Amazon, Web 2.0, and Missing The Point of Community

April 23rd, 2007 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

If you’ve been paying attention for the past year or so, you’ve noticed that has embraced Web 2.0 technology with something approaching religious fervor. You name the buzzword, they’ve implemented the technology. Wiki (now known as the, uh, Amapedia), Ajax, blogging, tagging (and tag clouding), free shipping (okay, not a Web 2.0 technology, but the Amazon Prime service remains a huge boon to the fine folks at BS HQ). Amazon even had a thing called a “Plog”, which was some kind of personalized blog.

What Amazon doesn’t do well is invite the kind of community that characterizes other Web 2.0 ventures.

We use the past tense when discussing the Plog, because, well, the plog is dead, long live the blog. That’s right, they’ve decided to go with a traditional approach by using the word blog. Big sigh of relief. Now all we as Americans face is Anna Wintour’s obsessive search for an alternate to the hated word (we suggest plog now that it’s lost the stigma of being associated with books and authors).

The Plog was one of those ideas that sounded great halfway through a night of heavy drinking…the morning after, someone went ahead and greenlit the project. That someone, probably, hadn’t sobered up from the night before. As implemented, the Plogs were clunky, a bit scary, and often irritating. Also, not read by as many people as you’d imagine, what with only being made available to specific users rather than all Amazon customers.

Which should be a lesson: isolating content to small groups of individuals is a bad idea.

So now the blog posts are aggregated into a single concept called “Amazon Daily” (explanation here). Interesting, you think to yourself, very interesting. Also very, hmm, messy. As we write, we have a post from author Christina Dodd followed by a set of mini-reviews followed by a discussion of TV sweeps followed by lots of other disconnected ideas including a kid who plays Pachelbel’s canon on guitar and a recipe. Also a round-up of Apple news.

If we’re following the concept, the new blog brings in content from all the service areas and authors, creating what is known as a fine mess. This is the default view — you can customize the blog to see only what you want. This is not as easy as it sounds; we can well imagine that customers will be overwhelmed by choice as they try to customize. In our opinion, it would be better to push the blog posts to the content sections of the website rather than burying the link to the feature way down in the left column on the home page.

We say this because, despite all of its efforts, Amazon has not yet truly embraced the key aspect of Web 2.0: community. We get that the site exists to sell stuff; the problem is that the continual push toward commercial transactions tends to destroy community-building efforts. Customer comments go one way. Blog posts tend to feel like highly polished marketing pieces — if we were to make our reading choices based on what is posted by the authors, we would buy far fewer books; somehow, most of the authors who blog on the Amazon site feel devoid of voice and personality.

(Also, Amazon, we need to talk…there’s nothing more irritating for a mere reader than to click on a link that supposedly leads to an author’s Amazon blog, only to discover that the author in question hasn’t posted yet. Either change the description to read “authors who have or might someday in the future blog” or eliminate the name of authors who haven’t stepped up to the blogging plate yet. Thanks.)

We love Amazon and, despite the fact that for some bizarre reason, buying a new copy of Portnoy’s Complaint required clicking through three screens to to discover all we could get new was an omnibus edition (what gives? Isn’t “Portnoy” an American classic?), we find the site very useful. Very cold, too. We don’t enjoy spending extra time at the Amazon site. All the Web 2.0 features in the world cannot change that. does what it does very well. What it doesn’t do well is invite the kind of community that characterizes other Web 2.0 ventures. Our theory is that too much energy goes to trying to “recommend” things that we might want to want to purchase (another irritation — we’re full of them today — why are we having unavailable items recommended to us?) rather than encouraging customers to linger and engage while they shop.

File Under: Square Pegs

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