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Amazon, updated

It is looking like a cock-up rather than a conspiracy, but too late for Amazon's rep, with news outlets such as The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal reporting on it, and political/lobbying fallout beyond the internet: "Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, says in a statement: “GLAAD has reached out to Amazon.com and they indicate this was an error, so we expect to start seeing evidence of its correction immediately, and any loss of visibility of gay-themed books as a result of this error will be made right by Amazon."

Meanwhile, according to one Amazon employee

Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as "adult," the source said. (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from 'false' to 'true.') "It's no big policy change, just some field that's been around forever filled out incorrectly," the source said.
And Amazon's PR folks have issued an apology:
“This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection. It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search. Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.”
Consider me not entirely happy.

That Amazon didn't intend to start a blue-nosed censorship campaign is fairly clear, and they've apologized and are taking steps to prevent a recurrence, which is good.

However, the fact that a de-ranking mechanism was in place in the first place is disturbing.

I appreciate that some customers (and some national governments with censorious legislation on the books) may require a net nanny service; Amazon sells a huge range of products, some of which are illegal in some jurisdictions. But this is the wrong way to do it. An adult content filter should be something customers can switch on from their personal profile, to block visibility of items bearing specified tags on a per-customer basis; it shouldn't be a general database-wide flag that suddenly de-ranks items and renders them invisible to everybody, world-wide. That either implies some disturbingly incompetent database design, or that someone may have wanted a global censorship capability — although that may not have been anything to do with Amazon per se.




I've done the dot-com dance in a past life long gone and I've read various bits about how the technology came to be at Amazon. I'd hazard a guess that it's much more likely this wasn't designed as a worldwide flag, but one that was originally designed for the US when Amazon only operated there and was then silently and unthinkingly incorporated across all their international sites via shared catalogue data once they expanded.

In this case the US really was the world :)



The apology doesn't explain why heterosexual erotica was less affected than non-erotic gay content. Or why hardcover editions of some titles were not affected and yet the paperback was.

Whatever the case, their PR people deserve a lot of humiliation for repeated failures in getting a message out while the problem was being worked on.


Well, it's not a really effective mechanism. It does not stop you finding what you want if you know what you are looking for. Kind of like a "18+" section in normal stores - you have to go there on purpose.

And German laws on things on "the index" (deemed seriously unappropriate for minors, like 3D shooters with humans visibly dying) state that they may not be sold to minors, and that no advertisement may be done for them.

Which is quite what the Amazon deranking does, really. They do not advertise it (but people can of course still find it when ordering directly), and when you buy it, they tell the post guy to check whether the person accepting the package is 18. It's called "eigenhändige Zustellung" ("personal delivery", roughly speaking), and they check your ID on delivery.

For the record, I don't know whether Amazon does this, but other stores ask for your ID number, from which you can derive the DOB, which makes that system fairly acceptable in times of private date proliferation.


Charles since some of your books deal with sex/other issue that some bible thumper/basher might not approve of is it not rather dangerous to rely on amazon for your links in the right hand side of your blog so soon?


For what it's worth any responsible online company HAS to have an 'adult material' policy built in, this should be kind of obvious really.

That human error managed to 'flip the switch' is no surprise either.

The extreme reactions seem overdone though, to me it appears to be people with an agenda jumping to the conclusion they want to see in order to make themselves heard over the background noise of the internet.

There's nothing like a potential conspiracy to get the nutters out of the woodwork.


Robin @5

I'd agree with you that some of the responses might be a little over the top - IF these sort of things had not happened in the past. Unfortunately various political and business groups bow to the pressures of small but vocal groups. For folks in the US thing dealing with sex and the internet are prime candidates due to the strong influence of religious groups.



And assuming that Amazon aren't flat out lying about the other affected books then the GLBT advoctes screaming about how _they personally_ were being targeted are a prime example of a small but vocal group. It seems that everyone wants to play the personal persecution card.


Some years ago (I guess 10 years ago) here in Brazil a bank started to bill a tax under the code SPP-RE. It was something small (like R$1,00 or so). After a while one customer inquired WTF SPPRE meant and a person from the bank (off the records) said: "se passar passou, reclamou extorna" which in English would be like: if it goes it goes, customer complains you pay back... I see "accidents" like this that happened at Amazon as something similar: if nobody complains...


Bruce @7: The cries arose in "small but vocal groups" as each discovered the nature of the problem. It was first discovered due to some gay romance titles being de-ranked. "Debugging" the issue from outside Amazon allowed word to spread that some erotic titles were affected then health related titles etc..

You can really only accuse groups of playing "the personal persecution card" if they have knowledge not granted earlier in the discovery process. It's much easier to look now at Amazon's list of the affected groups, but no one outside of Amazon would be able to deduce that list except through some amount of trial-and-error research, especially in the timeframe under consideration.


Mike @9

Perhaps I just read the wrong media but I saw precisely one small but vocal group involved here and very little reflection on whether this could be a wider-spread problem, instead out came the very tired personal persecution claims.

Did we see any retraction of the personal persecution claims after the other issues were brought to light? Again, not anywhere visible to me.


Bruce @10: Romance novelists, women's groups (who noticed banning of rape survivor texts) and some of the other groups did start to protest, but as I noted, these groups were later waves in the discovery process. It only takes a quick survey of twitter posts and associated links to blogs to identify a number of affected groups. If you're only reading early items where people have had time to write up their discoveries, then you're limiting your view of the case.

I think interest groups are still waiting for a real explanation before the tumult subsides. So far there has been a small apology from an Amazon PR person and an unconfirmed theory about what happened. Still no explanation as neither of the above items adequately explains a process that seems to have begun as far back as February, and which doesn't really explain why a lot of material flagged as adult *wasn't* de-ranked.

Lastly I wouldn't hang on too dearly to the term "personal persecution claim" unless you were one of the authors who had some or all of their titles affected.



Sure Mike. I'll make sure not to in any way criticise the clearly premature and overblown claims by an unnamed vocal group in what has turned out to not in any way be a targetted attack on them.

Since I'm not an affected author, there's no way I have any right to comment on the situation at all. I hope Amazon's PR department employs at least one affected author or maybe we'll never hear anything at all. Thanks for pointing that out.


Bruce Murphy @7 & 12
I think part of the issue is that the homosexual people have been under attack for some time - in public. When things like this happen it is inevitable that there would be an immediate rush to outrage. Also considering my countries' stance on the internet + "morally questionable content" it is very easy to see why this would take place. Still I'll agree that there would/should be a face saving way to say, "Sorry my bad." on both sides of the coin. If amazon has sharp PR folks they'll make that happen.
On the larger scale, all I can say is prepare for more of the same. There will definitely be folks trying to ban this or that website or content, as an end-run around anti-censorship supporters. They've been trying to do it for years.
If I were Amazon I'd take a stand on the issue. They are big enough to do it, and it'd save them poor press in the future.


The apology doesn't explain why heterosexual erotica was less affected than non-erotic gay content.

That's because that issue is way bigger than Amazon. A gay theme will up the rating on anything -- this is societal and needs to change. (Otherwise there's no reason why a virtually sex-free and completely (if I remember correctly) nudity-free film like "The Object of My Affection," about a gay man who chooses to help raise the child of his straight female best friend, would be released with an R rating.) Likely the publishers/distributors of the individual works also had something to do with it.



Before we run with this. Was the heterosexual erotica less affected that non-erotic gay content? What are the exact numbers? I ask this because there appears to be a lot more hysterical accusation than there is actual data.

I state this not as an affected author, but as someone who has worked on large public-facing software systems and had my share of hysterical ranty bad press arising from innocent errors.


"disturbingly incompetent database design"

"someone may have wanted a global censorship capability"

Both of these are completely plausible to me. Companies^W People screw up, sometimes spectacularly, and in my mental model, Amazon is not one of those frighteningly competent organizations that never seems to do so.

"Amazon haetz teh gayes" seems implausible to me, it goes against previously established character. Pervasive social bias against gays (as noted by Mac@14) seeping into their rating system is an additional failure, but I bet they're gonna work to get that out of there as much as possible now.


@8, Bruce Schneier calls this an "I'm Sorry" attack; one which can be disavowed as a mistake if discovered.


@ 13 "prepare for more of the same"
Already happened to James Randi - incidentally he's now been "restored" ...
This WAS a deliberate DOS attack against Randi, using YouTube's built-in vulnerabilities.


Greg @18

Yeah I saw that. I view his stuff a lot.


@17 That seems like a great bit of reasoning to me. It means you can always claim that either someone's done something bad deliberately, and if they claim it's a mistake... well, that's what THEY would want you to think, isn't it?

In other words, no one you don't like can ever make a mistake, even if they admit to it.


@8 / @17: Please. If you're going to posit some conspiracy where Amazon ban a bunch of stuff and hope no-one notices, planning to retract it and say it was "a mistake" only if anyone does notice, you need to explain what exactly Amazon would have got out of this, except the opportunity to make less profit and risk a massive shitstorm?

Also, you'll need to explain why Amazon thought no-one would notice -- when the company is heavily steeped in a "wisdom of crowds" culture which, essentially, posits that "someone will notice sooner or later" -- whether it's the OSS mantra of "given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow", or the fact that this is the company that runs the Mechanical Turk, or that it makes somewhere around half its sales from "the long tail" (which means they must know full well that even 'niche' books will have people searching for them, let alone some of the relatively mainstream stuff that got caught up in this incident), or that their tagging/ratings system is based on millions of individually-tiny contributions.

Nah. Rock out with your Ock out. This sounded like a data screwup from the outset, with outsiders pranking the system as second-most-likely.


somewhat off topic.
re:18, Why does YouTube allow hate speech in their comments? I recently came across some videos from Japanese TV about similarities between ancient Jewish and Japanese cultures, and the comment field was full of all sorts of anti-semitic rants. I thought they had some sort of control of that.

Of course, I'm against censorship and all for free speech, but what do you do about that sort of thing?


Damn, I was really hoping for the trolling explanation being true, at least then I wouldn't feel like I was failed. Of course this does show how there more insidious forms of censorship available than the typical state run or religious sponsored variety. You don't have to burn books anymore, just tweak your search engines.


Charlie, I hope you won't take this amiss, or pigeonhole me as yet another subspecies of Internet monomaniac: The unnamed Amazon PR flack's statement wasn't an apology. It just wasn't. The essential element of expression of regret, sincere or not, is simply not there.

He/she says Amazon are embarrassed, and characterises the events as 'ham-fisted', that it's being corrected, and steps being undertaken to prevent recurrence, but apologetic wording is conspicuous by its absence.

I've commented to my wife Deirdre that this seems a peculiar corporate (and especially American corporate) tendency: They characteristically just cannot ever bring themselves to even say the words 'We regret these events', which is itself just short of apology but would do miles of good for PR after typical institutional cock-ups. Perhaps some Fortune 500 attorney will some day explain to me why even the words 'We regret' are considered too much ammunition for potential litigants, internal politicians, or both, but, for now, companies that talk all around the need to apologise but cannot bring themselves to say it really stand out, to me.

(That was not chauvinism: I'm allowed to mildly bash the neuroses of American institutions, being a Yank who attended British state schools in Hong Kong, RCC.)

Rick Moen


@15 Bruce Murphy -- Was the heterosexual erotica less affected that non-erotic gay content?

I'm not entirely sure about the het erotica, as data is all over the place right now, but I would also encourage asking, in addition -- were any "mainstream" children's books pulled, as was "Heather Has Two Mommies"?

Still looking into things myself.


Perhaps some Fortune 500 attorney will some day explain to me why even the words 'We regret' are considered too much ammunition for potential litigants, internal politicians, or both, but, for now, companies that talk all around the need to apologise but cannot bring themselves to say it really stand out, to me.

It really does provide ammo for lawsuits. Not kidding. (Much smaller example -- if you're in a car accident and call your insurance company they will tell you point black "DO NOT SAY SORRY!" You can say "Are you okay?" and similar, but the "sorry" can and will be held against you. We are a very scarily litigious people.)


Actually, I once was (circa 1985) in an automobile collision in San Francisco, for which I was likely to be held at fault (but, in the final analysis, voluntarily paid for the damage), and, very mindful of the legal consequences of saying the wrong thing, nonetheless made a point of expressing regret about the incident to the other party.

Please note that my earlier posting (@24) expressed wonderment over corporate spokemen's unwillingness to even say "We regret these events." Which would be more than enough to show a bit of character for a change, and limit the PR damage. Thus my point.

Rick Moen


@27 Actually, I did misread you (either you or someone else, I've been following a lot of links today). I thought Amazon had indeed said, "We regret..." but not "We are sorry." (The former can be twisted into a false apology, or "we're sorry YOU were offended" and I thought you were displeased with them using "regret" as a weasel word.)

I regret my misreading. And am also sorry for it.

(I've twice had the opposite experience with insurance companies, though -- possibly this might vary from state to state, who knows.)


Oh hey! Dear Author put up a Google spreadsheet of affected books.



In regards to this:

An adult content filter should be something customers can switch on from their personal profile, to block visibility of items bearing specified tags on a per-customer basis; it shouldn't be a general database-wide flag that suddenly de-ranks items and renders them invisible to everybody, world-wide. That either implies some disturbingly incompetent database design, or that someone may have wanted a global censorship capability — although that may not have been anything to do with Amazon per se.

Or lazy coders. There could be lots of reasons to de-rank a product that have nothing to do with its socio-politco context. What if certain manufacturers/publishers requested it? Don't attribute to perfidity what can be explained by a manager telling coders: "The boss wants this feature. What's the fastest way of making it so that has the least chance of crashing the site?"


Meanwhile, knowing that you have a new book out that you didn't want me to order through Amazon, I took a look in a mall bookstore today. Nada. Sigh. Please LART at least one of your distribution channels into cluefulness before I go into withdrawl, eh?


The whole thing screams crappy specification, followed by questionable coding, followed by system replication.

Programmers routinely put in hooks for "features" in software that they think might be needed, but were missed off the specification. This is for the simple reason that 99% of the time, when the upper echelons realise they want a feature that hadn't been included in the initial spec, coding it retroactively would be an absolute nightmare. So programmers have to guess what the clients will want further down the line. (I have to do this all the time in my current incarnation as a DBA).

I learnt this lesson on the first week of my first job as a "proper" progammer. Spotting that the client would want the requester name on the bottom of every report, I was told to put it in there, but rem it out. Six months down the line the company made £10K when I deleted 4 characters..........

Your software swarms with such unactivated "features". The amazing thing is that they don't come to prominence more often when they mess up - although they are a major source of exploits for hackers.

Don't expect a detailed explaination from the suits in PR though. As far as they are aware "it's technical". Explaining that the error was caused by an unused but active flag put in by a coder a decade ago on the theory that someone somewhere might want it one day, does not translate into a simple soundbite and invites yet more conspiracy theories.

Better to apologise and let the shouting die down of its own accord. And don't admit to sorrow, for that way lies litigation and the awakening of a zombie horde of class-action weilding lawyers.............


"However, the fact that a de-ranking mechanism was in place in the first place is disturbing."

Was it a de-ranking mechanism, or just another category that got filtered badly? In many cases, an "adult' filter would be a bonus, and would let someone search for adult works while not removing non-adult ones - if the database had been set up for that sort of thing in the first place.

It's possible that the field was included in the first place for hiding (or revealing) content of a sexual nature, and got randomly filled in by people over the years ("I dunno, I guess it's an adult novel, it's got gay people in it").

At some point, all it would take is some overzealous person who decided that it had been turned off for the wrong reason, and decided to "help" people by hiding all of that smut... and it's easier for a big data-oriented company to admit to a social/censorship error than to admit that a big chunk of their database is filled in with bad information.


CHESS: An assumption that other participants in the game are acting rationally.

They may be 'rational' in the sense of having a consistent logic arising from a radically different worldview, pursuing goals and seeking to avert feared outcomes that differ from - or diametrically oppose - the choices you would 'rationally' pursue.

Further, they may be 'irrational' in the sense of having defective decision-making structures and processes.

'Chess' was originally used to describe a dangerous error in the wargames and strategic exercises of the Staff College - a purely military environment - but it deserves a far wider usage.

Among other things, it transcends the 'cock-up' theory, and allows us to consider the more complex term 'screwed-up', a necessary precondition in organisations that allow a single-point failure to become a disastrous mess.

In corporate terms, a faction (such as, say, the legal department) may have executive powers to pursue an agenda that runs counter to considerations of commercial gain or reputational loss. Individuals within the faction may actively benefit from overruling and discrediting rivals who act as advocates for these competing interests, despite the damage this does to the organisation as a whole. Or they may have the power to act arbitrarily or overrule others without consultation, despite having no awareness of the relevant technical or reputational issues - just as other power centres may act without regard to legal issues.

I would urge you to examine the recent debacles in the banking industry in these terms.

Meanwhile, don't lose sight of the fact that a convenient 'cock-up' explanation does not get Amazon off the hook in terms of having 'Screwed-up' management processes and technical structures.


Whether gay works were affected disproportionately is a red herring. The point is that Amazon, inadvertently or not, classified gay works as "adult" regardless of actual content. Whether they intended to or not, they sent a rather homophobic message about themselves to their customers.

It never made any sense to me that Amazon would do this intentionally. Perhaps I only venture in the calmer sides sections of the internet. Pretty much everything I read about this was along the line of pointing out that what had happened looked homophobic regardless of Amazon's motive. It didn't help that the Amazon customer service accidentally made the unintentional misclassification sound intentional by passing on a form letter that said, in effect, that they deranked the book because it had been categorized as adult.

I'm glad to know that the deranking was unintentional (even if I'm a bit disturbed that such a mechanism exists at all). Amazon would do better though to acknowledge that impression of homophobia the snafu gave some of their customers rather than act as if their customers were simply mistaken. Even if Amazon is absolutely right about this, pointing this out in the midst of their apology is just unseemly and unlikely to assuage unintentionally insulted customers.

Don't forget, the point of the apology is not to express sincere regret. The point is to make insulted customers feel better so that they shop at Amazon again. Based on my very informal and unscientific survey, they clearly haven't assuaged all of the insulted.
(Of course, just as there may be some who will never get why there was outrage in the first place, there may be some who will, unfortunately, never forgive Amazon no matter what they do.)


I know this is off-topic, but when I first read this post I immediately wondered when, exactly, "reached out" became a euphemism for "contacted in the event of PR disaster to provide opportunity for self-incrimination or saving of face." For example, this post at Joystiq describing an attempt to contact EA.

Why not just say that one has asked for a comment on the matter? Or that one wanted to know the pertinent party's opinion? "We've reached out" sounds as though, along with the request for a statement, the caller dropped off a funeral casserole.

That said, this situation reeks of Strikethrough to me. Different circumstances, but flagging and filtering pointed in similar directions, and a lot of familiar backlash centred around the same arguments regarding content and user privileges.


Well, given the endless tedium of the comments posted, I think you should all just be thankful they weren't out actually burning any "offensive" literature. Amazon certainly wouldn't want to increase their carbon footprint any more than they already do by selling books made out of paper which has come from felled trees.

Perhaps a hundred years from now, historians will look back upon this era of fritter and facebook as an age of the overly-indulgent self-important. Just the other day I got a message stating that someone was now following me on fritter just because his alias was the same as mine but in all caps.


Ebay are far worse with their 'questionable content' filters than Amazon.

I tried selling a PVP game the other day only to find out by trial and error that the word 'PVP' in the title of an auction will cause it to be automatically refused.

Ebay also uses that 'wisdom of the crowds' baloney by only pulling auctions that people complain about and then banning you from using the site if you get more than a few auctions pulled.

This makes it very easy for unscrupulous sellers in a category to get rid of other sellers who offer a better/cheaper item.


Let's all just calm down a bit shall we. Jeez..


In other Amazon-related news, Amazon are demanding that Phorm -- which has previously been discussed here -- refrain from spying on customer access to any of their pages.


It is a bit naive to think that a corporation, avidly seeking business everywhere with no moral stance whatsoever, would NOT build something like this in to their systems so as to be able to comply with local laws no matter how backward or distasteful.

Individuals within Amazon may feel remorse, Jeff Bezos might be crying with shame in a big pile of money right now, but that has nothing to do with shareholder value.


Slightly off topic,but speaking of Amazon! I clicked on your "Toast" link and it's selling for $70 new and $86.26 used! Just seems weird to me as I'm paranoid,but you knew that didn't you :) ?


Sheridan @4: that is indeed on my mind, but until I've got the time/money for a major website overhaul (hopefully in June, folks) the sidebar isn't going to get replaced on the spur of the moment -- I've got something like 15 books out there right now, with listings for two markets and multiple editions: overhauling it properly and replacing it with something better is going to take time.

Rick @24: I don't expect too much in the way of apologies from large American corporations, for legal reasons: if Amazon did apologize this could be construed as an admission of responsibility, in which case they could be laying themselves open to a class action lawsuit by the affected authors. So they've got to walk a tightrope between what common decency or good public relations would dictate, and what legal counsel would advise (probably "say nothing is the safest course").

John Chu @35: The point is that Amazon, inadvertently or not, classified gay works as "adult" regardless of actual content.

Yup. That's the most disturbing angle here. It's the same sort of subliminal prejudice that is applied to ethnic minorities on an ongoing basis: stuff relating to their concerns is "special" or "different" and needs to be shoved in a special box for people who're interested in it to find it. There are positive reasons for doing this (make it easier for people interested in topic X to find topic X) and negative reasons (to filter topic X out of public view), and it's often devilishly difficult to tell what the underlying intention is. (Not aided by the positive reasons being an excellent cover story for 'phobes of whatever stripe who are actually intent on the negative reasons.)

Thorne @37: piss off.

Mowhiteman @39: I find your choice of alias ... disturbing.

Vic @42: TOAST shouldn't be selling for $70 new! That's rank exploitation. It's effectively out of print, and my new collection WIRELESS is coming out in July. I'm planning on releasing the complete text of TOAST under a Creative Commons license to coincide with WIRELESS (for contractual reasons I can't do this with the new collection, yet). So just hang onto those pennies for a month or two and you can have it for free (and print your own dead-tree edition via Lulu.com if you want).


Semi-correcting myself @22.
I remembered this morning what I was thinking of was not any policy of YouTube’s to block/censor comments, but -I think- a plug-in for Firefox that blocks offense comments. Which goes more along with what Charlie said above:
An adult content filter should be something customers can switch on from their personal profile, to block visibility of items bearing specified tags on a per-customer basis.

So a partial never-mind.


Some one pointed me to this link as a potential explanation. I don't have the computer expertise to evaluate whether this is possible, or whether the individual is just trying to claim credit for Amazon's problem. I suspect the latter.



Charlie@43 said

"Mowhiteman @39: I find your choice of alias ... disturbing."

What's disturbing about somebody having the name Morris or Marjorie Whiteman?


Good retrospective blog post by Clay Shirky:



I remembered a proverb that bears repeating:

'a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on'

The internet seems to have accelerated this phenomenon tenfold.


Pablo @46: the lack of intercapping, on a thread discussing political correctness and bigotry against minorities.


What this shows (especially given some of the other stories that floated out here and there during the explanation process) is that Amazon's nifty website appears to be powered by the software equivalent of gerbil wheels and duct tape.

It looks to me like they have flat out got "safe search" wrong and probably can't get it right without a major rewrite that would require a total reorg of their databases and relations between them.


FrancisT: Amazon's nifty website appears to be powered by the software equivalent of gerbil wheels and duct tape.

Trust me, that comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked for a dot-com of any size.

Maybe in another decade we can hope to see some decent quality code powering the big, established web storefronts ...


As a software engineer what I find most distressing is that it's so typical for systems to allow this sort of mass-change without a watchdog system catching them. It's simply reasonable to watch your mammoth database for sweeping changes like this that impact something critical. Ranks impact so much, the fact that a flunky can make a small change and make a (cascading?) change that impacts 50,000 products without notice is just nuts.


Muhammad Whiteman. Now that's disturbing.


From my (admittedly very limited) experiences with large databases I find it much more likely that it was less than optimal coding and human error than it was some grand conspiracy whose purpose was to "get them" (for whatever value of "get" and "them" you want to ascribe). Having watched a bank upgrade from dumb terminals and an in-house mainframe to smart terminals and off-site data warehousing I can say that poor coding and bad database construction seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Planning for the transfer using an off-the-shelf package already in "production" code took over a year, we ran the system 3 months parallel and the system took over 6 months to become even marginally stable when we went live with it.

A small (850 student) college bought a new off-the-shelf data management system and went live with it 2 years ago and the admissions office is still having to double-enter data in the old system because the new system can't generate necessary reports.

"Never ascribe to conspiracy what can be reasonably explained by stupidity."



I should have looked further than traditional English names when guessing yours, Muhammad. Sorry. However, I didn't find 'mowhiteman' disturbing, although I would change my name if I was you.

When Charlie takes over the world, you'll be the first person arrested for Being in Possession of a Disturbing Name. Then you'll be banned from participating in any
discussion of 'bigotry against minorities'. Your opinion won't matter in those discussions if you keep a name that can be read as 'mowhiteman', which is a white supremacist hate name obviously. Don't forget the segregated seating for People of Disturbing Names, and segregated schooling too. It does sound far fetched, but it'll be a way to respond legitimately to people when Charlie is World President.

Charlie@43 & 49

The paragraph above is very overblown, and I hope you laugh when you reread it and forgive me. I just want you to see the point that I'm trying to make here clearly. You based your published feelings and statements about mowhiteman on his name and you did not address the point he made at all. Don't you think that you were being 'namist'? That is, using irrelevant things about him to sway your emotional response instead of responding intellectually to the point he was making? To paraphrase, judging him on the letters of his name and not the content of his character.

Also, your statement about mowhiteman didn't just feel namist to me and reasoned badly. It came across as possibly an attempt to undermine his credibility by implying he was a white supremacist troll, even though the only evidence for this was his own name. Certainly, that was my reading, reinforced by what you said at 49, though I hope that was not your intention.

I hope your statement wasn't either of these two but was something else such as pressure of work (which is as bad, so I don't want that either). I hope you can let us know.


Pablo: the trouble here is that there's no easy way of knowing whether someone's picked a handle to use on the net that reflects their real name, or an ideological position.

And this blog does attract undesirables from time to time. I'm not prepared to provide a platform for racists, fascists, and bigots: so I felt the need to ask.


Charlie Stross is still my second favourite Scottish Sci-Fi author.


Charlie @56, I do not take a layman position! I get that too often from other people!


There is a lack of competition in the online book-selling industry, such that a failure in Amazon's search and ranking system has a large impact. On the same lines, Google has become the arbiter of what is popular on the internet to the point where people design their pages for what ranks highest on Google rather than what people actually like.

Among a lot of internet complainers, I see helplessness rather than action. If you see Amazon doing this, tell people something better to use. Try to find and build better ways to rank and search for things that aren't beholden to a single corporation. Quit tweeting to amazonfail; DO SOMETHING!