I read an article over the weekend about how the overwhelming number of choices you get when using Amazon and other sites is causing people to turn away from those sites. I just spent 15 minutes trying to find that article again and I can’t. So maybe I dreamed the whole thing. But that doesn’t change the fact that the author, or my dream, is onto to something with this line of thought.
I canceled Prime last year and the only thing I buy regularly from Amazon these days is $2.99 or less ebooks. Just for fun I just typed “lawn chairs” into Amazon. It returns over 10,000 results. For freaking lawn chairs. Is it any wonder I’d rather just go to Target and buy what they have in the store? Who has time to parse all that data? Then if you try you have to figure out what is sold by Amazon and what is a 3rd party reseller, and what might be counterfeit goods. I’d rather pay $5 more at Target and be done with it.
WalMart is no better. There is no way in the Walmart.com UI to filter out 3rd party resellers. If I’m buying from Walmart I want to take advantage of their logistics expertise, not use their site as an alternative to Ebay.
I’ve also rediscovered the joy of the local bookstore. They have employees that actually read lots of books, and can make recommendations way more intelligently than any algorithm.
Facebook’s algorithm was a response, at least in part, to the problem of your wall being overwhelmed if you had hundreds of active friends on Facebook. Of course, Facebook completely screwed that up and instead turned hundreds of thousands of old people into raving Trump sycophants in the process. This is an easy problem to solve though. Just don’t use Facebook. Anecdotal evidence from my friends suggest that GenX is abandoning Facebook at an increasing rate. If we are smart we will replace Facebook with nothing.
Music is another example. I own 500+ “albums.” I don’t need more music. I need more time to enjoy the music I already decided to spend money on. I’ve tried Spotify or Pandora premium a couple of times but I always cancel since I mostly end up listening to albums I already own.
It seems like this is a modern take on the tragedy of the commons. I suspect the marginal cost of adding another lawn chair to the website is pretty much zero for Amazon, so they have no incentive to care. It costs nothing for the third party merchants to list their stuff on the site either. So they just keep creating stuff to list in an apparently never ending circle of potential consumption. The marginal cost of adding an album to your collection when you have Spotfy is also zero. I don’t think that is the way markets are supposed to work. Nothing is settling in at an equilibrium because the systems are designed to encourage more and more consumption.
I’ve been working online since 1996. I was kind of there at the beginning of the commercialization of the Web. Maybe we were naive back then, but this is not the Internet we thought we were creating. I’ve been happier the less I rely on the Internet. Go out and go to the grocery store, don’t have everything delivered. Skip Amazon and visit a nearby bookstore, or library. They still exist! Open your music folder and listen to music you already own. Log off and do something in the real world this week.
You’ll feel better.