March 20, 2003

Earthlink Complains About Motley Fool Article

Today I received an email from Jeff Fischer of the Motley Fool. He wrote an article about my recent Amazon Purchase Circles humor article. Seems Earthlink, one of the companies I, and Jeff, mentioned, wasn't so happy:


I thought you'd be interested in the following thread. Earthlink complained because Purchase Circles, it appears, can include customers. Amazon goes by domain names in email, and zip codes, so Earthlink subs in Atlanta (their HQ) may be on the Purchase Circle.

So, I removed Earthlink from our article. You may want to consider it as well, as the purchase data may be in error.


Question is, was Earthlink more ashamed of the list of books that Amazon listed (and continues to list on their site), or the fact that the brianstorms blog had a SELL recommendation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Here's what Amazon told Jeff:

To compile our Purchase Circles bestseller lists, we group the items we send to particular zip and postal codes, and the items ordered from each domain name. Since many domain names are specific to companies or education institutions, this enables us to define which items are selling best in offices and schools as well as in various cities, states, and countries.

We then determine which items are more popular with each specific group than with the general population. No personally identifiable information is used to create Purchase Circle lists. As an additional measure to ensure confidentiality, creates Purchase Circles only when at least 200 customers are associated with a particular group.

Jeff apparently forwarded this to the Earthlink person who made the fuss, saying, "To my eye, it seems to suggest that some of your subscribers in your area MIGHT be included in your purchase circle." With that, he decided to pull the Earthlink section of the big chunk of my blog article that he'd published on Motley Fool.

Jeff suggests I remove Earthlink from my blog entry as well. I think I'll keep it in. It's a humor piece, as I clearly stated up front. I'm glad that people read it and that it raised questions about how exactly Amazon calculates things with their Purchase Circles feature. Oh, by the way, Amazon currently says the top three DVDs purchased in Earthlink's DVD Purchase Circle are: Moonstruck, Vertigo, and ... Caligula. Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen.

Here's the thing: Purchase Circles came out on August 20, 1999. It was kind of a weird feature back then, and it remains one now. In fact, I challenge anyone to go to's homepage and navigate to the Purchase Circles section of the site, using only links found on Amazon's web pages. Good luck. I gave up. Instead I just went to Google and typed in "Amazon purchase circles" and presto.

Which brings up another thought: using Google to navigate other websites. More and more I hear people say they use Google's home page to go to other sites, rather than type in a URL into their browser's text input box. I find this interesting. I suspect part of it is that it makes at least part of the user experience the same for all websites --- rather than having to go to ten different sites to access ten particular features of those sites, having to wade through each site's distracting, NASCARized, monetized, animated, whizbang upsell messaging each time.

You might say, well, use Bookmarks. Bookmarks are so 90s imho. They don't scale well. I find them long-term storage: I create them all the time to remember places, but I don't use them for rapid access. There are too many. Bookmarks don't scale well.

And so Google becomes the gateway to other site destinations. I find I use it for this purpose quite often these days -- Google's my default browser page, so all new windows simply open to Google. If I want to go to a certain feature of some other website, I will often just type it into Google rather than go to that website and navigate through it to get to that feature. How many other people do this I wonder? Posted by brian at March 20, 2003 04:38 PM


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