Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Fail

I'm sure many of you have heard the news that Amazon.com recently reclassified virtually all gay-themed books as "adult." This eliminated them from the bestseller lists and in some cases disabled search. They have claimed (contrary to prior communications with customers) that this is a software "glitch."

I can accept this explanation, but the sales rank issue is not the only anti-gay part of Amazon. Did you know that Amazon's "search suggestions" feature is completely disabled for searches using "gay" or "lesbian" as their first word?

Normally Amazon shows you suggestions as you type characters in the search box. For example if you type "Christian m" you will see a list of suggestions including "Christian marriage". You don't have to type the full search, just select from the suggestions.

If you try this same search by typing "gay m" you get nothing. Unlike the term "Christian", the word "gay" just shuts off the search suggestions feature completely. Same for "lesbian."

If you type the search characters "hustler" you get plenty of search suggestions, including some I can't print here since this is a family blog. Clearly, the issue isn't adult topics... it's anti-gay prejudice, and it's not a glitch. (Go to the Amazon Web site and try this out yourself.)

I'm mulling over what I should do to convince Amazon to quit suppressing gay and lesbian search terms. Any suggestions?

3 comments:

Holly said...

Hi--

I have been following this controversy and was outraged by it too--and upset, because I use Amazon fairly often, and don't want to patronize an anti-gay retailer.

I tried out the search suggestion function on Amazon, though, and discovered this: You're right that "lesbian" and "gay" don't work as FIRST WORDS, but if you type "lesb" and leave it at that, you get suggestions like

lesbianporn
lesbiansex
lesbianerotica
etc

same thing with gay: If you type it as a separate word, you get diddly. If you don't hit the space bar after "gay," you get

gaysex
gaydar

which ain't much, I admit. If you type "gaym," you get

gaymovies
gaymen
gayman
etc

This is still a problem, because "gaymen" is not properly one word, it's two words, at least in our current lexicon. So there's still something weird going on--still some sort of suppression. You have to know the code to do any sort of search. And when I did go ahead and search "gaymen," I got the useless question, "Did you mean: garden."

No. I meant "gay men," but you don't allow that search, Amazon.

I don't have a good suggestion on how to get Amazon to be clearer and more consistent in its search patterns, aside from letting it know you won't patronize it if this is how it behaves. But I'll follow this thread and hope that someone comes up with a good suggestion.

Sabayon said...

Technically not all gay titles were deemed "adult" the ones about how to cure yourself of homosexuality and how to raise straight kids were still up, just the positive LGBT books were removed. I thought afterellen wrote a good piece here (http://www.afterellen.com/TV/2009/4/glitch) on what how this reflects our culture's understanding of homosexuality as inherently sexual and not emotional.
In any case I am thinking a boycott of Amazon is in order. I recomend Indie Bound (http://www.indiebound.org/indie-bookstore-finder), Powell's (http://www.powells.com/home.html?header=Logo) , or Alibris (http://www.alibris.com/) for online shopping.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Holly,

Yes, the fact that compounds aren't filtered shows that this is absolutely intentional and not a glitch. Someone put gay and lesbian on a list of forbidden words, which means that searches like "gay parenting" are less convenient than searches for "Christian parenting" for example. By the way, the list of suggested completions is generated from what people actually search for, thus it includes typos and irregular forms. These irregular forms are just noise, since they don't match up to items in the catalog.

Hi Sabayon,

I'm not yet ready to boycott anyone, except as part of my Recession Austerity Plan that has increased my consumption of legumes and decreased my consumption of impulse-purchase items I used to buy from Amazon.