During the Medireview Period Castles were Built of Stone

Yah. So today the kerfluffle hit the backstop at 110 MPH. (Look, that’s the closest I can come to a baseball analogy.) Whoosh! Swing and a MISS!

Over across the pond, Waterstones WHSmith made the mistake of using the entire Kobo book feed without thinking about what happens if you don’t have good filtering on searches for children’s books. Since I happen to believe Kobo’s search is fundamentally flawed, I also think this is a Kobo issue as well. Some REALLY inappropriate books showed up in searches for books for children. Erotic books with ::ahem:: covers and ::ahem:: content. According to at least one person in my twitter stream, this was happening at least 4 months ago.

As any adult Romance reader is likely aware that some of the ::ahem:: books feature things like sex with dinosaurs, or lactating woman as cows, or books that include/refer to/thinly disguise sex with the underage and/or incest.

As a parent, I would not want my underage child coming across any of those ::ahem:: books, covers or content. That just seems pretty freaking obvious to me. The solution is pretty much what Amazon has been doing. Restricting that content from general view. (But not ALL view.) Because hey ANYBODY with a computer and internet access can get to Amazon, unless they’re in China, I guess. So yes, we really do need to make sure ::ahem:: content does not show up when someone is searching for Goodnight Fluffy Bunnies of the Pleistocene.  You could restrict behind the scenes (which Amazon does)  and start giving authors a hard time about racy covers (which Amazon does) Or, oh, say,  have a “show me the racy stuff” button. Or a “safe search” mode ala a Google image search.

Once you’ve discovered the hard way that you should have been doing something like that probably at least 4 months ago, you should do everything in your power to make it so.

But Kobo’s response has been to remove ALL self-published books (at least in the UK). Amazon got in on the frenzy, too, and exactly as you’d expect with a knee jerk reaction, they both got the “Medireview Effect.

I hereby dub this result the “Medireview Effect” because it’s what happened to the word “Medieval” on a historical romance Yahoo list when Yahoo thought changing ALL occurrences of “eval” to “review” would prevent malicious javascript code from executing. Which I guess it did.

Edited to add: “eval” is a key word in Javascript that can execute code. Good code. Or Bad code.

In the meantime, during the Medireview period, castles were built of stone.

So, as you can expect, ham-handed and poorly thought out attempts to root out “Daddy” pr0n have had many unintended consequences, Many books that would be just fine for kids have been deleted. Many books that are not self-published, but are still inappropriate, remain.

On December 10th, Mark LeFebvre of Kobo was on the Self-Publishing Podcast, and he said that Kobo had split out their database so that children’s books were a completely different database. That was 4 days ago. I only listened to the podcast yesterday, but I remember thinking this:

1. That’s hard.

2. This is a db that set ISBN as a primary key. I don’t think they have the expertise to make that happen the way they want.

Totally not easy to split off a db that way. Not in four days. I think today proves I’m right.

(I happen to know about the ISBN as a primary key because LeFebvre said as much at RWA — in response to a question I asked. Take it from this DBA, ISBN is not selective enough to make a good primary key. A unique index, sure, but not a primary key.)

Dear Kobo: If you let me work from home, I would quit my day job in a heartbeat and help you fix your mess and scale it out, too.


2 Responses to “During the Medireview Period Castles were Built of Stone”

  1. Liz Mc2 says:

    Great post. I would love it if Kobo dealt with their terrible search function.

    I’d forward you the recommendation e-mail to my daughter, but I seem to have deleted it because I didn’t want to see the breeder cheerleader cover anymore. I do have my customer service e-mail from them (which helpfully suggested I send her account’s e-mails to me, which I had already said I was doing). It’s from February 19. I doubt I’m the only one who complained. So they don’t seem to have rushed to deal with the problem, though I agree it cannot be easy.

    I don’t mind in the least if they sell all these things. Just try not to show them to my kid. And authors who tag their books to try to dodge the filters are kind of jerks.

    • Yes, indeed. Kobo search is really, really bad.

      The real problem, as you note, are the authors/organizations that deliberately and in some cases, maliciously, mis-tag their books. I think Amazon should give a warning to those actors and then remove their accounts if it happens again. Done.