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Amazon: Giving Away the Store Amazon: Giving Away the Store (05 Jan 2005)
By November 2004, the number of developers participating in Amazon Web Services had grown to 65,000. To keep up with their demands, the company has kept updating its APIs to open up more types of product information and more functions, such as wish lists and advanced searches. How many purchases originate each day with Amazon’s growing web of syndicated storefronts? The company won’t say, but experts have estimated that sites using the company’s Web services send 10 million requests a day to Amazon’s servers.

Amazon is far from the only company exploring Web services. IBM, for example, has opened its Websphere server software to outside developers and expects to invest $1 billion this year in new business-to-business Web services, according to Michael Liebow, director of Web services for IBM Global Services, the company’s consulting wing. One IBM creation: a system that uses XML and other standards to tie together the disparate databases used by merchants, banks, and credit-card firms, helping to resolve disputed credit-card charges faster.

In fact, Web services’ biggest impact may not be the syndication of individual businesses’ information, as in Amazon’s case, but the standardization of business processes across whole industries, such as finance, electronics, or automobiles, according to Liebow. “Amazon is unique,” he says. “It’s kind of a closed system, and there’s a level of control.”

That’s true—and Amazon reserves the right to shut down its Web services at any time. But doing so would destroy the rare symbiosis that has emerged from years of careful community building. “Developers are another kind of customer for us,” says Jeff Barr. “The work they do is going to bring even more diverse types of customers.” In other words, by sharing not just its data but also its retailing tools and a modest slice of the profits, Amazon has turned a programming subculture typically ruled by anticorporate suspicion and paranoia into a wellspring of evangelism, not to mention a funnel for revenue. Surely, that’s one for the books.
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