Case Study: Amazon.com sets up shop for developers
- By Kathleen Ohlson
For years, Amazon.com has been the envy of Web site developers everywhere, offering up a monster search engine, a vast product catalog and buying services tailored to individual shoppers.
“Developers would be knocking down our door…and tell us the cool ideas they had for our data,” says Jeff Barr, Amazon.com’s Web services evangelist.
In 2002, the retail behemoth decided to offer its e-commerce platform—Internet services, data structure and components—as services to developers.
Amazon.com’s Web services comprise three parts: E-Commerce Services 4.0 (ECS), Alexa Web Information Services (AWIS) and Simple Queue Service (SQS). Developers can build tools and apps using two parallel interfaces, SOAP and XML over HTTP. In addition, developers can access information on all of Amazon-branded sites worldwide—U.S., Canada, Japan, U.K., Germany and France.
All three services are free. AWIS and SQS are in beta, and Amazon.com will charge for those services when they’re officially launched.
ECS provides access to information and customer reviews for all Amazon.com product categories such as apparel and accessories, gourmet food and musical instruments, as well as the majority of product images from its database, allowing developers to build these images into their storefronts or other applications.
Developers can use AWIS to find answers to problems on the Web and then incorporate this information into their Web applications. They can also access data from more than 4 billion Web pages collected by Alexa, a Web crawler.
SQS is a basic message queue that buffers messages, up to 4KB, between distributed application components. Any component of a distributed application can store any data in an Amazon.com queue. Then, any other component or application can retrieve this data later.
These Web services work by developers calling Amazon.com and requesting any kind of content, such as jewelry and pet supplies. Developers would then write a program to connect to the catalog, download the data and then store this information on a Web site. Companies who use Amazon.com’s Web services earn 2 percent to 10 percent through any clickthroughs that result in sales to Amazon.com.
For example, a developer built Simplist-Shop.com, a compare-and-contrast Web site for Amazon.com products, including PDAs and digital cameras. The developer built a comparison engine, which Amazon.com currently doesn’t have, for products listed on Amazon.com’s site. Consumers can ask for pricing information and details on three or four products at once.
“Here’s one developer in Germany with no big company behind him,” who put together this site, Barr says. Amazon.com maintains the catalog, takes orders and deals with customer service issues.
Developers receive access to different Amazon.com services, including product catalogs, shopping cart, customer reviews and search functionality. In turn, Amazon.com’s product lines receive more publicity, the site gets more traffic and sales, and access to the worldwide development community, Barr says. Now, 80,000 developers participate in Amazon.com’s Web services program.
Kathleen Ohlson is senior editor at Application Development Trends magazine.