Meet Amazon Spark: The Next MySpace

You could be forgiven for never having heard of Amazon Spark. But not us. We’re a digital agency, on top of the latest trends and platforms, and anxious to explore emerging technology as it arises. So we gathered a couple experts, and me, and we talked about Amazon’s attempt to become the next MySpace.

So first, what is Amazon Spark? In Amazon’s own words, “Amazon Spark is a place to discover things from people who share your interests. Whether you’re looking for inspiration for home décor or seeking advice for the best long-distance running shoes, Spark makes it easy to discover — and shop — stories and ideas from a community that likes what you like.”

So basically it’s a social network for Amazon Prime members. Currently it’s only available to Prime members, and currently it’s not getting a lot of traffic. Maybe because it’s impossible to find (in the Amazon app, go to the hamburger in the upper left > Programs and Features > scroll below the fold and find Amazon Spark). Users post images that are shoppable; i.e. they have little yellow dots on them you can click that will take you to where Amazon sells that item. Instead of ‘likes’ you show your affection for a post by giving it a ‘smile,’ which feels like it’s trying to make the abstraction of online affection more tangible, but ends up landing uncomfortably in the uncanny valley.

At this point, I’ll pass the blog over to Pete Hall, one of our resident paid search experts, to offer his observations (and thinly-veiled critiques) of this nascent network.

Pete: First thing I notice is that since everything is in-app, it’s not crawlable by search engines. So the content isn’t indexed, and if you want to search you have to do it within the app. It doesn’t take too long to realize that Spark is not very happening… sort of makes Google Plus look poppin’. A sponsored staff ‘favorite’ video has a measly 3.6k views and 51 smiles. Ouch. Also, brands can’t post (yet) but influencers can, so I guess it’s trying to be authentic, but that’s undercut by the fact that the whole thing is designed to sell stuff.

The real problem is that it feels off-key for Amazon. They’re known for being bare bones and minimal; I mean just look at their website. And the whole point of Spark, as Amazon even says, is for inspiration. But Amazon’s aesthetic is basically the opposite of inspirational, so the whole thing feels sort of off. And to make things worse, it doesn’t even really make use of what Amazon is really good at: big data. In Spark you have to self-select your interests, and even though it’s linked with Prime, it doesn’t pull in any of your search history or shopping preferences. So basically it does all the things other social networks do, but worse, and all the things Amazon does, but worse.

After that glowing review you might not have much faith in Amazon Spark, but maybe a few words from one of our account directors, John Franklin, will heal the wounds. Or… maybe not.

John: I could see Amazon Spark being an interesting place for an affiliate or influencers. Since brands can’t post, affiliates and influencers could potentially make some good money as middlemen. But the problem for me is that it feels like a longshot that people will actually use the app for its intended ‘inspiration,’ because it’s transparent about its reason for being, which is just to sell stuff. Whereas Pinterest was inspirational (and free) from the outset, Spark seems like it’s trying to make Amazon inspirational, which feels off.

It also feels very slipshod, like it’s just an MVP (minimum viable product). It seems like they didn’t put much energy into this platform, which makes it feel doomed from the outset. I mean, the value of this platform would be having a large active user base actually sharing looks and products they like. I might be more inclined to buy stuff if my hip, attractive friends were advocating for it. But if it’s not people I know, since it’s tied to Amazon, the people hawking the products aren’t that different from actors in a commercial.

To echo what Pete said, the whole thing feels utilitarian. There’s nothing less inspiring than getting a box from Amazon, at least aesthetically. And Spark feels like that. Or maybe more like MySpace. Either way, not ideal. Also, there’s just not that much actual content. Again, if they had put work into the rollout, they could have made a concerted effort to get more users. Or at least not bury the dang thing where no one can find it.

Okay, well our first review of Spark is not overly positive. Since Pete and John did a good job taking it down, I’ll give it one last kick while it’s on the ground. My biggest problem with Spark is that it provides no real benefit to users, and instead transparently benefits Amazon. That’s the opposite of how any product should work. Sorry Spark, we’re not impressed. Maybe Amazon will put some real energy into improving Spark after this initial roll-out. But if not, it really is destined to be the next MySpace.


Originally published at room214.com on October 19, 2017.

Pete Hall is a seasoned digital marketer with over 8 years experience across owned, earned and paid channels. He has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including Nike, adidas, Vail Resorts, Forever 21, Under Armour, LucasArts, Pixar and more. His favorite thing to do when not working is to play soccer, injure himself, play Overwatch or participate in cult-like activities like Crossfit.

John Franklin is an experienced digital marketer who has spent the last five years running marketing and partnerships for e-commerce businesses. Most recently, he was the Director of Marketing for TheFeed.com, a healthy foods and content platform for athletes of all levels. He has a MBA from Georgetown University, loves riding bikes, and gets fired up about baking bread.

James Thorpe is a copywriter and wannabe rockstar. James is a lifelong creative with an MBA who passionately eschews the right/left brain divide and moonlights as a puffy Cheeto evangelist.

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