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Thursday, January 05, 2006

More Walmart

Walmart's obviously scrambling. They've changed their Planet of the Apes page and sent me an email claiming it was all just an accident. But Webmaster in Seattle in the Comments says:
Generally, sites use automated tools for "related links", but sometimes they do it manually. (I've built automated tools for companies.)

You want to know whether it was manual or automatic, and whether it was intentional or accidental. A 2x2 grid of possibilities.

It was not intentional and automatic, though. ALL the related links are in the same category (black biographies), which should have no automated inference to Planet of the Apes (PotA). Readers have noted that PotA is a metaphor for race relations, which is true. But that would NOT mean you should code it as "black biography". You wouldn't even code it as "race relations", but if somebody were, they'd get different movies than these biographies.

It could be a manual OR automatic *accident* if, for example, a film about Malcolm X had an ID similar to that for PotA, and it got entered by mistake. Then the automatic link tool would think it's spitting out related links for "Malcolm X".

The way to get a handle on it is to check related links for many movies, and build a report of anomalies.

But remember that this "accident", if it is that, is highly suspicious. Because PotA was written as a metaphor for race relations, AND because bigots refer to the movie often, as they do "Gorillas in the Mist". There *might* be a technical or accidental explanation, but right now I doubt it.
And from an email, after Walmart made the change:
Currently at the bottom of WalMart's PotA page, after Raymond and Friends, you can see that it says...

Browse for similar items in :
# Home Page ? Movies ? DVD ? Comedy ? General

Comedy? PotA is not a comedy. To me this suggests that someone quickly assigned a category after the story got out. This kind of "Breadcrumb" trail (x > y > z ) is almost certainly manually done, not automated.
Nobody ever suggested this was a corporate conspiracy, but I think GSD hit it on the head with the notion that it was probably some racist functionary's idea of a joke.

AP and Forbes have picked up the story. Crooks & Liars has more.

Update: WaPo:
The world's largest retailer said in a statement that it was "heartsick" over the racially offensive grouping and that the site was linking "seemingly random combinations of titles."

"It's just simply not working correctly," said Mona Williams, vice president of corporate communications for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The company said it was alerted to the problem early yesterday afternoon after word began spreading among bloggers. When visitors to requested "Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series" on DVD, four other movies were recommended under the heading "Similar Items." Those films included "Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream/Assassination of MLK" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson."

Williams said similar titles were called up when the DVD of the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was requested. There were three such combinations involving those two movies and African Americans films, she said.
Boy that "mapping" program sure does have a low-rent cracker sense of humor.