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Amazon CTO discusses site's developer program

Enough Web services standards are now in place to provide a solid foundation for the proliferation of the technology, but we still need a "workable economic model" that encourages developers to innovate. So said Dr. Allan Vermeulen, CTO and vice president at Amazon.com, during his opening keynote address at last week's Web Services Edge 2003 West conference in Santa Clara, Calif. Vermeulen is in a special position to comment, as Amazon has been one of the first and foremost organizations to deploy Web service-oriented applications.

The state of things today is "exactly like the incredible wave of innovation that happened at the beginning of the 20th century around electrical appliances," Vermeulen told his audience. "The connectivity is in place, the basic standards are sufficiently agreed upon, and the building blocks of distributed software exist.

"What's needed now above all, is a workable economic model so that companies like Amazon.com and Google -- that now expose their platform through Web services -- can figure out how best to encourage people to use the platform in new and innovative ways that ultimately monetize for them and us alike," he added.

Amazon is doing its part, Vermeulen said, through its own Web Services Developer Program. The program provides developers with a free SDK and is designed, according to the company Web site, "to help stimulate Web service innovation by providing developers with the APIs that allow them to integrate Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk features and content directly into other Web sites using either SOAP or XML over HTTP." Amazon claims that some 30,000 developers have signed up for the program.

"We want to come up with new, innovative applications that make life better for our customers," Vermeulen told Programmers Report in a post-keynote interview. "One way to do that is to expose our platform to 30,000 developers who will do innovative things that we hadn't thought of ... and that's happening."

Just as the electrical infrastructure emerged as a means of replacing gas-powered lighting, so did Web services begin with a business-to-business (B2B) focus, Vermeulen explained. But that was just the beginning. "Electricity brought us light and that was great, but it wasn't the most interesting, innovative thing that came out of electricity. And Web services [are evolving in] the same way. B2B is a driver, and we will do incredibly useful things with B2B implementations, but that's not where the most innovative, novel stuff is going to come in."

Vermeulen turned to Groxis, a provider of visualization software, for an example of this kind of innovation. The firm recently released its Grokker "personal data-mining tool," a kind of search engine. Groxis provides a Grokker plug-in that allows users to access "the entire Amazon.com product catalog in a quicker, more meaningful way" by utilizing such filters as name, date, price, customer rating and shipping.

"From Amazon's point of view, [Web services are] going to precipitate a revolution in how people use the Internet," Vermeulen said. "I don't think there are any roadblocks, but there are tons of things we can do to streamline the process. Better tools, standards around authentication and security, more components that people can draw from so that there are more people exposing their platforms the way we've exposed ours; all of that will get things going faster. But I think everything is in place for people to start building, and they are.

"The pieces are in place to build Web services applications," he added. "Now is the time for developers to get out there and learn about it, look at the components that are available to build on and start building."


For more information on Groxis, please go to www.groxis.com

For other Programmers Report articles, please click here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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