When Algorithms Attack


I was doing some birthday shipping for my wife a few weeks back.  I actually had to hold off on posting this write up because I didn’t want to tip her off to what sorts of things she might expect for her birthday.

This post isn’t about her birthday, however, but rather Amazon and their collaborative filtering mechanism which makes recommendations to you while you are shopping.  Given that the search term with which I started was “gymnastics mats,” I can understand 4 of the 6 of these recommendations.  I can even go out on a limb and convince myself that, yes, people who are likely to be buying gym mats need to keep deer away.  Think of the liabilities to the gym studios when that first deer hurts themself.  The rules just aren’t set up for four legged participants.  Sadly, Bambi and her friends are really into gymnastics, and they keep hanging around.

It was the book recommendation that really piqued my attention.  The book itself is a parable style yarn about leadership and psychology.  Think “Chicken Soup for the Bad Manager.”  The scary thing is that I have read this book.  My manager suggested it as one of those great books I needed to read.

So I am left wondering what type of people are buying gymnastics mats from Amazon.  Are they type A business execs who are fashioning home gyms for their gymnastics bound children?  Are they incredibly driven, though perhaps misguided, leaders who are building gymnasiums?  Or is this simply a case of Amazon having a bit of fun with me, knowing that I read that book, and that I have deer eating the grass in my yard?

  • This reminds me of the time Amazon told me that people who bought Call of Duty Black Ops second most popular apparel item is Men’s underwear. I can’t help but wonder what was the first.