But since they are bad, I stay on the website browsing and searching. The longer I stay, the more opportunities I get to remember that I need soap or coffee or socks.

Amazon gains by not making it easy to find what you like.

6 thoughts on “Eureka on the Amazon Algorithm”

  1. I believe you are correct here.

    Supermarkets use a somewhat similar strategy when they place the things people most often need in different sections of the shop on purpose, hidden by costly items. I was taught costly, less desirable products are put at eye-level, while cheaper, more popular versions are placed on the lowest and the highest shelves.

    May be, there was another, better example of ‘Amazon’ strategy but I forgot it now.


    1. “Supermarkets use a somewhat similar strategy”

      They also frequently change floorplans moving things around so that people will stay longer as the milk section is now full of frozen vegetables and the bread is where is it now mayb…. oh! Guacamole flavored coffee!


  2. I dunno. I have noticed that when I buy a couple of books from my kids’ homeschool reading list, Amazon recommends me… all the other books on their reading list. Apparently, enough people are using the same list, or similar, that when you buy Pagoo, it automatically says “Oh, you’re one of those people– you’ll probably also want this picture book about Gregor Mendel, Bullfinch’s Mythology, and this children’s history of Britain.” And it’s right. But of course, I already got those other books from the used bookstore. Amazon’s my last stop, for the stuff I couldn’t find elsewhere.


  3. I don’t think this is because Amazon’s recommendation algorithm is weighted towards being useless, I think it’s because you’re too complex of a person who reads too many different kinds of books. The data it runs on is what everyone else is buying, and other people’s tastes and interests aren’t as eclectic as yours.

    What about non-book recommendations? Are those any better?


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