Amazon and the Case of the Unjustly Deleted Review

There has been a lot of discussion on the interwebs about Amazon deleting author reviews. Lots of authors are upset, and rightfully so. Being an author myself, I can imagine how frustrating it would be to have good reviews deleted from my upcoming book. However, being an Information Technology professional who specializes in data, Big Data, metadata, etc., I can also appreciate how difficult this task is for Amazon.

Amazon doesn’t have enough time or money to hire and train a staff dedicated to manually policing every review and ensuring that only those reviews that are in violation of the rules are deleted. Therefore, they must automate those efforts.

Let me be clear: this is VERY difficult to do.

I have no inside knowledge of how Amazon is doing this, but based on my own industry experience, my assumption is that they are using a score based approach. By score based, I mean that they are programmatically scanning the reviews and using computer algorithms to generate a score value when certain targets are found.

For example, combinations of words, phrases, and other targets will generate a score. “I am an author” could generate a point. A five (or one) star review could generate a point. A URL to another book could generate a point. If the reviewer’s name is found in Amazon’s author database, it could generate a point. Some targets will generate multiple points, others fewer.

Once enough points add up to a predefined threshold, then the review will be targeted for deletion. This deletion could also be automated, or the review could then be funneled into a queue where a human would examine it (although it doesn’t appear as if that is happening).

As you can imagine, this process isn’t foolproof. In fact, we have all seen enough examples to know that just about anyone could unwittingingly generate a review that hits the threshold. Alternatively, it is just as likely that reviews which should be deleted won’t be because they won’t generate a high enough score.

Is there a better way that Amazon could do this? Aside from the human staff I mentioned earlier, the answer is no. At least there isn’t a method that I’m aware of.

One could justifiably argue that Amazon has implemented immature algorithms in a knee-jerk response to paid reviews, or that they should have done more extensive testing before implementing these algorithms in the marketplace, but what’s done is done. Now all Amazon can do is learn from their mistakes and refine their scoring algorithms. Eventually these algorithms will become “pretty good” at their assigned task, just as Google has become pretty good at getting the answers to your search requests, but these algorithms will never be perfect. At least not until computers start thinking for themselves.

And then we will have a whole new bucket of problems to deal with. 🙂


Indie Publishing: Editors, why you hide?

** Updated November 16, 2012 **

Come with me on a little journey, if you please

Picture an eager (and devilishly handsome) future Indie Author (EdhFIA for short) hammering away on the final edit of his first novel. EdhFIA is hungry, optimistic, and determined to ignore everyone who says Indie Publishing is a mistake.

EdhFIA is gonna finish his book, he’s gonna find an editor, and together they are gonna show the naysayers how wrong they were.

Finally, after months of hard work, sacrifice, and the occasional beer, EdhFIA sets out with his finished manuscript in hand. It’s time to find the perfect editor.

EdhFIA googles “editor.”

*mind blown*

There are lots. LOTS. But EdhFIA is no internet noob. EdhFIA knows that any shmuck can call themselves an editor.  (They can also call themselves a 19 year old cheerleader, but that’s a different blog.)

*terrible realization*

It could take months to find the good editors amongst all that noise.

Enter: The Alliance of Independent Authors and Publishers Marketplace

EdhFIA has done his research. He knows there are organizations out there that were created to support both Indie Authors and the Publishing Community at large.

So EdhFIA joins the Alliance of Independent Authors and goes to the section where editors (and others) advertise their services.

*mind blown*

There’s only a few. So very, very few.

He checks Publishers Marketplace. Same thing.

*terrible realization*

Most editors are not advertising their services.

Hollywood Ending

You’ll be happy to know that I, EdhFIA, found an editor.

** Update **

As it turns out, Googling “Professional Editor” is far more useful that Googling “Editor.” Who knew? Just about everyone else, but not me. 

Furthermore, this discovery completely dismantles every assumption and argument I originally made in the rest of this blog. Hence its deletion.

Embarrassing? Yes, but that’s ok. You can’t learn how to walk without falling.

Thanks to Rebecca Lang for pointing out my sillyness on the ALLi Facebook group. 

Itchin to write

Work was gruelling today. Not because I had a bad day or because someone was bothering me, but because all I wanted to do all day was come home and write. That’s what happens after two days of no writing!

So today, after I got home, was a good day. I finished the rough cut of a brand new / replacement chapter with Cassondra and then I finished the next to last pass on Ch 10 ( another rewrite of hers ). I also ironed out – at a high level – a lot of the wrinkles created by her new story line. Awesome!

And in industry news today, @Porter_Anderson did a great article on Jane Friedman’s blog: http://tco/95zKp9fI

I highly recommend checking out sections 1-3 if you get a chance. It’s a rare thing to get measured, unemotional analysis of changes in today’s marketplace and this delivers in spades.

Interesting Tweets – Blacklist Edition

Saw a couple of interesting tweets related to backlist titles.

Tweet #1

I don’t really know much about this guy or his writing, but what I do know is that he lowered the price to $0.00 and got what I would say is a pretty amazing response. Sure, he didn’t make any money on it, but he does have other books and I would bet $$ he will see an increase on those as soon as people start finishing the free book and begin looking for more.

Smart, smart, smart!

Tweet #2

Here’s a brief bit from the link:

“It appears to us [Open Road] that HarperCollins is trying to intimidate authors, overturn established law and grab rights that were not in existence when the contracts were signed many years ago. We are confident that we will successfully defend authors’ rights and we look forward to filing our response in court,”

Now I don’t follow every book related lawsuit out there, so I could be wrong on this, but I think this is the first time there has been a lawsuit about this. The interesting thing here is that Open Road is no fly-by-night organization. It’s CEO is Jane Friedman, who is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide. Again, I’m no lawyer here, but this seems like it could be a big deal.

So what do you think? Good stuff?

That’s it for today, folks. Chapter 5 awaits 🙂

Let me know what you think!

Final edits to chapter 3 are done!

It took about 3 hours, which is kind of a lot for a school night, but seize the day and all that.

Can’t complain though. This chapter is about 5 thousand words which is pretty freaking long and it was good to knock it out. Things will get harder down the stretch so I better enjoy this while it lasts!

Oh, and one other thing – in case you didn’t see it. This falls in the holy shit category:

Beginning of the end for Barnes & Noble?