What’s Going On With Amazon

While I was jamming several thousand calories worth of food down my gullet today, people online were getting riled up that Amazon has started delisting a bunch of books (i.e., dropping their Amazon sales rankings) because they were supposedly “adult” themed, notably books with gay and lesbian subject (but not, it seems, exclusively so). The Los Angeles Times has the details here; what I know is what I’ve read there.

Since this is happening over a holiday weekend and it’s a little much to expect a coherent explanation and/or excuse on an Easter Sunday, I’m personally keeping my pitchfork in reserve until tomorrow. At the very least this looks pretty weird and possibly very dumb. But it’s best to hear what Amazon’s got to say first.

113 thoughts on “What’s Going On With Amazon

  1. Perhaps their story will be better Monday, but so far it appears that the official response is that yeah, they’re doing it.

    I hope this is a mistake, or some rogue CSR or something, because I really like their service and don’t want to have to stop buying from them.

  2. I personally would wait to hear from someone higher up the food chain. Customer Service Representatives pretty often don’t know anything more than the canned responses that they think best fit a particular situation.

  3. I bet it really is happening, but that the Amazon top brass didn’t approve, and will promptly squelch it once it makes the big news.

  4. “I bet it really is happening, but that the Amazon top brass didn’t approve, and will promptly squelch it once it makes the big news.”

    It seems hard to believe that the Amazon top brass wasn’t involved somehow. It’s a pretty big move for someone to make without them knowing. Though, no doubt they’ll find some convenient scapegoat to save face when things get heated.

  5. Well, I wasn’t going to buy anything tonight anyway. I did register my disapproval to their customer service, because I figure a an mail system swamped with protests is a good way to convince them that this is a “computer glitch” not a policy change.

  6. From my experience of Amazon CSR droids they aren’t going to formulate anything like the response that Mark Probst got from them.

    If anything they were quoting something prepared for them in advance.

    The Publishers Weekly article seems to have been twotted (I claim first dibs for that term).

  7. One possibility is that Amazon just has a user-driven function to mark books as “adult” and they’ve been targeted by some astroturfing effort. Kinda like on IMDb where every movie has a huge amount of “1″ ratings.

  8. Actually, given the nature of the material excised from the rankings, a full “slash twotted” is apt.

  9. I agree we’ll have to wait until Monday for a coherent explanation. Hopefully, we’ll get one. I use Amazon a lot, but they’ve been doing some really screwy things lately – like just recently not allowing authors to leave a signature like “author of….” when they review someone’s book.

    They changed that ruling when a million people complained. Maybe they’ll change this one, too. But it comes right back to your question: “What’s going on with Amazon?” Why are they doing these obviously stupid things?

    This places me, and many other aspiring writers in a predicament: my novel is in the top 500 of the Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel contest. Like many, I have serious hopes I’ll make it to the top 100. But if Amazon persists in this kind of behavior, is this the kind of company a new author wants to start out to be linked with?

    Hey, my novels are not full of sex, but there is some. And while the novel in the contest (the Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder) is almost innocent, it still has a sex scene or two. I’ve got other novels with gay characters, polyamorous marriages, etc. If those novels get published, will Amazon not rank them, even though they aren’t overtly “adult” material? (They’re science fiction or fantasy, not erotica).

    Amazon is huge. I suspect most authors depend on Amazon sales to a great extent. I want a real explanation from them as to why they are censoring material.

  10. I think this is the reason; his theory is that it’s a concerted effort on the part of a Focus on the Family type group to register complaints that cause books to lose rank. Right now, if you search on “homosexuality” on Amazon, you get a boatload of books like “Because The Bible Tells Me So” and “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality” as the first suggestions…a search on “feminist” produces some oddities on the first page, as well–”Confessions of an Ex-Feminist”, “Feminists Say the Darnedest Things”, and a Sarah Palin calendar…

  11. I’m confused by people saying that books don’t show up in search results any longer; I tried searching on Amazon for a couple of titles that are missing sales ranks (and I checked–yup, they are), and they show up in my search results. I must be misunderstanding that aspect of it.

    Anyway, this is really, really cruddy of Amazon. ;-(

  12. Stealth: I personally have a huge problem with the idea that they might be restricting what I, as an adult, can search for because someone else decided it was “adult”. If trolls were gaming this system, well…that’s a damn good reason why these systems shouldn’t exist!

    This is unrelated to the question of whether the way that they are classifying things as “adult” is homophobic. Even if this second thing turns out to be some sort of “mistake”, I will still be mighty pissed off.

    If they are going to have this sort of feature, they need to do it like google does with Safe Search, and let me turn it the hell off.

    I work with two ex-Amazon employees. I’m curious to find out what they know.

  13. Kendall: The issue is that Amazon orders searches in sales-rank order. If you search directly for a title, you will get it, but if you search for a generic term like, say, homosexuality, the first result will be the book with the highest sales rank. If you look at that link, you’ll see that the current “highest ranked” book with that take is “The Parents Guide to Preventing Homosexuality”. There are almost certainly books on homosexuality that sell more, but they are being placed at the end of the search because they are being labeled “adult”.

  14. One of the odd things about this is that in some cases the paperback edition of a book is de-ranked but the hardcover isn’t (or vice-versa).

    I expect that we’re going to eventually hear that this was the result of systematic astroturfing of the complaint system and a lazy (or colluding) human sanity check on the process.

  15. Hmmm, yeah, I’ve been hearing about this a lot … and I have to say, it seems completely contrary to what you would think would make sense …

    I mean, surely Amazon realises that it’s going to make way more money off rational, intelligent, liberals, whether gay or straight, as every study under the sun shows we read more and purchase more books than do the conservative wingnuts. How does this help their bottom-line in the slightest?

    The simple, utter, stupidity of this move just suggests a mistake to me. I’ve always been one never to credit nefariousness when stupidity will do … think someone may have just hit the wrong key.

    I’ve personally got nothing against censorship in the abstract, but this just seems … well … idiotic.

  16. There’s multiple confirmations of CS reps sending out a standard “gay=adult, ergo it was pulled, so go away” response. Some idjit either told them it was going on, or they made the story up independently. The later is doubtful, but possible, *and* would result in those several people getting chewed out for it at the very least.

    But I find the idea of several CS Reps pulling a story out of thin air to explain something they don’t understand to be laughable. So it might well have been a canned response by someone out there in the middle of the food chain. But who gave him/her that idea?

    And then the story switches to a “glitch”. So we’ve got two separate and contradictory responses form Amazon, and we’ve got evidence of them. So now people can’t actually claim to know what’s going on even if Amazon tells them, because Amazon is spreading misinformation.

    As always, it’s not so much the original offense that makes the problem, it’s the response, and subsequent cover up that makes it newsworthy.

    If Amazon’s response had been “We’re not sure, it’s possibly a glitch, we’re checking on it, and we’re sorry about the inconvenience” they’d be a lot better off.

    Having worked in CS, it’s one of the least respected jobs in any tech company. And frequently, corporations do change things without telling CS the changes are coming. Which is always fun.

    Customer: “What happened to Xfeature? It’s changed and now I cant frozzle my razzamataz! I hate you all

    Hapless CS Rep: It was working last time I used it, let me check… Oh crap. They changed it without telling me.”

    That’s happened to me before more than once.

  17. @ Catherine:

    That link doesn’t explain how another author got the same e-mail in February and others noticed being de-ranked before this weekend, though. It’s not a bad theory, but the e-mail in Feb is really what pulls it apart for me.

    @ Josh:

    The problem I see with the “CS reps made it up” theory is that something that much of a PR nightmare is bound to lose them their jobs, perhaps end their career in CS if word gets around enough. I can’t figure out any way it would make logical sense to make the story up.

  18. @ Nonny: The link that Catherine Shaffer @15 gives may not explain everything, but it does raise enough reasonable doubt that I am, as Scalzi eloquently puts it, “keeping my pitchfork in reserve until tomorrow.”

    And like Scalzi @2, I too would like to hear from someone considerably higher up than a CS rep in the Amazon corporate structure, preferably Jeff Bezos himself.

  19. I think we’re seeing two distinct phenomena here.

    There does seem to be human-generated misapplication of the “adult content” policy as articulated in the (clearly) boilerplate text dating from February. But what’s apparently been happening (or found to be happening) this weekend looks like a case of self-propagating database corruption — which is to say, Amazon’s database gives the appearance of having been hacked, or at least hosed.

    In those circumstances, I’m not surprised that the best Amazon’s emergency Easter PR contact can do is claim “glitch”. She’s certainly not going to admit that the database has been hacked/hosed to such a significant degree (not, at least, without approval from far higher up the food chain). And odds are she may well not speak enough Programming Geek to really understand what the IT people are telling her, if in fact they’ve had time to tell her much of anything while trying to rescue the database from a fate worse than death.

    The one thing I’m fairly confident of is that Amazon isn’t willfully dumb enough to have deliberately set out to alienate its customer base quite so thoroughly and dramatically. There’s definitely at least one shoe left undropped here.

  20. According to this Smart Bitches post this has been ongoing quietly since February, when a gay stripper’s autobiography was deranked and he got the same response even though autobiographies of porn stars weren’t deranked the same way.

  21. Since the Amazon CTO’s Twitter account has been targetted with the #amazonfail tag, there’s no way the higher ups aren’t going to be aware of this.

    Astroturfing or not, I personally would like to see this go out as a lesson to companies that equate prepping CS reps with poor scripts with real customer service. Amazon & eBay/PayPal would be the two biggest ecommerce vendors who channel customers through that mill.

    I suspect some companies punish or at least “creatively dissuade” reps in call centres from escalating issues which leads to the CSRs subverting the system. More than once I’ve called back into such a centre to find that records of my previous call(s) have been mysteriously lost from the system.

  22. “But if Amazon persists in this kind of behavior, is this the kind of company a new author wants to start out to be linked with?”

    Given the volume of books they sell, I would imagine you’d want to be linked so closely to them that your hair blows when they pass corporate gas.

  23. It’s documented in several places that this policy went into effect back in February. Amazon has now said that it is a “glitch” they are trying to fix.

    I think the “glitch” is that they, or perhaps someone in their hierarchy, got caught at a blatant attempt to suppress any literature related to GLBT issues.

  24. Meh, I’m not going to call for a boycott, but regardless of what their explanation is…

    This wasn’t a glitch. It’s been going on for at least 2 months. Whatever the explanation is, it wasn’t a glitch.

    I have choices about whether to buy books online. When the exchange rate between my currency and the US dollar was better, Amazon was usually cheaper than the local equivalents, even with Amazon’s extortionate shipping. Now, it’s about the same, and the local equivalent has been getting better and better at stocking obscure stuff. No price advantage, I’ll think this is a good reason to start supporting my local equivalent. I mean, even at the most charitable interpretation, the inconsistently applied de-ranking means that 3 of the top 4 searches for the work “homosexuality” are for books on ‘curing’ teh gay. That. Is. Not. Acceptable.

    So – Amazon: bad explanation, I’m never buying anything from you again. Good explanation – I’ll still only buy from you if my local stores don’t have the same book, even if they are more expensive. I won’t reward bigotry, and I don’t really feel like rewarding bad PR management, even if that is all that went wrong.

  25. For some reason, they haven’t applied the same policy to Kindle books. I checked out a few of the books mentioned in the LA Times article; those that had a Kindle version still had the Kindle sales rank.

  26. … And having read the Livejournal piece and other links, and more about the inconsistencies between editions of the same book, I’d say that while it’s more than just a ‘glitch’, it’s looking less and less like a ‘policy’.

  27. And maybe this speaks to why a gargantuan automated warehouse is not in fact a book store? Places with brick-and-mortar presence, who have to face their customers eye to eye, don’t often screw up like this.

    Buy Indie!

  28. We don’t have to know exactly how OJ did the crime to be very suspicious that he did it. As far as I know, there are just a handful of books that were deranked in February, and it looks like Amazon reversed the derankings when the authors complained. Those were books that could credibly be seen as being “adult,” but which on closer inspection probably shouldn’t be pigeonholed that way.

    But when did the deranking of “Heather has Two Mommies” happen? I have a feeling that happened pretty recently, along with a passle of other books that are clearly not adult or explicitly sexual in any way. Looks like a person or a group of persons are having some malicious fun with the system. Easter weekend would be a good time to instigate a huge response. I’ll bet some of the culprits are even among the early contributors to the #amazonfail discussion on twitter.

  29. Joe @30
    Amazon probably isn’t as automated as you think, but more importantly, your local brick & mortar store is just as full of garbage as anybody else, on average. The only advantage of your local indie, is that they’re more likely to listen to you personally, than 1000 screaming people half way across the country. Which, I guess is something. But it’s a far cry from “big = heartless” “small = virtuous” which many people (not necessarily you Joe) seem to flog.

  30. Catherine – Well, some books have a “adult” flag, and some books have “gay” flag, and during a thunderstorm, some bits were flipped in the transistors, and “gay” was set to “adult”.

    Looks like a person or a group of persons are having some malicious fun with the system.

    Or, it’s a mistake made by some employees who thought it wouldn’t have an impact. Or even a bigot in the Dev team who snuck it in hoping he could fuck with the sales of gay people’s books. But how can we know for sure? Amazon has two separate stories. If they come out with a third one, we’ll have no more reason to trust that.

    Brick and Mortar stores make their own mistakes. When I was working at a bookstore I had to explain to co-workers that, no, they couldn’t just hide the Ann Coulter books under the risers, and no, they couldn’t sneer at anyone buying them.

  31. I’ve been looking for an excuse to pay the extra $$$ at my local bookstores / games dealers for a while. I’ve always felt bad not supporting them, but couldn’t justify the extra money. That justification just got a whole lot easier.

    Now, if Amazon steps up and says something like

    “This (mid-high level in the company) guy right here got together with a bunch of hyper-conservative dorks and totally turfed our system. We’re sorry we designed it that way, and will now be putting in some optional filters for those who don’t want to see certain types of content.”

    or, really, anything that says – “yup, we screwed it up – messed with people’s choices and livelihoodsand that’s just WRONG, so we won’t do it anymore.” Then maybe they get to keep some of my business.

    Of course, admitting they knew it was happening also menas they can get sued in court for lost earnings by various authors, and opens a whole can of worms that I can’t see them wanting to open.

    Surprise me Amazon – please.

  32. A glitch? I mean, even after two authors were directly told it was a matter of policy?

    How the hell could that have happened?

    “Whoops, someone spilled coffee on a keyboard and it accidentally caused the letters ‘l”e”s”b”i”a’ and ‘n’ to stick while they were entering words into the filtering mechanism which we totally don’t have really, HONEST!”

  33. Amazon is slowly becoming a monopoly in internet booksales. They recently bought ABE (which had earlier bought bookfinder) and are now actively enlisting “representatives” to attend library book sales with electronic scanning equipment. They sell used and now collectible status books on their website under a myriad of various “companies” or whatever label you choose to use. The intent is clear to me that they wish to eliminate as much of the competition as they can. As they grow larger in proportion to the rest of the market they will command more and more power in the industry, and will be able to further flex their muscles in matters of what is printable should they choose to do so. When you couple this with the impact the large chains are having on brick and mortar stores, where small independant stores (and even smaller chains, for example Schwartz in Milwaukee WI) can no longer compete you find an industry that is becoming smaller and smaller in terms of competition (sound familiar? our brave new world). No industry is aided by this process, but in the world of published material the danger is compounded for obvious reasons. Sometimes cheaper isn’t always better, and when there are only 3 or 4 choices left at some point who will guarantee that even prices remain low? I am older, it is frightening to see the world we are leaving our children.

  34. “Glitch” is sort of a non-specific term that can mean anything. It’s corporate double-speak.

  35. Well, as the token right-winger around here.

    1. Amazon as a private company has every right to do this.
    2. It’s pretty frakking stupid to tick off probably 10-15% of your customer base with no corresponding increase in customer base from another quarter.

    Having said that, I suspect that this was the conjunction of a few mostly unrelated decisions.

    1. A directive to create a walled-off section of amazon for “adult” content.
    2. A requirement that such walled-off content doesn’t show up in searches.
    3. A decision that LGBT literature, among others, belongs behind that wall.

    Decision #1? Probably a good business decision in the end.

    Decision #2? Not really a problem, but it seems poorly implemented. As a software developer, I’d blame either lazy programmers or an unrealistic timeline for implementation. What should have happened was a requirement to log-in, and then an opt-in for adult content to show up in search lists. Instead, a quick fix of ‘remove the sales ranking’ was done. I’d predict that they’ll end up with an opt-in in the end, which most people should be ok with.

    Decision #3? This is definitely problematic. Should some LGBT literature be behind such a wall, if the wall exists? Of course, but obviously not all. And there would definitely be some arguments on the margins I’m sure. But to pull some examples from science fiction/fantasy – Bujold’s Ethan of Athos, which contains an entire planet of gay men, one of whom is the main character, behind the wall? Nope. But, since I’d say that a decision to put all the Richard K Morgan books with a straight protagonist behind such a wall wouldn’t offend me at all, I’m guessing that The Steel Remains, which I have not read, would fit similarly.

  36. The children’s book, “Heather Has Two Mommies”, was one of the ones which lost its sales rank. To say that a children’s book is erotica is the work of very sick minds. I wouldn’t read my children overtly religious children’s books, but that doesn’t mean I would try to make those books unsearchable.

  37. Skip – why Richard Morgan? What’s in his books that wouldn’t bother you if they were removed from searches? Was he rude to you or something?

  38. The reason you haven’t seen much out of Amazon is that their employees are deeply discouraged from saying much about how (or why) Amazon does much of what it does. If I were one of those employees, I’d be reluctant to talk about it. However, I work for Shmamazon, the World’s Largest Shmookstore, and I suppose I can tell you what it’s like there.

    (1) Shmamazon is built on very small teams (usually not more than 6-8 people), and each team controls their sector of the business pretty tightly. The idea here is that you don’t have a 100-person team that does search, in which 3 of them might know all about the “Customers who liked…” feature. Instead, you have a few people who completely own “Customers who liked…” and who are responsible for figuring out how it works, how to change it, whether or not to change it to “Customers who loved…” etc.

    (2) Because of the small teams, you can screw things up without ever going much above your immediate manager. If you decide that your search feature should exclude “Zoe’s Tale” because it’s not really SF, but YA, then you have the ability to make that happen.

    (3) And these small teams have essentially no power over the other ones; there’s a political process involved in getting other teams to participate on a project with you, and lots of the time it’s simply too complicated; you work around the people who aren’t giving you what you need.

    (4) Someone from your team is always on call, and the customer service reps can page you in the middle of the night to fix something. You’re expected to fix it before you go back to bed.

    Given that, let’s say that you work in some subset of the toy search department, and one day you get a high-severity ticket about anal beads showing up early in the list. You’re not going back to bed until you strip those things out of the results, my friend. But wait, there’s no attribute that cleanly differentiates anal beads from toys that you don’t want to exclude from search results. Maybe anal beads are listed as “adult”. Maybe you figure that it’s late; you’ll strip “adult” out of the search results and head back to bed. You look at what’s coming up as “adult,” and it looks pretty much like what you don’t want showing up. You pull the trigger and go back to bed.

    Fifteen minutes later, some yahoo calls somebody else up in a different department complaining that he got “Delta of Venus,” an adult book, in his search for Young Adult Science Fiction. “Oh,” thinks this poor awoken person, “I just need to apply the ‘adult’ tag to the book…”

    Shmamazon is a complicated place; read whatever you want into their actions, but you will judge them most accurately by how they address a problem like this than by the problem itself.

    Amazon, on the other hand–I have no idea what’s going on there.

  39. Josh, basically I don’t see an adult content wall as a problem, where adult means “inappropriate for children”, where adults could opt-in to see things in searches. Note, I don’t mean “erotica” and I explicitly don’t mean that. As for Richard K. Morgan, both the level of graphic sex and the level of graphic violence make them inappropriate for children. I personally wouldn’t want anyone under 13 reading them, and, say, 13-16 or so it would really depend on the kid, and I’d have no problems for access being required to go through the parents.

    Now, having said all that, it strikes me that perhaps a better solution would be to wall off the children/YA section, where a login could be created where the kids could be restricted to age-appropriate materials. Since the parents should be monitoring their children’s internet usage, they could ensure the children are only allowed to look through appropriate materials.

    But there’s no requirement for amazon to do so, and I really don’t have a problem with what is apparently the “intent” behind all this. they just appear to have implemented it very poorly.

    Oh, and as to the book another poster mentioned, “Heather Has Two Mommies”. It is indisputable that a pretty good sized fraction of the population finds it offensive, and inappropriate for children, and a pretty good sized fraction finds its exclusion offensive, and finds it absolutely appropriate for children, so both groups cannot be satisfied. How would I decide, if I were suddenly in charge? Well, if I stocked the book, it would absolutely be in the childrens section, and not hidden away, and whether or not I stocked it would probably depend on where I was. In a bookstore in the rural south? Probably not going to stock it. In San Fransisco, Seattle, NYC? It’s in stock. For a nationwide outfit like amazon? Stock it, it’s in the kids section.

  40. Shmamazon is a complicated place; read whatever you want into their actions, but you will judge them most accurately by how they address a problem like this than by the problem itself.

    given that more than one team is addressing the problem, someone from the current team tasked with this really ought to address the discrepancies between the two stories, and not sweep it under the rug.

    Sweeping it under the rug is going to come back and bite them in the ass. And I don’t just mean with fans. Publishing companies are the real problem here. Individual customers can be and frequently are ignored, lied to, hoodwinked, given the brush off, etc…

    But trying to brush off Houghton Mifflin is going to land you in deep shit. And major publishing houses are going to be annoyed if they find out that, back since February, you schmamazon had an unacknowledged practice of hiding certain schmooks of yours, thus making it hard for those schmitles to sell.

    There’s a potential for lawsuits here if someone can guestimate how long certain titles were de-listed.

  41. There’s a potential for lawsuits here if someone can guestimate how long certain titles were de-listed.

    That’s why I don’t see Amazon saying/doing anything that might possibly point to their own culpability.

  42. Just to amplify Shhh!@45‘s insights working for Shmamazon:

    I perform application support for a different giant online retailer in a different industry. Our models of content/feature development, ownership, and break-fix process almost exactly mirror what Shhh! describes above.

    My experience with this process leads me to believe that this Amazon issue is much, much more likely attributable to the mistakes of a few low-to-mid level misguided souls that then rippled with (possibly) unintended consequences throughout the enterprise rather than a malicious intentional policy change targeting a vocal portion of their customer base.

    This kind of thing happens all the time- maybe it’s universal to the org structure and speed of change in an online retailing environment.

    My point is, how Amazon chooses to recover from it is tremendously more important than that it happened in the first place. Everybody screws up. If they own up to it, fix it, and improve the system so it won’t happen again (at least not exactly this way) then they should get a full pass.

  43. This has all the earmarks, to me, of a carefully crafted, well, and patiently, executed, mult-target troll. February would be when they were experimenting with how to game the system. March was building up the complaints to a level just shy of causing boosk to be delisted, and Easter Sunday is when they tip it all over the edge. Brillitantly done, all in all, because they get to:

    A) Troll Amazon on a long weekend, when higher-ups who can force quick fixes are likely to be unavailable

    B) Troll the gay activist community, which is known to be quite vocal and quite sensitive to their issues

    C) Troll the general public’s predispostition to not trust large corporations, and

    D) Troll the religious right, who are, I predict, going to be blamed for this, despite having nothing to do with it (and not being known, in general, for the level of computer savvy needed to pull this off, either).

    It’s now Monday morning, and it won’t be long before we see Amazon shoot themselves in the foot over this.

  44. The Brightest Bulb: I find it much more likely that it is actual members of the Religious Right that figured out how to game the system rather than trolls playing Internet pranks. Just look at the way activists on the right have been trying to game the FCC complaint process for years.

  45. This seems like as good a time as any to promote Powell’s Books, one of the best bookstores in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve grown from one of those places that everyone you know talks about after visiting Portland, to their own online book retailer (including used titles). The best part is that querying “homosexuality” brings up a bunch of titles, including YA fiction and histories of Renaissance Florence. (Granted, they also sell How Jesus Heals the Homosexual. But the issue with Amazon is not a profusion of content, but a lack thereof. At least this way, buyers have a choice.) We were talking before about supporting indie book retailers, and this is one of those times that they’re a great option.

  46. Steve: If I’m right, that’s what you are supposed to believe. I certainly won’t deny the possibility, but this isn’t really the RR’s style, for the following reasons:

    1) They’ll try to game the FCC system because it is a government agency which can forcibly impose their (the RR’s) agenda on to everyone. They don’t usually bother so much with private businesses, which can simply change their mind if the public cries foul – which they, we, are certainly doing, and Amazon has already backpedaled.

    2) This was a stealth attack, and the RR generally make a particular point of conveying it is they who are behind the attack. The letter campaigns to the FCC are very clearly from a handful of religious groups.

    3) This was a very elaborate attack that reminds more more than anything else of the sort of troll attacks that alt.syntax.tactical used to make in the heyday of Usenet. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it involves some of the same people, in fact. If it’s them, or someone using their methods, there will be trolls involved in all sides (including, possibly, Amazon employees), who fan the flames to ensure the flamewars continue until the noise exceeds the content for months. The major point against this theory is that there is no reason to think that Mark Probst is in any way trolling anybody over anything (other than the obvious righteous anger and wanting to make other people feel it). I would love to hear exactly how he came to be aware of what was happening, though. In favor of it, however, is that this has apparently been months in the works, and was brillitantly executed.

    And by brilliantly executed, I mean executed in such a way as to maximize the public’s outrate, not maximize the censorship effects. More typical of the RR sort of deep planning would be to cause books they find offensive to lose their rankings one by one, over a longer period of time, at times not obviously associated with religion, not hundreds of books all at once, at the beginning of Easter weekend.

    I doubt we’ll ever know, unfortunately. Amazon will, and may already, but it would surprise me a lot if they ever commented publicly on it, because it would be a bad business decision for them to pick a fight with either ast type trolls or the RR over this. They’ll be in damage control mode for months.

  47. Barnes and Noble is another giant Internet bookseller, but which also happens to be a giant bookstore bookseller. B&N seems to be as benign as a Giant Corporate Entity can be; its employees are genuine booklovers who enjoy sharing their love of books and literature with the public.

    If you prefer independents, Powell’s is indeed a very good choice. So is ThirdPlaceBooks, also based on the Great Pacific NW, in Seattle. TPB is another actual bookstore that has a large internet presence (though not nearly as large as Powells’).

    [TPB won major local props and loyalty for buying Elliot Bay Books a few years ago, thus saving that beloved Seattle institution from the clutches of B&N, or having to close altogether]

    [TPB is an incredible heaven-for-readers place to spend the better part of a day. Its flagship store up in Lake Forest Park occupies a small mall, is right next to a Food Court which includes Honey Bear Bakery of local song and legend, as well as a nice-sized stage area where authors read, local bands play, and high school drama troupes perform. Some of my happiest days have been spent up there, buying far more books than I should, then settling down in the food court to eat, read, and listen to the author's reading/music/whatever happening in the stage area.]

    Anyway, if I’m buying books, amazon is one of the last places I go. I buy Other Stuff via Amazon. But not books. There are too many other, better, choices.

  48. @55 some codemonkeys on LJ analyzed what he published, and discovered that, as published, the code didn’t work.

    Now he could have published broken code to prevent script-kiddies from just reusing it.

    Portions of the code could have been rendered obsolete by changes at Amazon over the last 24 hours.

    It sounds, though, like a sloppy post-debacle engineering exercise.

  49. CaseyL – if I want used books Powell’s is good. But for brand new I only go to Amazon, discounts there are much better than anyone else.
    Combined with their prime-shipping it is even better, given the volume of purchases I make.

  50. Something lost in all the howling is that Amazon also went through the romance section with a chainsaw. Some of the hotter writers report that all of their books have disappeared. Perfectly respectable books that are sold face out in the romance section of bricks&morter Barnes & Noble and Border, to anyone, are now deemed adult by Amazon.

  51. Fred, personal attacks aren’t really allowed here, so I’ll just say that, in general, I don’t see what is amusing about discriminatory practices, whether or not its glitch-related. I think such views qualify as “assholish” in general, without getting more specific.

    You’re right, though – they can do whatever they want, and a some formerly loyal customers (i.e. me) can also choose to stop shopping there.

  52. The question becomes, whether or not this is Amazon’s doing/fault, where elsewhere does one shop online for books? It’s all well and good to say support local, but what if there isn’t anything local? As much as I love books, I’m not constantly driving ridiculous distances to buy them.

  53. Even if it was “just” a glitch, the fact remains that when the first authors started noticing months back and complaining to Amazon, they shouldn’t have been brushed off. That they were brushed off indicates that Amazon needs to retrain it’s CSR/QA people. (I’m not talking about the rote “Adult Material” response, but that when the logical rebuttal came back, and the problem was clarified, positive steps should have been taken. Instead it feels like those authors were either shunted to the side or their individual entries were fixed on an individual basis, leaving whatever shenanigans and/or glitches to continue on a general basis.)

    And even if this were a planned troll against the gay activism community, it still has unearthed Amazon’s lackadaisical responses to the initial concerns. (Again, I’m not talking about the stuff that went down Easter weekend. I don’t celebrate the holiday myself, but I’m not expecting all businesses to have full crews up and running on a fairly well-known holiday. What I’m talking about is the initial complaints from late last year and early this year.)

    CaseyL: I didn’t know that about Third Place. I did discover the Eliot Bay Bookstore and Cafe within the first week in Seattle, and it’s quite the gem. So glad I am that they helped save it. I got to go to the flagship store in Forest Park just a few weeks back for the first time, and I have to say, it’s the first time I’ve seen a bookstore with a stage, a food court, another smaller event area, and an entrance to the local library brance as well. Sweet baby Jeebus, it’s a fairly impressive bookstore. I sat there and watched Heather Armstrong of Dooce fame shill her new book while eating a ginormous burrito platter. Not just nibbling on a premade sandwich or swilling coffee, but a FULL meal. In a bookstore. Fortunately for my budget, it’s a LEETLE out of the way from my Cap Hill home.

  54. Peter@64: Folks upthread have mentioned Powells, Third Place, Barnes and Noble for your online needs. (I also have used Chapters for my Canadian needs.) Granted B&N and Chapters are big chains, and may have other issues, but if you want to send Amazon a message, you do have other options.

  55. I despise B&N from back in my college days, when they were one of the Official Campus Booksellers. A group of students, tired of everybody whining “we should have a book exchange” but nobody doing anything about it, actually started a system for students to swap, exchange and sell their used textbooks to one another. When they set up a table in the Student Union – you know, where students usually have activities and sales and so forth – B&N told the university to shut them down. Which they did, until the pitchforks came out.

    There’s still Powell’s (which I also have issues with but they’re not that awful), and independent booksellers through abebooks. There are also book exchange sites like paperbackswap which I have found to be a swell resource for out-of-print things – you know, used paperbacks that would cost you $5 if you were able to find one, but online somebody is charging $50.

  56. There’s nothing funny about discriminatory practices, especially if that’s what Amazon is really doing. But I’m still having trouble believing they would actually do something remotely like it – it’s pretty far out of character for them. So my take on it is to wait until Amazon says something organized, which I don’t expect they’ll do with any kind of speediness, especially if they don’t (didn’t) know what happened themselves.

    In the meantime, the rampant speculation on Twitter is indeed really amusing. Here’s hoping it remains so, as we find out that Amazon hasn’t changed its spots on us after all.

  57. @Peter Schultz: I haven’t seen them mentioned yet, but bookdepository.co.uk are pretty good. Especially if you don’t live in the same country as an amazon outlet, since they have free worldwide delivery.

  58. Given that a large swath of romance novels apparently got scythed, I would tend to doubt that it was a deliberate corporate policy. And while the corporate silence is not good, if the folks DON’T know how it happened, I can see how the Amazon PR folks may not want to say anything until they do know what’s going on and how to fix it.

  59. Eddie Clark @63:I don’t see what is amusing about discriminatory practices, whether or not its glitch-related.

    You honestly see no humor in a certain segment of pro-LGB Internet-savvy people going full Westboro Baptist on Amazon for this? There were no actual gay rights infringed whatsoever by this event. No one was made “less gay” by having a bunch of products no longer appear in a quick list. Neither was there any actual or implied “speech ban,” as all those books are still available for sale.

    You yourself are ready to forgo any and all future commercial transactions over a potentially temporary and conceivably inadvertent removal of book titles from an index. Think about it for a second.

  60. You search for books on homosexuality, and you get books on how it can be “cured.” That’s a suckass search.

    I’m going to a bookseller whose searches don’t suck ass.

    Btw, Shhh! 45, we call that an “insulated silos” corporate structure where I come from. When we’re being all official and stuff.

    The rest of the time we call it fuckin’ stupid.

  61. Gerrymander:

    1) Seen any funerals of amazon employee’s I’ve been picketing? What? No you haven’t? Then I suggest you go away with your ridiculously offensive Westboro Baptist Church reference. And I’m not saying that to get all high and mighty. These people picket people’s funerals. They wish physical harm on me and people like me. You’re being outrageously offensive. Why not compare me to Hitler as well, go the whole hog.

    2) The effect of the books being de-listed is to stop books depicting any non-mainstream sexuality (or even discussing it – queer theory books!) to immediately be dropped from bestseller lists, and to stop them being linked to from similar books. This hurts the authors’ sales, and makes it harder for me to find the books I want. At the very least, it’s poor librarianship, something I don’t really want to reward.

    3) I said in my original post, if you read it, that I’d happily go back to amazon if they have a good explanation, for books that my local bookstores/NZ Based online bookstore don’t have. That isn’t any any all commercial transactions now, is it? I’d been thinking of doing so anyway, given the crash in the NZ dollar against the US, and this was sort of a tipping point thing. Market at work, right? I can spend my money where and how I want.

    In summary – have an effing clue before you open your mouth. Thank you.

  62. As a note, while the first books in the list that come up do still seem to be the “Let’s Fix You” books, the other books, including “Heather Has Two Mommies” is now back on the front page.

    A quick check also shows that they have their sales ratings back. So, glitch or ‘mere’ stupidity, it appears they’re trying to fix it.

  63. To add to what Eddie said, here’s another example. I have no right to suppress what you, gerrymander and Fred, have been saying, or challenge your right to say it (John does, and if he decides to delete all your posts, I won’t have any right to say he shouldn’t have, not that I’d be inclined to).

    However, if John doesn’t ban you, your reputation among the “commentariat” of this blog has suffered from the jackholistic nature of your comments in this thread. This will affect how you are regarded in future threads as well, especially if someone links to your comments here by way of explaining why your comments on any topic can safely be ignored.

    Just sayin’.

  64. Given that we now have an admitted perpetrator who has explained sufficiently how it was done to convince most people, and that he was exactly what I predicted – a troll, in his own words – I’d have to say he was an especially successful troll. Both sides are spitting mad, and reduced to namecalling, while the guy who actually did this is sitting behind his monitor, laughing his ass off at everyone.

  65. Xofer: Your link (a LiveJournal blog) claims to have debunked it (from another LiveJournal blog – why is one more plausible than another?), but admits that everything the guys said is certainly possible, with little modification to his scripts. And it certainly is possible, at any rate, including the hiring of people in the third world to create hundreds of accounts for him to use for very little money.

    You are certainly free to not believe it, but whether it was this guy or not, it still looks to me like somebody is doing their best Joke laugh while the watch the world burn, so to speak.

    Given your posts above, I now predict you will call me names.

  66. TBB:

    I agree trolling is possible. So is badly written code. So is badly implemented, misguided filtering. So is complete idiocy from Amazon. We won’t know which one it was until they release a full press statement on the issue. I’m staggered they haven’t yet – a quick response is essential to damage control, and half-assed, inconsistent statements from multiple levels of management and/or customer service don’t constitute damage control. At the absolutely most charitable interpretation, Amazon has terrible PR staff, even if this is the fault of an unforeseeable glitch or a hacker.

  67. That they seems be saying they know what happened, and haven’t offered any details yet suggests to me that it is, in fact, something done by outside parties. Which is to say, someone trolling through the customer-complain-something-is-adult system that used to be there, and now isn’t. There is no way they can explain that sort of attack that ordinary people will understand, especially after being filtered to technically clueless reporters, that won’t come across as “we were hacked,” which is not, in fact, true.

    I doubt we’ll ever hear an official statement as to what happened, unless something criminal was done and is prosecuted (both of which seem very unlikely.

  68. Gerrymander and Fred should also be aware that Xopher speaks only for himself, and that not everyone who is reading along has necessarily formed the same opinions as him (or, for that matter, of him).

    But one of the great things about Whatever is how well dissenting opinions can respectfully coexist, even when diametrically opposed. In this specific case, it looks more like there’s just some minor misunderstanding of each other’s sentiments going on.

  69. Naah, The Brightest Bulb, why would I do that? Just for disagreeing with me? And I didn’t call Fred or gerrymander names, either, even though they were lots worse (gerrymander especially).

    The alleged perp’s claims don’t account for the data, as the debunker points out.

  70. TBB: That may well be true, and it’s amazon’s choice. They’ll lose the majority of my business if they choose to deal with it that way, but of course others are free to decide otherwise.

  71. Xopher: The word “jackholistic” comes to mind. Not that you’re alone, far from it. A lot of people have been reduced to foaming-at-the-mouth namecalling in this, and it really doesn’t matter who started if (if it’s even possible to figure that out).

    Eddie: Feel free to not shop at any place that you don’t like, but frankly, at this point, given how clueless the public is about this sort of thing and the rash of huge actual cracks on web sites with tens or millions of credit card numbers, Amazon has less to lose by making folks like you mad than they do by leading the public to think (wrongly or not) that they’ve been hacked. That’s just how it goes. If you keep not shopping at any place that doesn’t make bad business decisions, eventually, you’ll be living in a small plot of land growing your own food and making your own clothes. And make not mistake, if my speculation is even close to right, what you want them to do would be a bad business decision.

  72. (My comments at 82 refer to TBB’s comment at 78, just to be clear.)

    MWT 81: Gerrymander and Fred should also be aware that Xopher speaks only for himself, and that not everyone who is reading along has necessarily formed the same opinions as him

    Absolutely correct. Everyone’s comments affect their reputation among those who read their comments; the nature of the effect, however, depends on the individual reader. I was giving my reaction. And people will form opinions of me based on my comments as well, and this will also vary. I’m not sure why TBB thought I’d call him/her names, when I didn’t do so even after gerrymander’s gross and deliberate provocation (comparing any gay person to the WBC is, or seems to me to be, an obvious trolling attempt), but TBB is free to form any opinion of me that seems justified to him/her (sorry, TBB, I don’t know your gender).

    In this specific case, it looks more like there’s just some minor misunderstanding of each other’s sentiments going on.

    Seriously, do you really think so? I thought Fred was pretty clearly expressing “yuk yuk, look at all the f*gg*ts havin’ a hissy fit” and gerrymander was clearly trying to ignite a flamewar with Eddie and any (other?) gay person reading this thread. I’m not being sarcastic. I’d be sincerely interested to read why your perspective on their comments differs so sharply from mine (and what I perceive as Eddie’s).

    If you convince me, I may even apologize. But a person who posted what gerrymander did and got the reaction s/he got from me and Eddie would apologize, ordinarily, if s/he didn’t mean to be offensive. That’s part of my evidence that offensiveness was, in fact, the intended effect.

  73. If you’re really looking for an indie bookstore close to you, here’s a link to the national association of independent booksellers and a directory of all their members. Many stores (including mine) have a website that will let you order from them and ship directly to your house. Many stores (including mine) will do a small discount if you order from them. It’s not always about the greatest discounts, either, but that’s a separate soapbox.

    http://www.bookweb.org/resources/directories.html

  74. Xopher:

    Also, more generally, I keep forgetting that Fred and Gerrymander essentially live on a different planet to me, and hold opinions that are not compatible with my version of reality. I really need to try to just not engage. Its hard when Fred Phelps gags are being thrown around, though.

  75. Ah, TBB, a fine but real distinction. I said their comments were jackholistic (a word formed with a certain amount of humor, at least by intent, by analogy to ‘holistic’), but didn’t actually call them jackholes.

    I have confessed, sometimes, to making an idiotic remark; I don’t think I’m an idiot (and as I’ve said above, you are free to disagree). Characterizing their comments as jackholistic labels their behavior, not them.

    You may find this a distinction without a difference, but I’ve been called a lot of names in my time, and it certainly feels different to me.

  76. Eddie, I agree with your comment at 86 in all respects. We do have to not let them troll us, even with Fred Phelps-level provocations. We kinda both did, though we didn’t start the flamewar gerrymander obviously wanted.

  77. Peter @ 64

    Tell them want you want, and they order it for you. They mostly order on spec all the time – ordering for you is a guaranteed sale, guaranteed instant money maker. You’ll find they’ll be happy to oblige (or, they’ll likely not be in business selling books for long).

  78. And perhaps would be epic trolls are trying to troll-jack the issue by making it about mythical epic trolls who don’t exist, and everyone is falling for it.

  79. Xopher: “I was only kidding” makes you sound like a passive/aggressive sort. When you tell someone they’re behavior is that of a jerk, you’re calling them a jerk. No reasonable person would take it any other way.

    Given that, well, pretty much nobody got the joke, do you still think it was funny?

    (And I have never, in all my years, met a single person for whom it didn’t “feel different to me” when it was them calling someone else names. “I wasn’t calling him names, it’s a statement of fact that he’s a dog sodomizing, suhbuman, nazi loving schmuck” doesn’t make one less a namecaller.)

  80. I thought the word was funny. I was NOT kidding at all. I meant every word I said.

    And if you’ve never been told “you’re being a jerk” and separately “you’re a jerk”—well, I have, and the two things feel different to me. As the recipient of both. I didn’t mean it feels different to call and to be called; that’s obvious.

    And any reasonable person knows the difference between being told “that was a terrible thing to do/say” and “you’re a terrible person.”

  81. Xopher: I accept that you mean what you say. But effective communication means using the language the way other people use it, not the way you do.

    Let’s take a survey, shall we?

    How many people here see any meaningful difference between “You’re being a jerk” and “you are a jerk”?

    (Being and are are two different version of the same verb, linguistically speaking. Which, of course, is meaningless to actual communication.)

  82. Statement from Amazon:

    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.

  83. Mike,

    That is indeed a statement from Amazon. Don’t really think it counts as an explanation, though – what was the ‘error’ and why did it happen? As I said above, v unimpressed with their PR effort.

  84. I e-mailed a friend today and asked if she was following the Amazon flap. Here’s her reply (submitted with her permission):

    “One of my lesbian friends sent the Amazon petition thing my way, which really pissed me off. What the hell did she think would happen? While all these lazy techie lesbos were sitting on their asses ordering cheap books, all the women’s, gay and lesbian bookstores closed down. Real bookstores, trying to provide the gay and lesbian community (ha! community! ha!) with myriad books geared to our interests, without judgment, censorship, etc. Not to mention community (ha!!!!!) space. Yahdahyahdahyahdahhhhhhh. Feh. Sometimes you have to TITHE TO THE CHURCH, or you lose it. And when you lose YOUR BOOKSTORE, why the HELL do you think THEY are going to do right by you? AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHAAHHHHHHH AAAAA. It makes me just a tiny bit crazy. So I don’t care what happens with the Amazon thing. It’s like asking Bull Connor to please replace the German shepherds with chihuahuas. Okay, now I’m off the deep end. Don’t take anything personally. This is aimed at puzzled, clueless lesbians.

    “Wow, I think my blood sugar’s low.”

  85. BB @ 96 –

    “Let’s take a survey, shall we?

    How many people here see any meaningful difference between “You’re being a jerk” and “you are a jerk”?

    (Being and are are two different version of the same verb, linguistically speaking. Which, of course, is meaningless to actual communication.)”

    No, you’re completely wrong.

    “You’re being a jerk” refers to your present behavior. It is a criticism of the person’s conduct. I would say “you’re being a jerk” to a person who I do not consider a jerk in general, but who is engaging in conduct that is jerk-like at that point in time.

    “You are a jerk” is a general statement about you as a person. It is a direct statement about the person themselves, apart from any particular conduct.

    Totally different statements. And in the context of having a meaningless, waste of time pissing match in a comment thread, one might have a basis for saying “you’re being a jerk,” but one obviously does not have a basis for saying “you are a jerk” unless you actually know the person you are addressing. Neither is particularly appropriate, but “you are a jerk” is stupider.

  86. Keith @49: This seems to demonstrate that while agile development practices are great for new systems development, they lack a certain something (consistent decision-making) when applied to maintenance and production support of existing systems.

  87. Stewart @ 103.

    Already dealt with. Someone else at LJ “debunked” the troll as highly unlikely (though vaguely possible). Since the troll left out all the other categories that were messed with, I tend to go with the debunker, and give little credit to someone who saw a chance to grab a little troll-glory after the fact.

    See Xopher’s comments at #77

  88. Eddie Clark: if my comment was a personal attack, then tell me to whom it was directed at? ….exactly.

    My point is that Amazon can choose to not sell adult material if they want, that does not necessarily make it discriminatory. It was suspect to begin with given that Amazon sells a wide range of adult toys and materials on their site.

    As you said, if you dont like what they do then dont buy there, I am sure they could care less what you do and it wont matter at all.

    That so many people freaked out and got all riled up about it I found extremely funny. JS – was level headed enough to suggest that everyone wait until there was verification that it was a Amazon policy before getting their shorts in a bunch.

  89. @joel
    Sorry, didn’t see that. I was just skimming and saw this, and remembered the article I saw on Hacker News.

    Guess that’ll learn me to read all the comments before posting.

  90. Eddie Clark @ 73:Seen any funerals of amazon employee’s I’ve been picketing?

    No, but I have seen places on blogs and other Amazon pages which equated the delisting to a hate crime, like here. The modus operandi of WBC is to use tangential connections (e.g., a soldier’s funeral) to address what to them is a pressing issue, and to do so in the most vitriolic way possible.

    I consider spamming pages — like the one announcing an upcoming Terminator videogame — with defamations of perceived intent, simply because it’s a page at amazon.com, to be of a kind with WBC’s tactics. It makes the complainants look both petty and unhinged.

    This hurts the authors’ sales

    No doubt this is a pressing concern to the late D.H. Lawrence, author of the delisted Lady Chatterley’s Lover. As for the living authors, if their incomes are solely reliant on the prevention of a two-day database bobble by an online vendor, then perhaps its time for them to consider alternate employment.

    and makes it harder for me to find the books I want.

    And exactly how many of those books did you order — from Amazon or any other source — during the delisting? Am I correct in assuming that the answer is “none”?

  91. Xopher @ 81:gerrymander’s gross and deliberate provocation (comparing any gay person to the WBC

    Sometimes, the truth hurts. The WBC is an exemplar of extremism for a cause to the point where their provocative displays actively drive away potential supporters. (That their cause is also repellent to many on this blog is understood.)

    Now, put yourself in the shoes of someone who isn’t gay/doesn’t generally concern themselves with gay rights issues, and who comes across the reactions to the delisting. Taking into account what the stakes of the delisting are (some people are temporarily slightly inconvenienced by a retailer) and the reaction (numerous blog posts and commentary, news reports, hyperbolic language against a corporate presence which has never shown any prior homophobic tendencies), would you consider the reaction moderate or extreme?

  92. @ 86. Xopher

    My take on what happened above was:

    60. Fred said “the reaction is really funny.”

    Before I read anything below that, my reaction was to agree, because, the stuff going on at Twitter #Amazonfail was indeed really very funny. Kept me fairly well entertained on a boring workday as I hit refresh every 20 minutes or so in between rounds of working. (Conspiracy theories! Hackers! France! Oh my!)

    Note that I didn’t read it as being directed at LBGT people in particular. And Fred didn’t actually mention LBGT people in his post either.

    Then 63. Eddie Clarke said “I’m not allowed to flame you, but no it isn’t funny at all.”

    So then I wrote 68, to point out that basically it’s both at the same time; the situation isn’t funny if Amazon is seriously doing what everyone is outraged about, but the reaction sure as hell still is.

    Then 71. gerrymander said basically what I said at 68, only perhaps less well-worded. >.> (That was my read of it, obviously that’s not how others read it.)

    And then it kind of went downhill from there.

    Me at 81 was in reply to you (Xopher) at 75, and not the topics under discussion that led up to it. You said “the blog commentariat is going to judge you (poorly, as a jackhole)” and my response was “by the same token…”

    Because there is no blog commentariat here, there is no “we”, and you don’t speak for John about who gets banned. We’re all individual people with independent opinions, and you are not more weighty than anyone else.

    I hope all of that was enlightening, because that took way more scrolling back and forth to get the comment numbers than I really wanted to put into this when I started.

    On the whole, I was of a mind to reserve judgement until we saw what Amazon itself had to say for itself. THEN I would react accordingly. Everything everyone else was saying before that point was basically either irrelevant or … well, entertaining.

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