If every social network were brutally honest with you, they’d be Amazon Spark.
The newest feature on the Amazon app is the grossest, purest thing on the internet. It is digital capitalism, incarnate. It’s so naked in its purpose, it’s almost hard to hate. It is the smarmiest stripe of conspicuous consumption. In the way that the “Alien” movies’ Xenomorph is the perfect killing creature, so goes Amazon Spark: the perfect, unapologetic internet moneymaking creation.
Spark launched Wednesday on the Amazon app, to not-a-particularly-great amount of fanfare. It’s comprised of a feed (basically: an Instagram clone) that features people posting photos with their favorite products.
You can, of course, click on links to those products and easily purchase them.
It’s hard not to be put off by this. Social networks are supposed to be about people and news stories and cute animals and stalking exes. They are, theoretically, about people.
Except: Not really.
Social networks are about people in the same way that sporting events are about sports. Sure, there’s an athletic competition at the center of it all, but it exists to sell you stuffcable subscriptions, light beer, a new car, Viagra, whatever it is. Same goes for social networks, which are ostensibly about connecting with other people, but really, just the means for an end goal of getting you to buy stuff. Watch, then buy. Scroll, then buy. Capitalism!
Not that there’s anything so wrong with that. It’s crass, but it’s the world we live in. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others wouldn’t exist without this system.
Amazon’s stated purpose is to get people to buy stuff. They’re really good at doing this. So good, in fact, that the main question for anybody selling anything right now is: What are we going to do about Amazon?
But Amazon’s got a curious issue they have to deal with. They’re great at selling stuff. They’re not nearly as great as showing you what to you might want to buy. It’s not a gigantic problem in the grand scheme of Amazon, but it’s something to work on.
Spark theoretically provides Amazon users with a way to find new things to buy. Its feed features influencers and publishers (some of which are getting paid) to put up posts that feature products in some way or another. Spark doesn’t ask you to follow people; it asks you to follow topics, then, Spark shows you pictures of products that align with your ‘interests.’
Following “technology,” for instance gives you a pic from a drone that you can buy.
It’s curious thatAmazon decided to stick Spark with its regular app, as opposed to splicing the feature off into its own app, or making Spark a platform onto itself. Amazon’s already shown that they don’t view their main app as any kind of sacred ground. They’ve been cramming features in there, including a weird Snapchat knock-off with shoppable stickers and computer-vision fashion advice. Throwing in an Instagram clone isn’t a huge leap, but it also doesn’t really give Spark much of a chance to grow into its own thing.
Maybe that’s the point. Amazon’s not interested in creating a social network. It’s interested in social buying, without all the other fancy-schmancy stuff. You need to be told by influencers what to buy? Amazon’s wants to cut out the middleman (Instagram) and bring the influencers right to them. And if you’re an influencer, why shouldn’t you just be able to put up a link to stuff, and make money from the affiliate link? What fun is being an influencer if you can’t make a clean buck off it?
This is the kind of clarity you can only get from Amazon and its unadulterated consumerism. It is gross. It is pure. It’s the internet.