The Twitter hashtag: See this bullhorn? The hashtag is a little like this. Just ask Amazon.
It looks like Twitter will only show you the last 100 pages of tweets covered by a search. Right now, that means you can only see the last three hours of tweets submitted under the hashtag "#amazonfail."
A hashtag is basically a little identifier you attach to a post on Twitter to allow people to search for it. It enables wider conversations, because you can follow the discussion about a particular topic by searching for all the tweets — everyone's, not just the people you know — for that tag.
In this case, "#amazonfail" was developed to track tweets about the fact that Amazon.com has apparently removed the sales rankings of many books with gay and lesbian themes on the theory that they are "adult." (This is the explanation Amazon gave to author Mark Probst early on.)
Removal of sales rankings has several effects — it stops your book from appearing in best-seller lists, but more to the point, it interferes with searching, causing the book in some cases not to show up even when you specifically search for it.
Though it was, in early stories, referred to as an issue about "erotica," this does not only apply to fiction. As of this writing, they've also de-ranked this edition of The Mayor Of Castro Street: The Life And Times Of Harvey Milk (though some other editions are available).
Note that the edition of The Mayor Of Castro Street that's de-ranked seemingly includes "Gay & Lesbian Biographies" as one of its assigned categories, while the one that kept its rank only lists "Literature and Fiction: General."
Another edition oddity, and where we're going from here, after the jump...
Also de-ranked: this edition of the Cokie Roberts book Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, which I got to by browsing the subject of Gay & Lesbian Biographies, but not this edition, which I found with a simple search.
(Note that these things can change fast: if you find something different, let me know in the comments.)
Twitter went crazy with this story yesterday. Amazon is now stating that it's a software glitch. Whether Amazon believes this will put the issue to rest or not isn't yet clear, but if it wasn't already clear that Twitter is changing the way businesses respond (and must respond) to customers, it should be now.
There is a lot that is not known about how we got to this point, and much of it will undoubtedly come out (har har) over the next few days. Until then, be glad you're not working at Amazon, where they are undoubtedly having a rough day.