Amazon Links

Astute readers will notice that I now have Amazon related links (books, actually) on some entries (spun out of my Amazon’s Web Services post). Hopefully they’re not too intrusive; I have them limited to a max of three results right now, and they’ll only show up on blog entries that I specifically keyword.

All done with Amazon’s web services. It’s not completely automatic, since I have to keyword the entry, but it beats looking up items by hand. Using the web service interface is extremely easy; simply build a URL and send the request to Amazon, and you’ll get XML results. I’m using the excellent Snoopy PHP class for the communication piece, and PHP’s built in XML parsing (using expat) to extract the information I want from the XML.

Some tips, after trial-and-error: Use a “Power” search in the Amazon request, especially if you have multiple keyword sets. An example might look like:

Power=keywords:(web services) or (xml) or (http programming)

The regular “Keyword” search turns useless after four or five words, it seems, and the “TextStream” search returned totally random results.

I played around with have the results sorted by rating (“reviewrank”), but dropped this because I was finding that older editions of the same book (hardcover vs. paperback, for example) might have a higher rating, but not actually be available. By dropping the sorting entirely, Amazon returns surprisingly relevant results.

The results can include images, all hosted on Amazon’s servers. Use them! They come in three sizes.

And finally, pick your keywords carefully. Or you’ll get some weird, totally unrelated items.

Amazon’s Web Services

I’ve been playing around with Amazon‘s web services because in my quest to make money off my blogs (quixotic? I don’t know yet), I thought it would be interesting to implement book recommendations based on keywords pulled from individual blog entries.

What got me thinking about this is that my Amazon associate links have already generated three orders from books I’ve linked to (two from The Brew Site and one from here), which kind of surprised me since I haven’t had the Amazon affiliation for very long. But I don’t really want to spend all my time writing about books just to generate clickthroughs—seems to go too far on the “shill” side of things—so I figured I go more the route of the Google AdSense ads: automatically generating results from content.

The web services are pretty straightforward, though I have to wonder why the PDF documention you can download is over 400 pages long. Holy crap! Instead, I did a quick read through the HTML version they have and picked up enough in a half hour to get started.

So, you might start seeing Amazon recommendations appearing on the individual entry pages. It’ll be an experiment; if I don’t like how they work, I’ll pull them.

Amazon Reviews

One of the big online stories over the past couple of days is Amazon.com‘s weeklong glitch that “suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had anonymously posted book reviews” (New York Times article here). Turns out a lot of what was revealed was that authors were anonymously writing glowing reviews of their own books, and getting family and friends to do so too—and conversely, anonymously panning rivals’ books. This “glitch” exposed a bigger issue:

…many people say Amazon’s pages have turned into what one writer called “a rhetorical war,” where friends and family members are regularly corralled to write glowing reviews and each negative one is scrutinized for the digital fingerprints of known enemies.

Amazon called this “an unfortunate error.” Yeah, right.

Consider: these “anonymous” reviewers are not anonymous at all, Amazon clearly tracks who they really are and can, at any given time, follow exactly who is saying what about any book. Confronted with the questionable antics of these reviewers and the growing “rhetorical war,” I know what I would do to try to put a stop to it. (Here’s a hint: it’s basically the same thing that happened to Amazon.)