A repentent Clay Shirky writes about The Failure of #amazonfail:
After an enormous number of books relating to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered (LGBT) themes lost their Amazon sales rank, and therefore their visibility in certain Amazon list and search functions, we participated in a public campaign, largely coordinated via the Twitter keyword #amazonfail (a form of labeling called a hashtag) because of a perceived injustice at the hands of that company, an injustice that didn’t actually occur.
Shirky notes that Amazon’s de-ranking of LGBT titles “was an event of mainly technological propagation” and that the lack of intention should mitigate our collective outrage.
Shirky then uses the Amazon situation to make the more general point that “Metadata is worldview; sorting is a political act” and that “The problems they (Amazon) have with labeling and handling contested categories is a problem with all categorization systems since the world began.”
A good reminder for all of us that every categorization system and every ranking algorithm (from Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress to Twitter hashtags) is rooted in and reflective of ideology. Feminists long ago noted that “the personal is political” … all of us would be wise to remember that “the call number (or hashtag, or ranking algorithm) is political too.”
4/15/09, 3:20pm PST: Edited to add some links to Amazon’s explanation: