It took me a while to get the September update of out. The reason: I had to redo the book statistics.

Previously, I got those from Amazon’s web service, which worked ok as far as those things go. However, recently, I ran into several problems:

  • They started requiring signatures on the requests, which meant I had to stop and fiddle with my code, which I did not appreciate. (If you have this problem and use Ruby, get the amazon-ecs Ruby gem)
  • Their results suffered from some kind of regression in any case: C, C# and C++ all showed up with the same number of results. They didn’t use to show the same numbers. Not good from my point of view.
  • They were completely unresponsive to requests for information or help.
  • And for good measure, they hid their information about their products API on some other web site, with no links from their web services page, which makes it kind of annoying to look for it, and suspicious that they may be removing it at some point in the future.

All of these together made me decide it was time to switch data providers. Where to go? The answer was obvious: back to my home state of Oregon, to Powell’s Books, a huge independent book seller. If you ever go to Portland, do yourself a favor and go to Powell’s. It is a city block full of books on multiple floors. When I lived in Portland, I would go there before eating to give myself a reason to leave (although they do have a cafe…). And that’s just the regular book store. They have another huge space a few blocks away dedicated entirely to technical books. Powell’s is one of my favorite things in Oregon, and a great experience.

Anyway, I decided that they’re big enough, and do enough business online that I’d ask them about getting data, so I sent some email asking after what options were available. I got a very helpful answer from a real person, CJ Stritzel, who was kind enough to explain what the options were, and work with me to help find the best one for what I needed. Definitely better than “/dev/null”, the Amazon message board!

The API is still something they’re working on, but it works well enough for what I need, and I’m quite happy with the situation. It has caused some changes in the rankings, though: they show Java books as being by far and away the most popular, which has pushed that language into the top spot in the rankings. We’ll see over the coming months; I may rework the queries I’m using some as their API stabilizes and I experiment with different combinations of keywords.

In any case, thanks Powell’s, and enjoy the new statistics everyone.