the pleasures of knowing where you stand 

From page 75 of Brad Stone’s excellent book The Everything Store:

In early 1998, Bezos was closely involved with a department called Personalization and Community, which was geared toward helping customers discover books, music, and movies they might find interesting. That May, he surveyed what was then Amazon’s Hot 100 bestseller list and had an epiphany— why not rank everything on the site, not just the top sellers? “I thought, ‘Hey, why do we stop at a hundred? This is the Internet! Not some newspaper bestseller list. We can have a list that goes on and on,’ ” he told the Washington Post. 2 The notion was not only to create a new kind of taxonomy of popularity but also to give authors, artists, and publishers a better idea of how they were doing— and to cater to some of their more neurotic impulses. “Bezos knew sales rank would be like a drug to authors,” says Greg Linden, an early Amazon engineer. “He insisted that it change whenever a new order came in.” That was not a trivial challenge. Amazon’s overloaded servers were already stretched to the limit, and its Oracle database software was not designed to handle the increasing loads generated by the swelling audience of the Web. Engineers ended up fudging it, taking snapshots of sales data and pushing new rankings to the website every few minutes. The service, called Amazon Sales Rank, was introduced in June to the consternation of not only authors, who began compulsively checking their rankings at all hours of the day and night, but also their spouses and more than a few wary editors and publishers. “I understand how addictive it can be, but maybe they could spend their time more productively, like, maybe, writing a new book,” veteran editor John Sterling said.

That was not a trivial challenge. Amazon’s overloaded servers were already stretched to the limit, and its Oracle database software was not designed to handle the increasing loads generated by the swelling audience of the Web. Engineers ended up fudging it, taking snapshots of sales data and pushing new rankings to the website every few minutes. The service, called Amazon Sales Rank, was introduced in June to the consternation of not only authors, who began compulsively checking their rankings at all hours of the day and night, but also their spouses and more than a few wary editors and publishers. “I understand how addictive it can be, but maybe they could spend their time more productively, like, maybe, writing a new book,” veteran editor John Sterling said.

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