Amazon.com wants your friends and meta

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If you’re an Amazon customer, two trends might have struck you. One is a move to being a group portal, with the increased Friends and Favorites functionality such as lists or shared purchases. The other is the strong emphasis on meta data about you. You can even rate products you own but didn’t purchase at Amazon to build your “Collection.” CDNow has similar features, though they don’t roll out as many new ones as time goes by (but they were purchased with about six months of Amazon.com’s IT budget).

We’ll see whether all that heavy-duty IT will improve Amazon.com’s bottom line and translate into real customer lock-in. They have many interesting features but I haven’t seen a killer app yet. It seems you have to feed them with a lot of data before you’ll get real value from their system. The trick is to turn any content they add into purchases, because it’s quite easy to get information at one place and place the order at a cheaper one. As a consumer, the way I practice integration between content and commerce is drag and drop of text (say, a band name) from a browser window to another.

Even though most of their recommendations don’t require any active input from users (just clicking on product links will trigger stuff such as the Page You Made), you won’t get really useful suggestions until you rate products or build lists. My SciFan website is an Amazon.com affiliate, but everything we do is outside their site, not inside. Why would I put our topical lists inside Amazon.com for free, when we get a commission from the same lists on our own site?

If Amazon wants to get customer content beyond casual entries, they should think about sharing some of the benefit. What do reviewers get in return from a service that prohibits hyperlinks? Is this another trial in the making? There’s more than money as a motivation for contributing on the web (see this very poorly monetized blog you’re reading), but since Amazon is here for the money, why wouldn’t its customers/contributors be too?

While Amazon puts you in a lottery if you are the first to review a product, sites such as Epinions will share revenue with contributors. Amazon has been keeping its associate program too much outside of their latest developments to my taste (no commissions on second-hand products, auctions or Zshop sales), and some backlash might happen if that doesn’t change.

03/15/01 update: Will Kreth thinks companies should share the metadata they have on their customers with them.

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