Amazon.com, Harbinger of Web 2.0 Trends

Over the weekend, I attended the >Play Conference at University of California’s Haas School of Business, and got a chance to meet some interesting folks who are conducting cool experiments in digital media. In between panels and keynotes, I snuck out for a quick puff, and ended up hanging out with Tim Westergren, Chief Strategy Officer & Founder of Pandora Music, Jared Kopf of Slide and Steve Shannon, co-founder of Akimbo. Expectedly, as always has been the case in recent days the conversation turned towards the topic of “the user generated content.” (Most of you know where I stand on this issue.) It was only going to be a matter of time before we started talking about the new Amazon Turk api.

Basically, if you have a specific task that isn’t easily automated, you ask people to do it for you, at a set price. At the moment of this posting, it looks like the few tasks available are simply Amazon looking for extremely cheap labor in writing product descriptions or picking the “best” photo for A9’s blockview system.

The whole conversation did get me thinking about the role of Amazon.com in what the kids are calling Web 2.0. If you look at what they have done over past five years, and you quickly realize that the Seattle-based online retailer is a really a harbinger of what’s to come. Alongside Google, it was the one of first to offer API to its data, opening it up for mash-ups with other web services. Now everyone is doing it.

XML and Javascript, and hyper-customization are part of business as usual at Amazon, and have been from the very start. The recommendation engines now common place on music and blog search services are part of routine offerings from Amazon. They started the whole local search craze, with maps, and street level visuals of local businesses as part of the A9 search. Now others are following suit. This is not to glorify one company, but just to use them as a predictor of what’s to follow.

They were the first ones to tap into user generated content – the reviews and user recommendations – a concept that has been widely imitated elsewhere. That was in the early days free, but it might not be the case in the future. I think their whole Mechanical Turk effort could be the first step towards a world where a compensation scheme is put in place for “user generated content.” Sure for now its only a couple of pennies, but its a start and better than other who are simply freeloading off the backs of their digital slaves… oops I meant, community. Just something to keep in mind.. eh?

Flickr photo courtesy of DreWW. Reader quiz: can you figure out the irony in the photo? If yes, leave your version in the comments section.


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