Followers of Death Metal Aprons, the tumblr Sarah and I keep documenting our various lifestyle experiments – and indeed people who’ve been personally assailed by our recounting of these experiences – will know just how far we’ve become, if not exactly devotees of Tim Ferriss then at the very least serious fans. I won’t go into detail here about Ferriss; you can see what we’ve had to say about him here, among other places. But in brief, Ferriss is the author of three books outlining ways to improve effectiveness in pretty much every area of our lives, from work to fitness, learning to, well, er, sex.
His latest book, The 4-Hour Chef, concentrates on one of those: learning (sorry, not sex this time). And it does it very cleverly, though the medium of teaching its readers how to cook – from the vary basics upwards.
The thing I want to mention is Ferriss’s relationship with Amazon. As well as being a zealous lifestyle experimentalist (and occasional masochist, it strikes me), Ferriss is a successful tech investor, so it’s appropriate that the 4-Hour Chef has been published by Amazon. Now reams have been written over the last few months about his decision to do that – and about the impact on the book’s distribution (Barnes and Noble are among the booksellers boycotting the book, making it, in Ferriss’ words, “the most banned book in history”, although I don’t get a sense of anyone just yet denouncing it as entartete kunst).
But what I’m interested in is perhaps a little more esoteric. Again, I’m on record as a huge Amazon fan. Not only can I get stuff I want really cheap from them, although, yes, there is that. Rather it’s because of their brilliant, constantly evolving and genuinely mould-breaking use of data and metadata. I’ve lost count of the occasions when, in my role as Metadata “Champion” I’ve had to ask: how come, a decade into Amazon’s life, content industry incumbents still struggle to grasp the power of metadata?
So check this. Early on in the 4-Hour Chef, Ferriss lists some of the kit essentials he thinks necessary for a well-run kitchen, and while I think I’ve got a pretty reasonable culinary arsenal there were some recommendations I thought I’d follow up on. First up: “lint free surgical huck towels”. Now what’s the first place a digital media consultant, sometime cook and metadata advocate goes to order these? Well it’s Amazon, naturally. Now take a look at what else Amazon recommended me:
Guess what. Every single item on that list is also in Ferriss’ kitchen essentials. Of course. Note that “Page 1 of 11”; from my quick scan I’d say that everything is on Ferriss’ list. The question I’m left with is: is this down to the usual brilliant Amazon collaborative filtering algorithms at work? If it is, then an awful lot of Ferriss fanboys like me are out there buying everything he recommends. Or… are the algorithms being diddled with somehwat? Is the fact of Ferriss’ publication by Amazon behind a bit of careful editorial intervention?
Thoughts on the matter gratefully received. Me? I don’t care, I’ve just gone straight ahead and bought the Good Grips OXO digital scales. Now, santoku or 8″ chef’s knife… ?