I thought widgets were supposed to be simple and easy to use. Software for people who don’t know software.

Don’t tell that to the folks who run Amazon.com’s affiliate program.

Amazon’s affiliate program, like many big-company offerings for entrepreneurs, is huge and largely automated. The automation makes it easy to set up. On the other hand, if you have a problem—even a simple, known problem—it’s a time-consuming hassle to have it addressed and to find a fix.

At this stage in my company’s growth, I hoped an affiliate program such as Amazon’s would be make more sense than pay-per-click ads. Amazon has several different ways to advertise, and lots of options for matching their products to my content. The idea of advertising guidebooks next to The FamiliesGo! Hotel Guide listings, or listing travel toys next to tips for flying with kids, makes a lot of sense.

That’s the theory. In practice, Amazon’s technology for making this happen just isn’t that nimble. I looked among Amazon’s widgets for one that would allow me to link the ads on my site to Amazon’s travel theme, which could encompass a wide variety of products, from backpacks to portable DVD players to travel Bingo.  But that wasn’t happening.

Then I tried Amazon’s “omakase” widget. Roughly, “omakase” is Japanese for “leave it to us.” The idea is that Amazon takes care of the product ‘matching’ for you—it will place ads on your site based on keywords in your content. Since Google Adsense does such an amazing job of matching ads to content, I figured this would be a good strategy to use with Amazon, too. It flopped. I kept getting ads for Playstation games and books from the Twilight series. Not what I imagine my readers are looking for.

One of the most popular features on FamiliesGo! is a national list of taxi services that provide car seats for babies and toddlers. When I placed an Amazon widget on that part of my site, I thought I’d get products related to transportation and traveling. Instead, I got a collection of taxi-themed piggy banks, collectibles and other items. I soon learned that complaints about this overly simplistic syncing of words and products are a staple of Amazon discussion boards.

Back to the drawing board. I tried a widget that would allow me to choose product categories and then narrow them  via key words. So I could pick “toys and games” or “books,” then narrow the field with words like travel or family travel. Two widgets later, the results were just okay. I spent a few minutes on the Amazon site searching for items, hoping to come up with better keywords.

I went back to my associate account to edit the widgets, but the “My Widgets” list was empty. I waited a day, figuring maybe it took 24 hours to get things up and running. Nearly two weeks later I still can’t see or edit my widgets. Moreoever, despite taking down the “omakase” widget, I still seem to be getting credited for clicks from it.  This means it’s possible I’m not getting credit for the widgets I do have in place -- another reason to want to see “My Widgets.” I want to make sure Amazon and I agree on what my site is displaying.

I e-mailed Amazon. The Amazon discussion boards show several people complaining about this glitch. That seems to be a sign that the problem is with Amazon’s site, not mine. By now, I thought Amazon would have some sort of solution to offer, even one as simple as installing a browser plug-in.

Its help desk responded five days ago, and asked me for links to the pages where I have the widgets installed. I provided them, and haven’t heard back from Amazon since. I still think this program has a lot of potential, and I’d like to work out the bugs. But I’m at a standstill until I hear back from the help desk again. It should be any day now.  Any day now….