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Email from Jeff Bezos to employees (aboutamazon.com)
1941 points by marc__1 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 1007 comments

> This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name.

It had a name, and that name was "Cadabra".

It didn't become Amazon until Jeff watched a documentary about the Amazon River. His lawyer had already turned up his nose at "Cadabra", and Jeff was looking for something else.

It's also worth noting that the idea didn't grow over time - Jeff always intended to build something like "Sears for the 21st century". The bookstore was just the way in, not the long term plan.

ps. amazon employee #2

Something that always stuck with me is I remember reading in a book about the internet long ago about how innovative the name Amazon.com was and how it was the future of internet business. It said it needs to be more memorable. You aren’t going to buy your books on Books.com you are going to use Amazon. Turned out to be very right. And this was in the pets.com era. Everyone thought you needed the most generic name possible and that if you got something like books.com or travel.com you had cornered the market on it.

I think you are leaving out a really important aspect of the early internet- content discovery was really hard for users. If you were looking for something about Pets until google became dominant, you were just as likely, if not more likely, to type pets.com into your browser as you were to go to a search engine.

Getting the initial traffic to your site was really hard in those days, the domain was really important for that.

Hmmm... That is not how I remember it.

I could gopher topics by early 90's, and Infoseek, Yahoo, WebCrawler, etc. were a full text search of pages by mid 90's.

I distinctly recall searching usenet across multiple servers.

Even before this, when data only flowed through uucp (or Fido), search was albeit queued, readily available.

Your mileage may have varied; i just want to be clear that it was not that it did not exist, but new-comers would have a steeper learning curve. Today, it is expected, nay, demanded as a human right to be able to search the entire internet from a uniform and single klick search box. (yes, old crotchety, "in my day..." :) )

(edit: misspelurating stuffage)

> I could gopher topics by early 90's

So you weren't a normal, mainstream, new user to the internet. You knew how to use it, you knew where to go to search.

I was the same in the 90s (minus Gopher skills), I learned about Yahoo, Altavista, Infoseek, etc. and became a wizard to my friends and some relatives because I could find things on the internet, didn't need to know the website address beforehand or click somewhere in AOL.

It did exist, it just wasn't accessible and generally available, nor it was a tool people knew how to use.

So domain names up to the early 2000s were pretty important to capture the mainstream market, not the Gophers.

Actually that was very normal for a new Internet user of the time. In the early 90's there was no web as far as the public was concerned so Yahoo (1994)/Altavista (1995)/Infoseek (1994) did not exist yet. For users of the pre-1993/1994 Internet, to use it you had to learn a hodge-podge of protocols and software including UUCP, gopher, FTP, telnet, NNTP etc. since that was the Internet back then. It wasn't until online services like AOL started providing web gateways (1995/6?) when 'normal' people really started flooding onto the 'net and it took a few years longer before there were useful web frontends for the majority of services.

And it's been September ever since

Imho the September was really kicked into overdrive with smartphone and mobile Internet adoption facilitating the social media hype.

Prior to that people would at least need to sit down and dedicate attention to whatever they were doing online at their desktop.

It required at least some technical base knowledge.

While nowadays pretty much everybody can, and will, pull out their smartphone even during very short breaks: It' all short attention span, relegated to devices were multi-tasking is way more of an hassle, which means people are also way less likely to do research on whatever they are discussing.

It's gotten to a point where in many places writing anything longer than Tweet length is considered something bad, as most peoples attention span just can't cope with long-form forum posts anymore.

I remember my school ran a contest where you had to find obscure information on the net. Things like when the inventor of the saxophone was born? You had to submit an URL so using the library was not an option. It was insanely hard, nowadays it's just one wikipedia click away.

The fact that you had even heard of gopher would have put you in a very small minority of internet users once dial-up internet access become relatively accessible (so, post-1995ish or so).

As a smart but not necessarily brilliant teenager getting on the web in mid-late 90s- Maybe Christmas 1996 I- well my family really- got a computer that could get on the internet, search engines were mediocre at best. I did have a family friend come over who was an old hand at the internet and knew all the tricks of the day- using operators like AND, OR, NEAR, NOT etc- and he was able to yield much higher quality results, but I was personally never able to replicate his abilities.

Google and Pagerank changed all that, but up until then, it was all very tricky and each search engine had its niche- Yahoo with its directory, Ask Jeeves had a user friendly interface, lycos and altavista had some niches of their own as well that I can't quite recall- or maybe they just each had brief shining moments in the sun. At one point I had desktop software that was a meta crawler that would enter a query into each one. The full text searches on keywords that may or may not really be relevant to what you wanted were really not all that good.

My favorite search engine at the time was Dogpile. It was a meta search engine that probably did much the same as your desktop software. Usually I could get relevant results out of it more quickly than using individual search engines.

Yes, the earliest directories / search engines worked extremely well in large part because there minimal content. When there where 7 knitting websites they don’t need to worry about SEO. It was only after the users started getting hundreds of results for most searches that search engines needed to worry about filtering and prioritization.

Here's a great example of why search engines started using more sophisticated examples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_Google_bombs_in_the_...

People started to understand how PageRank worked, and managed to get George W. Bush's official biography page at whitehouse.gov to the top of the search for "miserable failure." As I recall, this worked until at least 2008, maybe a couple years past that.

Whoops. s/examples/algorithms/

There were manual indexes for sure, but my very first experience with the web was someone excitedly showing me how they could dial in, open this web browser thing, and then... nothing, because they didn't know any websites.

We typed in a few things, but it didn't go anywhere.

I remember he called the browser a "web crawler", which was probably the search engine someone told him to use to find sites. We had no idea.

Otherwise, I have a lot of memories exploring the web by typing in words followed by TLDs and writing down the interesting ones. It was another year or two before aggregators cropped up, copying and returning the first ten results of any manual index.

I don't remember how I discovered my first web site, but it might have been from a computer magazine at the time. Later, I would use Yahoo! as my search engine, eventually switching to Google.

That wasn't the average user and not even the average computer geek. Most browsed webrings.

I find it funny that you mention half a dozen ways to search the web and everyone seems to be focusing on just gopher because that is the only thing they can explain away. Google must have dug up Steve Jobs reality distortion field.

another issue I don't see talked about much in these comments is trust. Amazon had to develop a name that people could trust. I remember when people would agonize on whether to make a purchase because they were afraid they would be scammed.

I can totally second this as someone who began surfing web in 1997 as a university student.

Content discovery was next to non-existent. You had these directories like Y! or Lycos which more or less mirrored yellow pages. My group of friends would exchange interesting site links over e-mail, floppy disk or the good old way, write them down in a note book. Before you ask, internet surfing was only available in expensive public kiosks so browser book marks weren't of much use. Only when I got my own PC + internet in 2000 did I began using browser bookmarks.

And then Google became popular around 2002 just when I entered post-graduation and changed web surfing forever.

People were commonly using Lycos and Yahoo as search engines by 1997. Sure, some of the more exciting content wasn’t stuff you’d think to search for and thus would often get shared via word of mouth (like the “Bert is evil” site that parodied the Sesame Street character in compromising photos...after all, which sane persons would search “Bert +hitler” ?)

I think the limited time many people had on the internet (as you said, in some instances at Internet kiosks where you’d be limited to an hour at a time. Or on expensive dial up) probably contributed to people curating and sharing links offline between friends. But I do remember using search engines in that era specifically because AltaVista was widely regarded between myself and my peers to be the best search engine in terms of keyword syntax and the accuracy of the results. Remember this was the era before search engines popularised entering in natural language as a search query. Ask Jeeves (later renamed to just “Ask”) was actually the first to popularise that and even that was pre-2000 (it also largely sucked compared to keyword driven queries but I guess the tech wasn’t quiet there yet).

I think it was 1999 when my friends and I first discovered Google. Back then Google was keyword query based too. The natural language side of Google came much later (mid-2000s at a guess). But what sold Google was its minimalist home page and the accuracy of its results. The minimalist home page was novel because search engines were considered internet portals before Google. Yahoo! Would have online games, chat rooms, site recommendations and email all accessible from its landing page and it was a similar story for many of the other search engines as well. They considered themselves the homepage of the internet (and in many ways they were right). Whereas Google went the opposite way and said “let’s strip as much guff from our landing page as possible” and is modem uses really welcomed that (plus the accuracy of its results too). It’s ironic just how heavy Google’s landing page has become.

By 2000 the web had already felt like it had shifted from its adolescent years of anything goes and was starting to grow up. The stigma of meeting strangers online was fading and businesses were adopting the web as more than just a niche marketing tool - in part helped by Online payments becoming a thing with PayPal, WorldPay etc.

> Yahoo! Would have online games, chat rooms, site recommendations and email all accessible from its landing page and it was a similar story for many of the other search engines as well. They considered themselves the homepage of the internet (and in many ways they were right).

Still a winning business model, because this line could easily describe Facebook.

That’s more a symptom of the lifestyle of any popular software project than it is an example of it being a winning business model.

Time and time again you see these big monolithic applications get displaced by newer more focused applications and people love them because these newer applications run faster / is easier to use / etc etc. Then as those applications gain popularity new features need to be built to continue growth. Whether it is through feature requests, to fight off competitors with other features, or just the businesses way of finding new ways to look individuals into a walled garden....soon this focused application becomes yet another behemoth that people start to moan about. Eventually something new, shiny and focused grabs the public’s attention and we flock to that like the fickle herd of pack animals that we are.

If memory serves, we started searching on AltaVista, moved to Northern Light and then to Google. Certainly directories played a role but really, AltaVista / NL was the bees knees.

This brought back a long lost memory of when before we had internet at home. My dad took me to an internet cafe and I had printed a whole list beforehand of sites I wanted to visit. I had just guessed a bunch of random domain names based on my interests and things I thought would have a cool website. Stuff like porshe.com, titanic.com, mountainbiking.com, spaceshuttle.com.

Speaking of yellow pages, I had an Internet-specific yellow pages, I think it came from an order from Outpost.com. It was a physical book, just like the original phone book.

I think I still have it, and if I can find it I'll reply with details.

It was fantastic for finding things, because you could explore it, and because search was garbage back then.

I remember that era pretty fondly and I don't ever recall just typing in random URLs, except maybe jokey ones like sex.com or fuck.com for kicks. We had Yahoo's search engine at the time and worked well enough. And to a lesser extent Lycos/Hotbot/Inktomi/DMOZ. The pre-Google web was pretty interesting and a bit more sophisticated than gets credit today. I also feel you were less likely to discover retailers on the web randomly. You'd more than likely hear about them first on the news or from friends and go from there. I don't think it was common to just discover some random e-tailer like we do today, put in our credit card, and expect the package in a couple days. You learned about Amazon from 60 minutes or your friend who subscribed to Wired magazine or the guy at the software store, not from a search engine.

I think the whole pets.com and travel.com is just the usual marketing logic at work and not really related to the limitation of search engines. Its just shady marketing tricks, a bit like how we see the .biz and other gimmicky tlds today.

It was really common to type in random words as domains expecting something. People would make mistakes so people would buy domains with common spelling mistakes.

I have a random memory of the website at hanson.com having a banner alerting visitors that the website of the popular late-90s boy band was in fact at hansonline.com, and that you would only find information about guitars made by the Hanson company should you further browse the site at which you currently found yourself.

Curiously, that domain now redirects to some concrete company, Hanson guitars existing instead at hanson-guitars.com.

Even today, nissan.com is Nissan Computer rather than the car company. Copyright 1994-2021.

I suspect a Hanson Guitars received a cash offer they couldn't refuse for their domain. ;-)

Browsers also tried to autocomplete <word> as www.<word>.com (and .net and .org, iirc) and send you there if it resolved. At some point they switched to sending you to search engines instead, but i bet there are flags somewhere in Firefox' bowels that will still do that for you if you really want.

Or you just hit Ctrl-Enter

The first time I had the chance to use the internet I typed in "whitehouse", hit enter and whitehouse.com loaded. It turned out to be a porn site, the teacher saw and I got banned from using the internet - in 40 seconds.

White House was the first time I ever seen porn / naked women. Cue me spending the next 6 months sneaking to load the page on dialup all hours of the day. To be a kind again. Now we have TBs of data but tend to be uncontent sometimes.

Anybody ever type alta-vista.com by mistake? The search engine had no hyphen, this address went to something else ...

Heh, was about to post this one myself. My buddy got in big trouble in the high school computer lab making this typo. I wonder what percentage of domains in the late 90's were simply "adult" sites trying to capture traffic via typos. It certainly felt like a lot.

Then there was expertsexchange.com, which was always bound to disappoint one of two demographics.

Heh, like the msexchange manager icon on your microsoft exchange server... :D

In late high school or maybe during college, my wife was going to look for something at Dick's Sporting Goods by navigating to a domain that any ordinary person might expect. The result was not what she expected.

LOL, I used to fuck with people by getting them to type this into the browser. Unfortunately, these days it actually takes you to Dick's Sporting Goods.

I knew someone who tried to go to hotmail.com but went to hotmale instead...

what search engine was the culprit?

Some browsers automatically "fix" addresses by appending `.com` for you. I think even Firefox used to do that until mid 2010s.

To that end, it's worth reading up on the history of sex.com. The domain historically (and currently?) generates tonnes of revenue through advertising, and has been hijacked more than once.

I wonder if it's because people are likely to try `sex.com` in a web browser for laughs (and get surprised when it turns out to be a real site), but aren't likely to do so with `books.com` or `travel.com`.

This is somewhat second hand but I worked with someone who claimed to know the person who owned sex.com (he was trying to buy it from him at the time, and I'm trying to be deliberately un-assertive) in the mid 90s (also fair warning, this was a long time ago and I probably misremember stuff) and said he paid a ton of money in bribes to the search engines/portals back then - which was what most people assumed, but those companies insisted wasn't true, so it fit a narrative people liked.

I don't think sex.com was an expected direct hit back then - and if I'm remembering correctly, even in the later 90s, you would have had to type http://www.sex.com to get it to even load right - there wasn't a ton of convenience and most browsers relied on a heavy set of built-in bookmarks to get people into portals and search engines.

That said, I believe it was totally true that they likely paid six or seven figures for a year or longer deal to guarantee top three for a ton of porn search terms. I assume that area was allowed to be seedy in order to mitigate risk of even allowing that content to be included in the first place, and companies didn't feel bad getting money from porn sites who had a lot to throw around.

Should add that as I understood it the business model was that sex.com resold front page space to affiliates that were relevant to the search terms that led to their paid listing being listed higher for a particular keyword. That’s how they could afford to bribe/partner with portals/search engines pre-Google.

For context, squatters would often land you on some bad sites and URI syntax was unforgiving, so it just isn’t something I remember most doing. There was a general desire for simple branding on the off chance you can get it typed in or printed on a business card or in an ad, but it was not the common entry point.

Also of note: UX expectations back then didn’t trust typing into a box and seeing any result first - it really was the solid ranking of Google results that made that UX something browser vendors adopted or more cynically, that Google pushed first with partnerships then with ownership of Chrome.

Pre-2000 porn was a wild ride. You were never more that 1 click away from crashing your computer under the weight of a hundred pop ups!

And the implicit threat of your bank “outing” you via the transaction if you try to cancel. I may be misremembering but I felt like there was a good chance what I was viewing legally may end up suddenly illegal with the way online legislation was going in the late 90s, and I’m talking just like laughably soft core stuff by comparison to today, and that permeated the online porn business and kept it seedy for a long time.

No idea what you’re talking about. There was the run up to the communications decency act and obscenity prosecutions but these were far more risky for the peddlers, not the consumers (and some were prosecuted). There was the old hilarious CP80 initiative by the Mormons (with a nice tie-in to the SCO v Linux debacle) but that never had any serious legs to stand on. Meanwhile discreet billing for naughtiness predates the internet and was especially notable in the days of 900 numbers - assuring discretion was pretty well stated. Considering that child porn was essentially legal and you could walk into adult stores in broad daylight on Times Square not too long ago I think you are misremembering things or probably too young for context.

What changed is the cultural mainstream acceptance.. that something like PornHub can be a mainstream company. The market itself was alive and well pretty much the day after the movie camera left Menlo Park.

Probably an age thing I was a teen in the 90s and the internet was the first and only place any porn legislation/business was made aware to me.

> and if I'm remembering correctly, even in the later 90s, you would have had to type http://www.sex.com to get it to even load right

This wasn’t a technical requirement though, sex.com would’ve loaded just fine if it had an A record set.

Many sites didn’t do this right even large ones and often browsers if my memory serves right automatically put www and .com on any single word typed by default. That said yes, that should have worked, I just remember it not working enough that it wasn’t a normal or expected UX pattern until Google and maybe even Chrome.

Back in the early days 94/95 people quite often used to type single word domains just to see what was out there.

This is back when you could fire up mosaic and read the what's new on the internet today :-)

I remember being on Tymnet and just trying addresses via a program to see if I found anything. Most interesting thing I found was a Fed Reserve address once (did not do anything with that).

I used to work for Tymnet the TEC in the UK :-)

People used to do that on the x.25 network to find interesting sites.

there used to be (sadly not anymore) a very active forum on fuckyou.com and it was mostly populated by people that had just randomly typed it in one day.

You have too much trust in people's wholesomeness. We all know the internet is for pr0n ("...so grab your d##k and double-click...").

I used AltaVista and Hotbot all the time, as well as other search engines and curated pages, and there was no problem finding things. I believe most people used search engines and aggregation pages since entering the address in the browser bar would simply yield an error if you entered it wrong. Connecting the address bar to a search engine is fairly recent and was disputed a lot.

Google did nothing particularly innovative or new, they just had the cleanest interface, their page was fast, and provided good results. That's what made them successful.

Edit: On a side note, I feel really old now. :(

I also used Altavista and Hotbot (although I don’t remember why I could choose one over the other for a certain search).

I do remember one point of difference was Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” option that just sent you to the first search result.

I really liked that feature, but I’m guessing was removed in favor of growing impressions and ad revenues.

Google had the best results by far. I remember around 2000 most “regular people” had pretty much given up on the web. It was google and maybe Napster that got people interested again...

I wonder what it’ll be to fix the Internet this time around?

Altvista's edge over the competition at the time was that it indexed the most content. But google came in with pagerank and had superior results. There was a 3 year span or so where people just attributed google's success to minimalism. in terms of minimalism, hotbot was a disaster, but it was the algorithm that truly set google apart.

minimalism has its good points, but falsely attributing it to google's success probably focused too much attention to it in the internet of the 2010s.

Exactly, the single feature that made me use google over yahoo/altavista was the clean interface, I was using dial up back then and it loaded very quickly the others were covered in ads.

Early search engines were pretty dumb and heavily weighted on keywords, which a generic domain name helped with as well.

Again, less of an issue now with more intelligent search engines. (Although strong brands still tend to a get a lot of traffic via searches on their name...)

early on you went to directories

And if you did not you where usually only 3 links away from Goatse.cx .

In about 1994 I recall the aim was to find a good page of links to whatever topic interested a person.

Oh yeah, I remember discovering some great content from pages like that back in the day. I also vaguely remember the idea of content rings being a thing.

> the early internet- content discovery was really hard for users.

It wasn't as good as google is now, but search engines of the time did allow for discovery.

I thought it was much better back then, you could find niche sites that were of interest.

Google seems to have banned all the interesting wild content that made the internet so fascinating in its early days. Blogs seem to have disappeared completely for instance and I have to specify the site to search to find anything e.g. site:Reddit.com

However it does have an amazing ability to find comments on stackoverflow relevant to my needs based on a few keywords.

In some ways content was more discoverable back then. There was less of it, and it was objectively harder to get it online thus making the quality higher for the stuff that was there.

Plus Web Directories, and Link lists where IMO better than keyword searches. They allowed you to find and follow topics faster.

The explosion of content and google has made discovery harder unless you are one of the Top sites or platforms. All it takes it being on one of them, not being a good quality content.

Want to sell a widget, you better sell it through amazon because chances are Google is going to index those results as the Top Results not your webstore. Even manufacturers that want to sell direct have to also have Amazon stores because the Amazon listing is the one of the only ways to get a top search spot

The early internet, for me, was a 1-800 number BBS called Starfire. It had a splash page to the “internet” section that I’d assume was curated by the operator. This was probably 94 and 95.

This, also search engines used to give a lot of weight to workds in domains so if you searched for "book", the search engine was likely to give you books.com as first result.

If you weren't in yahoo you weren't online

On the other hand if you were in yahoo you were online. Type "books" into yahoo though and you'd be more likely to find books.com than amazon.com as the top page, and clearly "books.com" would sell books, who knows what "amazon.com" sells, something about Brazilian rivers?

This begs the question of if things are better today. For shopping, is it?

Absolutely. If you know what you want to buy, it takes seconds to find the absolute cheapest place on the internet to buy it. Then it's up to you to decide whether you trust the site or not. Brand name helps with perception, but definitely not discovery.

> Brand name helps with perception

That used to be true with Amazon. Not anymore, not for me. Now I have to decide if I trust and endless array of 3rd party sellers. It is often just easier to buy from a manufacturer’s website since I know I’m getting the real thing and it’s not expired or otherwise screwed up. Maybe I pay a few more bucks, but I’m ok with that for a lot of things. (Exception: books and used)

It's always interesting to me how people on HN almost universally have such poor experiences with Amazon. I've had over 200(!!!) orders from Amazon last year alone and didn't have any problems with any order. In fact when my guaranteed next day delivery was late by a day they just gave me a month of prime for free.

And every time I decide to buy directly from the manufacturer I get punished - bought a Lenovo laptop around September, laptop turned up with a broken screen. Took over 3 weeks to get Lenovo UK to replace it and it was an exercise in absolute frustration, I could write a small essay about it. I was so upset at myself for not buying it from Amazon - I know if I did and had the same problem I would literally have a replacement posted to me the following day without having to fill out a dozen forms and spend hours on the phone with customer support.

I also prefer to order direct, if possible. If I think I might need to return it, Amazon.com is the way to go (or Bol.com for local stuff). It's always a pain to return to the manufacturer, they're incentivized not to take back the return while a retailer is incentivized to take it back.

Amazon has just become an AliExpress reseller.

So many people are trying to get rich quick by buying aliexpress stock, selling it through Amazon. There's just so much crap on the website now

And being Chinese, most of it likely isn't even legal to sell without a genuine CE mark

Right, but if you knew to that level of specificity back then, search was just as good in most places. Now, selection was lower, somewhat obviously.

As then, though, if you are not specific or willing to lean on a name brand, search is effectively broken.

Speaking as someone who works for a company called "BoardGameTables.com", we really like our obvious name.

Nothing wrong with something broad. We sell more than board game tables, but everything is connected and it gets us a lot of traffic and search juice.

With SEO getting so much money and attention dumped into it, the usefulness has kind of come back around for a name like this.

I liked the website. You seem to have quite a few cool products. :)

> We sell more than board game tables

Had to check and verify that claim. I'm familiar with the brand in general but had no idea!

One often overlooked fact is that fixed-price book policy of a lot of countries (like here in Germany where we have it to this day) helped amazon a lot. Books have a margin of around 30% and - by law - you must sell them at a fixed price which is the same in every bookstore in the country. That allowed Amazon to offer free shipping, as the resulting margin was still high enough.

And since you as a consumer have to pay the same price for a book no matter where you buy it anyways, it became a lot easier to just order a book online instead of driving to a bookstore to collect it (oftentimes the shop had to order them anyways and you had to come back a day later to pick it up). Once Amazon was a serious player in the book business with existing logistics, payment etc. it was an easy move for them to expand to other products.

The irony is domains like books.com sounded like a sure winner but that only works for books. How would Jeff be doing today if he ran books.com and just sold ... books. bookswebservice (BWS) doesn't have that same ring to it.

In retrospect the idea of selling everything online was the first great idea. Even if it was a bit of rehash of Sears I think they were the only one that had that vision.

Second great idea was free 2 day shipping with Prime. Great for their cash flow and customer retention.

Third great idea was AWS.

Still TBD are advertising and the marketplace. They make a lot of money but at the long term risk of customer satisfaction.

Also TBD are the media plays (Twitch, video,music,.etc.). Not clear if they will ever make money.

We are firing on all cylinders

And yet, reviews are still horribly broken and have been for years. Also counterfeit products and books are everywhere on the site.

Amazon is going to have to fix those hugely important things before I'll buy the Kool-Aid that they're "firing on all cylinders", which is just CEO pep talk.

The marketplace makes me use Amazon less now. I don't care if there are 40 5v-DC power bricks and 10 of them are 10% cheaper. I care about vetted products and the confidence I'm buying the product I'm looking for.

Honestly for little stuff like that I'd rather go straight to the source from aliexpress than bother with Amazon as the middleman

For fun... what are the major “bad” plays they’ve made?

The phone is probably the first that comes to mind.

That big MMO they tried to release was pretty bad.

I’m gonna try and predict the future and suggest their LotR original series will be bad.

The phone is the most notable miss.

They've also made a clone of pretty much every other ecommerce site without any real successes.

Eh? The MMO seems to be doing ok in pre-release. It was the MOBA that bombed hard.

Ah that might be what I was thinking of, haven’t played either.

The media part could be about owning the consumer, even at a loss, or owning the providers, or preventing Google from approaching the user login market to tight, etc.

BWS is actually an Australian liquor store brand. Beer-Wine-Spirits. Memorable enough once you get used to it as well.

And you can't have a copyright in that name, specially if you are selling books.

Names are not copyrightable in any case. You mean trademark.

You could potentially trademark books.com


It depends. facebook.com or messenger.com aren't super memorable.

Microsoft also made it work by adding something else next to the name. Microsoft Excel. Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft Access.

Fwiw, a "face book" is a thing you would get at Harvard (and Yale and presumably lots of other schools too but I'm not sure), kind of like a yearbook but at the start of freshman year instead of the end. So for the earliest thefacebook.com users, the name was actually familiar. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_book

Its a thing in all US high schools - so for US searchers it would be very obvious

Back in the 70's in the UK one of our American teachers mentioned then in our general studies class when we where doing America one term - she refused to show us her entry :-)

It's definitely not a thing in all US high schools. I'm pretty sure yearbooks are the thing most US high schools have.

Might be regional our American English Teacher was from the posh east cost and a "facebook" was what she called it.

No, definitely not a thing at "all US high schools."

I can believe it's a thing at really posh high schools though.

I feel that the importance of optimizing brand name is over-hyped. A lot of it is retrospective reasoning, arguing why such name is good for popularity after the brand becomes popular.

Legend says Steve Jobs told his two cofounders, who were scratching their heads over an innovative name, that if they didn’t find a name within 24hrs he would incorporate as Apple.

Which is good enough and no reason to hold up the whole process for a decent name.

I just ran across this talk where Jobs basically makes that claim:


He says it was also because he liked apples, and it was ahead of Atari in the phone book.

It's also in front of Atari in the phonebook.

I don't know, I was going to start an auction site with the memorable name "eBay", but then someone beat me to it.

(Counterpoint: it is pretty short and pronounceable..)

Also Microsoft's "Internet Explorer" at the time became so popular due to the word 'Internet' compared to a 'Netscape'. So many non-technical people just thought that was the 'way in' when they bought their first PC.

Is that the real reason? Being bundled with the OS as the default browser for 95% of all computers seems like a bigger driver!

Neither of those are the reason, speaking from experience both as a family tech support and as a web dev. It’s because everyone recognized the big “e” icon. My brother got my dad a Mac and he already knew the main browser was Safari, but he still called me (knowing I had used Macs for years longer) and just asked:

1. What the hell is Safari (no kidding he didn’t even say hello).

2. Can I use the Internet Explorer?

Edge now (correctly) accounts for this by... having a big “e”-looking icon and basically otherwise being a skin over Chromium.

I think you're confusing cause and effect here.

Yes, the `e` became synonymous with the Internet for a lot of users, but that's only because of the two reasons listed. Not the other way around.

Internet Explorer became popular because it was bundled with Windows.

At the time, IE was also dramatically faster than Netscape Navigator, because it wasn't just bundled, it was built in.

Was it really faster? I think IE had faster start-up time, since some of the components were loaded along with Windows boot, but I don't think it was faster overall.

Facebook was founded a decade after Amazon. 2004 vs 1994. Google was already dominate and it IPO’d the same year. They’re both old at this point but Amazon is in a whole different class of “early internet”.

Plus, wasn’t the default Android sms/mms client once called Messenger? So, not only not memorable, but also confusingly generic.

I'm pretty sure Books.com is just as memorable as Amazon.com, what matters is the execution.

I wonder if the browsers themselves weren't responsible for the reversal of this trend. Back in the day, if you typed something into address bar, there wasn't a "fallback to search" like we have today.

Well, some older browsers would try slapping .com at the end, and adding www at the start too, if no domain was found...

So just typing sex could be fruitful...

I've always hated the name, though I obviously can't argue against its efficacy. The Amazon river and rainforest are symbolically and literally among the most significant features of our natural world. Now, it's better known as the name of a company that can send us every kind of new junk to replace our old junk.

Except Yahoo was already one of the biggest names on the internet and it was a head scratcher to everyone I knew on first hear.

And nowadays if you’re trying to search something related to the Amazon rainforest Amazon.com stuff comes up first...

It seems like amazon was started around the same time as lycos, yahoo, altavista. Pets.com was started 3 years later.

People still think you need the most generic name possible, they just don't understand that the reason QuantumSpiritualCrystals.com was still available is that it wasn't generic.

I don’t think naming actually matters. In retrospect it seems important. But names as bland as Facebook and as zany as Yahoo! and as creepy as Tungle.Me have all succeeded.

I wonder how much that was linked to trust? People were leery about online shopping in the beginning, and a name like books.com sounds a little too generic.

I don't know about you, but I would go by books at books.com - or rather, I would if I were in the US.

By the way, books.com redirects to barnesandnoble.com

Thanks for the candid comment :)

Also, hello mr famous internet person: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Davis_(programmer)

Oh wow JACK and Ardour are awesome, didn't know about the Amazon connection

It says "[Paul] went on to fund the development of" those two projects. That's interesting; I wonder how that worked?

Ah, for the day someone figures out the Amazon of funding open source software...

Sometimes I think I'm wasting time on HN, then a comment like that comes around and it makes it all worth it.

> He is also an ultra-marathon and touring cyclist. Some excellent accomplishments have included the 298 mile Cannonball in 14:01, and a five-week tandem camping tour from Amsterdam to Athens.

Got this from your Wiki entry. Hats off to you dear sir!

> His lawyer had already turned up his nose at "Cadabra"

True. I've heard (employee #20k-something, joined in early 2008) that the issue with Cadabra was its resemblance to the sound of the word "cadaver".

I heard the same story (I joined in 2004). The version I heard was that Jeff was driving cross-country NY -> Seattle and was on the phone with his lawyer about incorporation papers, and the lawyer misheard “Cadabra” as “Cadaver”. That's when Jeff knew he needed a better name.

This instantly reminded me of the story about Microsoft posting a dev a dead fish.


This is not the most interesting story about Scott Forstall and Microsoft. Did you know he invented WordArt?


That's an interesting story, but that article and others on the site have weird issues that can't be put down as non-native English. Extra words that make no sense (Steve Jobs founded us), and phrases added into the ends of sentences along with spacing/punctuation mistakes (But please, pretend you’re interested in everyone’s questions, ”Jobs said at the time, as carry* the website Windows Central.*) Odd issues to see on a news website. Also, all postings are double-dated, once within the text and once after.

Indeed, Jeff talks about it in this 2001 interview : https://youtu.be/p7FgXSoqfnI?t=7m05s

It's also harder to spell. Some people are going to put an extra d or b in there. Maybe get a vowel wrong.

I sat through a talk by Jeff Bozos where he said the same thing, that to register his company he was talking on the phone to his lawyer and the lawyer asked what he wanted his company name to be and Jeff said Cadabra (telling the audience like Abra Cadabra) whereupon the Lawyer said Cadaver which made Bozo develop cold feet.

> It's also worth noting that the idea didn't grow over time

I doubt that he started out imagining he would build the world's biggest cloud hosting platform or open the first chain of checkoutless grocery stores.

The internet - the only place you can find a snarky comment doubting the validity of a statement made by the actual 2nd ever employee of Amazon, who knows infinitely more about what Jeff Bezos wanted to achieve than the doubting commenter.

Yes, it's wonderful that there's somewhere we're allowed to do that.

The former, probably not. But the latter fits within the context of "21st century Sears"

Out of curiosity has it ever seemed to you that Amazon's success changed Jeff? Or has he always been largely the same person you knew from the start?

I haven't communicated with Jeff for more than 20 years. His public persona seems largely consonant with the person I knew 27 years ago.

That's kind of sad. I feel somewhat related to this: I was 1st developer of a startup (outside of the US) and at that time I was super close to the CEO. After leaving we kind of grew appart which is a bit sad because I consider him a really good person, and I still own stock in the startup. Of course, absolutely nothing compared to Amazon (hopefully at some point it will... we always said that we wanted to be the Amazon of Financial services)

I'd imagine you'd pour beer with him and tell old war stories. Why not say hi? I bet he'll have more time for it now :)

> the idea didn't grow over time

I always find retrospective and hypothetical discussions of idea genesis and maturation fascinating.

Amazon retail aside, I wonder if you (or anyone else) would be willing to give perspective on AWS:

Was it similarly fully formed on conception?

I’ve heard the (potentially stylized) stories about holiday traffic bursts, selling off-season compute to startups, etc.

But assuming AWS the idea did need to grow with increased perspective, the times, and experience - do you think AWS could have become what it is today if that had been the goal from the onset?

There was a large thread recently [0] where Paul already answered a similar question. He had left (Jan 1996)[1], long before AWS became a thing.

0: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25693618

1: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25697941

Yeah, I imagine that managing one's expectations is the most vital at the formation stages, which could be what is meant.

Was it ever named “relentless” at some point? I’ve heard that was the original name, relentless.com still redirects to Amazon.com.

That does sound vaguely familiar. Jeff did have a handful of other "name candidates" sitting around, and this seems like one in keeping with the sort of thing he was thinking about. I don't specifically remember it though.

By any chance do you remember virtumall.com?

Cutco ... Interslice ...

Not sure I get the reference

They must have turned off the redirect sometime in the past few years. diapers.com also used to land on amazon.com :)

Gotta hedge your bets, but I'm glad that I don't shop at diapers.com.

IIRC amazon bought-out diapers.com; it was certainly some diaper startup that they are accused of using predatory pricing against.

Incidentally, books.com was taken early on (say 1990) by an outfit in Ohio. Pre-web, they had a telnet interface.

There are a couple of institutions in the Seattle area that have pretty good generic domain names, presumably because of the tech connections in the area. For instance, the Washington State Fair has the domain thefair.com.

Local zoo is zoo.org!

Oh yeah, forgot about that one.

Imagine the Seafair pirates or Almost Live! shaking everyone down for domain names.

"Bezos and his wife grew fond of another possibility: Relentless.com. Friends suggested that it sounded a bit sinister. But something about it must have captivated Bezos: he registered the URL in September 1994, and he kept it. Type Relentless.com into the Web today and it takes you to Amazon." -- Stone, Brad. The Everything Store (p. 31). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

N.B.: "Today", in the context of that quote, is ca. 2013, when the book was published. relentless.com redirected to amazon.com for me this morning (2021-02-03).

Now he can make it redirect to blueorigin.com - or not. IDK.

I've also heard this and still think `relentless` is the best way to describe Amazon's behaviour I've heard, love em or hate em.

I believe Bezos was a huge fan of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition; so it could have been homage to that.

I thought it was endless.com that also redirects to Amazon.com

A couple of Paul Davis’ submissions on HN deserve more discussion. Especially relevant to open source.


I think it's probably lost on a number of people who you are (even though you call it out).

This is my first time hearing about him.


Was employee #1 (not at AMZN) and saw the origin story change in front of my eyes.

Coincidentally, I saw this recently: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25671097

Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I could not help but wonder if this was the Usenet post you saw back in the day that made you apply for a job at Amazon :)

This reminds me of an essay by @pg about startup names: http://www.paulgraham.com/name.html

What advice would you have for us solo founders in terms of maintaining healthy relations with our first employees?

I won't ask what Jeff did wrong for obvious reasons, but what did he do really well?

I loved your other comment on here about living a fulfilled life. Thanks for sharing.

To be fair, "Sears for the 21st century" is not what Amazon is today. It's a whole lot more than that. And that does seem to have grown over time. Stuff like AWS and Alexa and all of that. That's likely what he's referring to.

Hadn't heard the documentary story, thanks for sharing!

Were there any choices in the first few years that you think made a particularly big difference in setting Amazon up for what it is today? Anything you're particularly proud of that you did there?

> ps. amazon employee #2

I hope it worked out for you! Early days employees bear a high risk.

How was Amazon back then when only a handful people ran the show? Any lessons to be learned?

So Cadabra came from Abra-Ca-Dabra is it?

Does AWS have a Sears-type analogue or was that a new concept?

Just curious, no agenda, I grew up on the Sears Catalogue.

No, AWS was definitely not part of Jeff's early vision. And as many people have said, major credit to Jassy for making it what it is today.

How early do you mean by early? I remember Amazon at campus recruiting (Cornell, 2000) describing something akin to AWS and LoudCloud came up. I asked what business a bookstore had to do with outsourced computing and recall a fair bit of vision even at the time.

In light of what we now know, I’m the only one who didn’t have sufficient vision...for not pursuing that job opportunity more seriously.

I was at amazon from 1994-1996. That's what I mean by "early".

Apologies if this question is a bit in the nose, but why did you leave?

Thanks, appreciate the reply from an authoritative voice.

Well the way they're adding services I suppose they could make a "paper" version of it soon.

Would be a fun conceptual project

We're you writing Perl primarily back in those days?

Perl got used for some backend tasks. Nothing related to the webserver.

Perl will never die at Amazon. So much build and deploy tooling is still glued together by Perl.

Config files! And Gurupa, right?

Gurupa is in KTLO mode.

Config is due to Brazil (and later Peru) requiring it; especially for rebuilds. At this point Config being necessary is orthogonal to Perl.

Awesome. Thank you for responding!

I read somewhere that there was also a mention of calling it 'Relentless'. I'll do my best to remember where it was that I read this.

And one of Bezos first ideas for a name was Relentless.

relentless.com redirects to Amazon.com

What did his lawyer have against "Cadabra"?

Offhand it sounds a bit too close to cadaver for the marketing dept, but what would a legal objection be?

Is it true he used doors as tables to save money ? :)

This is something that literally everyone that owns a garage and saw horses does.

In fact having saw horses and a flat surface in your garage is superior to having a regular table, because all the pieces are easily movable.

Nobody is going to ask you, why are there saw horses and a door in your garage, but they will ask you why you have a table in your garage.

Yes. :) Here is an interesting link / video about it: https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/workplace/how-a-door-became...

That’s still true for the most part.

Thank you for the candidness! I've found it interesting how the story of a startup's early days morph into legends / fables.

Whose idea was it to put a sketch of a penis underneath the word 'Amazon'?

That logo is brilliant.

Lately I've seen boxes marked with just the penis - no 'Amazon' at all.

> ps. amazon employee #2

Oh wow that's nice. Yeah, Amazon was definitely a better name choice.

Do you have any interesting anecdotes from your time at amazon?

>ps. amazon employee #2

Please tell me you held onto your stock

Why would it matter if they didn't? All they would have if they held it is more money on top of the gobs they already had.

When you have that kind of money, if you want to grow it the surer strategy is to invest in lots of stuff, not keep it all sunk in your previous employer. It's probably more fun too.

And beyond a certain point that stock and the accompanying valuation in AMZ probably isn't so gratifying in itself, and unless one has a juvenile obsession with out net-worthing others, you need to find something more personally meaningful to do with it, whether that is start a new industry (Elon Musk) or address pressing global health issues (Bill Gates). It sounds like the GP has spent some of his funding free software.

Put into perspective that the dot boom happened around 1999-2001 and the dot bomb set in hard by 2003. Between 1996 and through that roller coaster people went through a lot, and since then there have now been two financial crises in the US, one ongoing.

It probably doesn't feel good to be asked this question. I say this as an early employee of three startups.

90% of startups fail, in Las Vegas you have a 14% chance to win now make your choice. I sold my stocks (not Amazon but a very early employee at a small company that still exist and somewhat profitable) as soon as I could and ended up selling at an all time high so YMMV

Oh wow, so awesome to see someone like this. You are basically part of history. I just want to ask two things if it is alright.

1) Any cool anecdotes from Amazon that you can tell?

2) Any advice you have for young entrepreneurs looking to uproar an industry?

Probably `Cadabra` came from `Abracadabra`: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abracadabra

Hi Paul, I :heart: JACK and spend lots with Amazon, cheers.

I wonder if you have an opinion on this bit of gossip: Is there any relationship between Jeff's departure and this FTC Tips scandal? https://komonews.com/news/local/amazon-took-away-62-million-... The only evidence I see is relating to their very similar timing of publication.

> It had a name, and that name was "Cadabra".

Lol, so your take is that you have a better handle on the history of Amazon than its founder? He is likely referring to a point in time when Amazon was just an idea.

>> ps. amazon employee #2

You know, there's actually a pretty good chance that he's not pulling this out of his ass.

And Bezos, who wrote the email, was employee 0. So, by that logic, Bezos claim > employee #2's claim.

The second employee is probably actually more trustworthy than PR signed by the founder.

This story is incorrect. I don't know how Brad Stone could have got this wrong, because I told him the actual origin of the name. It did not come from looking up words in a dictionary. It came from a documentary that Jeff watched about the Amazon river. The concept that particular stuck with him was that the Amazon is not just the biggest river in the world, but is 10x larger than the next largest river. In addition to the alphabetic sorting benefits of the name (important back then), Jeff loved the size metaphor.

>> This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name.

> It had a name, and that name was "Cadabra".

This seems like nitpicking. Lots of projects start out with long forgotten names. I'm involved in one that's pretty successful, but you can see from the code base the name evolved over time (~15 years). Codenames and attempts at product placing in the market evolve, stuff becomes myth or forgotten. I can absolve Bezos (this once) of not remembering exactly what that embryonic Amazon was to begin with, or was called, because it was ~25 years ago, probably during a period of great turmoil.

And the tone of this comment feels like someone who checked out of the company too early and feels a bit sour at doing so. I say this as a single digit employee who could have made a small fortune a couple of times but either bottled it, or the gig wasn't right for me. I missed out on some nice payouts, but I'm not that sour about it. It was my choice.

I have ZERO regrets about checking out of Amazon when I did. I've had an awesome life, raising my daughter, writing a DAW, living. I want for nothing, really.

There's a lot of historical revisionism regarding the early history of corporations. Claiming, specifically, as Jeff did, that 27 years ago (1994) that he had no name for his idea is ... not really true. It's likely true that when he actually started working out what the business might be, he didn't have a name. But who does?

Does it matter? Obviously that depends on your perspective. Probably not much. But it's not even particularly hard to read up on the early history (e.g. Brad Stone's "Get Big Fast"), so memory is not really required.

> This seems like nitpicking.

I don’t know if it’s nitpicking. If it’s true that the Amazon #2 employee took time to post this here, Jeff Bezos should have remembered and be precise in his speech.

> Jeff Bezos should have remembered

Who cares? It's getting into deep time (internet-wise), memories fade, do we care, I don't despite opening my first Amazon account ~1998. It was called "something", big deal. Not everyone has photographic memories of these things, perhaps Paul does, but wasn't asked to recall those memories. Again, who cares? And they might have worked through twenty other names after Paul left. I'm 54 I would have trouble remembering exact details of important things from 25 years ago, and Jeff is older than me, so give the guy a break, it's likely off of his event horizon until he writes "the book".

1) The name "Amazon.com" was chosen in 1994 (or possibly January 1995). 2) Subsequently, the company never considered any other name 3) I'm older than you and Jeff 4) I don't have a photographic memory 5) I've been asked twice in court, on Amazon's behalf, to remember things that happened/took place/were done back then.

[ EDIT: added "subsequently" for clarity ]

Ok fine, but in your original post you don't provide any dates, and you assert that:

> It had a name, and that name was "Cadabra".

Now you're saying something different. So it's one thing or another. Maybe just clarify the "when" of these things as you remember them. Not having a go at you.

This seems like nitpicking.

Especially because "Amazon" being chosen in '94 doesn't mean Cadabra wasn't the name it was chosen to replace. How is Paul "saying something different"?

Registration for Cadabra was filed in July 1994. I suspect this was chosen because Bezos' attorney had discovered that his first preference "Abracadabra" was taken.

Amazon was a much better choice.

> This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name.

Jeff's pitch at the time (1997); so on point, so precise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWRbTnE1PEM

> The question I was asked most frequently at that time was, “What’s the internet?” Blessedly, I haven’t had to explain that in a long while.

Here's Jeff explaining the Internet (at a TED talk): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMKNUylmanQ

> Invention. Invention is the root of our success. We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal... If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.

Jeff speaking about innovation, invention (based on first principles), making data-driven decisions (and also when to not trust data), learned helplessness at Stanford (2005): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhnDvvNS8zQ

> When times have been good, you’ve been humble.

Heh. Reminds me of this 2008 lecture where Jeff is selling AWS to startup school students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nKfFHuouzA Classic.

> Amazon couldn’t be better positioned for the future. We are firing on all cylinders, just as the world needs us to.

Not sure about that last part, Jeff.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

And here is the video from 1999 [1] showing his obsession with customer which is why customer support is in the DNA of Amazon

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxwjzVW7z5o

I'd argue that the customer experience of Amazon has declined dramatically in the last few years. Maybe there should be more internal viewings of that video.

Anecdotally, I disagree. I recently contacted their support when I didn't understand why final ordering prices slightly differed from the listings on Amazon EU websites.

The reply was very on-topic, ridiculously customized and clear for an otherwise complicated topic (reason: VAT is calculated on the shipping location within EU). Almost as if someone with real EU accounting knowledge had taken the time to investigate and reply (which I can't imagine?). And this was from a non-business account. It was easily one of the top-3 customer service experiences I ever had.

I don't deny that Amazon are capable of good customer service. But the site is full of fake products and fake reviews. Returning a product is a breeze but I'd really rather not have to be returning them in the first place. And Amazon knows about the problems. A few times I've reported receiving an offer for a gift voucher in return for a positive review of an item I bought and they've taken zero action on it.

Practically have to do backflips to avoid accidentally signing up to Amazon Prime. Dark patterns deployed front and centre.

I contacted support twice in 2 years for Prime subscription I didn’t want. Each time: “Are you sure you didn— Yes I’m sure, I knew intended to avoid it, so it’s clearly not me.” Both times they correctly cancelled it.

Anecdote for what it’s worth:

I’ve been a heavy customer for many years. While I bemoan the rampant knock off products and fraudulent reviews, by shopping carefully I’ve actually never had a bad product delivered, and the very few times I’ve needed to call support, they’ve been super responsive and remedied the issue quickly. (Mostly refunds for digital content purchased incorrectly).

They may not be perfect, but that have that “Macdonalds” aspect now; you know what you’re getting and it’s consistently pretty good. Which is often more reassuring than trying something new.

I used to trust them, in the last few years the dark patterns have been deployed with gradually increasing intensity and it leaves a bad taste

The system is mostly designed to prey upon inattentive seniors with disposable incomes.

If Prime is any good it should be sold on its own merits, tricking people into signing up is despicable

And canceling Amazon Prime requires you to click a button saying you want to cancel four times.

The "customer" is at the heart of everything, not the ex-customer (or wanna-be ex, according to Amazon).

I'm still a customer, I just don't want to buy their bundle-of-services-I-dont-need. The tricks they pull with tiny hard to find 'continue without signing up to Prime' links are disgusting

"declined" is a major understatement. Too many practices at Amazon is now decisively anti-customer:

- Fake reviews have been happening for years but almost no progress from Amazon

- Huge number of fake products and/or misleading specs

- Sponsored products trumps organic results every time

- Sellers use whatever brand they wish instead of their real names giving appearance that they are "official" vendors of that brand

I stopped buying much there around ~2010. The sheer amount of Chinese counterfeit garbage and lack of proper categorization makes it impossible to browse the site. The clothing category in particular is just 100,000 dumpsters full of unlabeled trash heaped into a pile.

If you didn't discover a product name somewhere else, you won't find it on Amazon. Amazon doesn't do merchandising for shit.

I disagree. Amazon has many times refunded my order in full with a simple call, and for orders internationally they do it entirely faith-based and will send you another version without having to even return the original.

I disagree.

I have had orders where they have refused to refund. When I have later, internally, escalated, they have relented and issued a refund.

There is even a dedicated section (can't recall if on inside.amazon.com or the wiki ) to explain the process of how to internally escalate a bad customer support experience on behalf of your friends and family.

If Amazon (retail) is as customer focused as they claim to be this should not be necessary.

I've been a customer since 2000 and an employee for a while now.

Disclaimer: I hear in the US it is totally different and support is a lot better.

They're great for this. I once ordered the wrong tablet which was totally my mistake and I even ended up unboxing it, but they still allowed me to return it. It's one of the main reasons I use them because I know there's no hassle if anything goes wrong with my order.

Unfortunetly I know a few people who have been abusing Amazon's refund policy recently. I don't come from the best background so I know a few people who have ordered phones and other electrics from Amazon just because they know if they complain they were stolen from their doorstep they might get a free phone. From my experience working at ecomerce and insurance companies it's hard to have a relaxed returns policy when you also have to accept that the majority of the claims will be fraudulent.

I had bought a product on amazon.de, it arrived with some cosmetic damage (product worked, little scratch). To be honest, it was one of the best customer support experiences I had seen. Select order, select product, click button 'problem', describe what the problem was, get return info, DHL picked up the next day, two days later I had a replacement product.

I don't know, I just returned a faulty smart light bulb and the process was beyond easy. Just select it from my previous orders, submit a request to return it, and choose how to send it back. Pretty easy.

As a "bonus" I was able to send it back through a Kohl's store so my wife got a 25% off coupon that she used to purchase some masks and socks (and stuff). Yes, I know, they got us to purchase more stuff, but she really likes shopping there and it was a "we're going there anyway" kind of thing. Plus I didn't have to box up the return or print a label or anything. Just show the clerk the QRCode and hand them the bare light bulb.

My anecdata counterfactual to this is that I recieved an empty package and couldn't even figure out how to make a complaint to Amazon let alone return it. It was a cheap item so maybe they care more if it passes some threshold value?

I had the same issue. I had to use the chat option. It took a little bit but wasn’t too long and they gave me a refund without requiring I send back an empty package. I would have eaten the cost (<$12) if I hadn’t been able to work it out though. Wasn’t worth getting flagged as a potential scammer.

My $2 book purchase anecdata from last summer runs counterfactual to yours. The product never arrived and within 48hours of complaint the cash had been returned.

I agree. Amazon's upper management should really do a mystery shopping exercise themselves to see how dysfunctional their (both Amazon.com's and AWS's) support has become.

A/B testing is awesome for first order problems with your web site design. By the time you’re down to third order problems it’s reductive and cynical.

Immoral techniques always find support from amoral tools. Dark patterns are justified by A/B testing. And shitty people.

One of the main reasons I use Amazon in France is their service.

I never ever had any issues, our biggest fight was about the 2€ they charged me once to send back a 100€ item. They gave up after the 2nd email.

I will pay 10% more for the Amazon price, for the peace of mind.

I recall reaching out to the customer service more than once pre-2010 or so and they were incredibly responsive and helpful. I guess they just couldn't scale human interactions past a certain point.

They still are. I had to contact support for some purchases I didn’t recognize a couple weeks back. I was dreading the usual “support call” experience, but they were super friendly and within 5 mins I was refunded and they deactivated an old device from my account for safety.

oh yeah? have you ever returned products on other online stores?

Might be hard to change anything when you have a core metric that looks like this:


Link is broken.

It's supposed to be the stock chart.

looks like https://www.google.com/finance/quote/AMZN:NASDAQ works for me, based in the US.

Do people do any analysis anymore or do they just repeat memes? i.e. "we put the customer first".

For reference, I'm someone who hadn't used amazon (i'm in Australia, and I've just had no need). These holidays was my first real experience with the amazon brand and the amazon website.

What I saw was an incredibly user hostile site: reviews mashed together from all over the world, and you can't even be sure whether they're reviewing the right product or the seller. Search that doesn't work and you're never really sure what you're getting and from whom. I was searching for keyboard trays and it quickly became apparent various products were all the same but just re-labelled cheap chinese output.

When I went to check out, i had at least 3 dark patterns encountered where Amazon was directly trying to screw me: trying to trick me to sign up for prime, promising free shipping on the click but then default you out of it when you check out until you go searching for it, and continually spamming me with offers for whatever their streaming service is.

They weren't "customer first", they were actively customer hostile. I don't understand how this keeps getting repeated, unless their tech side is completely different from their consumer side...

The customer friendliness is 1. free fast shipping 2. they will cancel and refund things 3. if you make multiple orders they'll combine them 4. the website loads really fast.

Competitors have gotten better at many of these, but it's still hard to impossible to cancel orders many other places, and if I have to chat to Amazon they still refund and replace things very easily.

I have used amazon.com.au and noticed the selection is pretty bad there. amazon.jp is great though, and worldwide shipping is amazingly fast. The customer service is even more important there because Japanese companies hate cancelling things or special requests (omotenashi/"Japanese customer service" means you do what they tell you, not the other way round.)

This is the “new amazon.” Old Amazon was really customer focused. Back when prime was a good value ($80/year for 2 shipping) everything just worked. You could find products easily, order, automate reorders.

In the past five years, every visit to Amazon involved wading through ads for bad products (eg, search for Iphone7, see sponsored ads for Samsung phones). There are more sponsored line items than actual results.

Prime’s price has almost doubled and I had 6/25 packages take longer than 2 days in the last year I had prime (compared to 99-100% for the previous 15 years).

One click doesn’t work because if I try it, I get charged for shipping even though free is available. I have to manually go into every over and uncheck 1-day shipping for $5.99 (or whatever) and select free 2-day. Every time. And I have to click through a screen to manually say I don’t want to buy prime.

Amazon sucks now. They abandoned their customers.

Comically, Walmart has a better (easier, faster, less bullshit, cheaper) experience than Amazon. I never would have guessed.

My experience with Walmart is poorly packed boxes handled roughly by FedEx leading to a bunch of damaged orders. At this point Amazon's delivery service itself is a differentiator for me, and I don't love the company or paying for prime.

That was mine with Walmart for a long time. In 2020, I tried using them and find that they seemed to have improved. Normally packed boxes, speedily shipped. For me, I usually get UPS.

But I think the biggest thing for Walmart is the site as shopping for hard drives shows you hard drives instead of whatever people pay for ads. I was able to find the product I wanted more easily.

> and you can't even be sure whether they're reviewing the right product or the seller

I distinctly remember the point when I lost trust in Amazon, after being a customer since 1997.

There were reviews for two books on the same topic, but different authors, mixed together under one title. I emailed Amazon to point this out and... they did nothing.

Nowadays the review section is a dark pattern itself, you have to keep your wits about you. What used to be a great public resource in the Internet has been lost.

The last experience I had with Amazon customer service was so bad I decided to stop using them as much as is physically possible. If your situation does not fit in a simple bucket, they will force it into one even if its bad for them and you at the same time.

Amazon's customer support is mediocre at best. I tried to buy something from them and the card transaction failed because I had some protections in place. Instead of them trying again, they asked for all kinds of documents to prove the ownership. I sent them a receipt from a local store, but it wasn't good enough for them. I guess they don't want my money :-)

I would never take a receipt as proof of card ownership. If I were to find a wallet, what's the chance that there's a random receipt stuffed in there along with the card?

The receipt wasn't old. It was for shopping done after they asked me for proof.

I think Amazon's search quality going down the drain lately. Too much's been taken by promotions.

Amazon's search and recommendations were never any good, though. You've always had to search a page or three, and buying a TV recommends you more TVs.

That video is pure gold. Lots of lessons you can use even today for any business.

> Jeff's pitch at the time (1997); so on point, so precise:

Agreed! He knew exactly what he was doing.

Interesting that he talks about attention being a scarce resource. Things did not improve from that point....

Thank you for sharing the video. I liked seeing Bezos on startup phase. I had not heard the story, so I learned that he started as a quant on Wall St and left that job to start Amazon later in life. Many people expect tech startups to happen in your college dorm room, but Bezos took a completely different route.

He sounds like a time traveler from the future. He talks like it's a given that the Internet is going to take over the world but back then it really wasn't.

Ostensibly it was going to take over the world? I think you mean to say it was non obvious. But unless we’ve split timelines that is exactly what was going to happen.

I was at that Startup School lecture in 2008. I still have strong memories of his body language and affect. He wasn't at all what I was expecting

In what way, if you don't mind? I always have the impression that he is practical to a fault, and consistent in his prescription for engineering above all.

"this is day 1".

I'm wondering for what else it is day 1, right now.

I know cryptocurrencies have been booming, it's not clear exactly if they will continue to boom but the space is already so big that one has to really read a lot to catch up.

What else seems like a promising field that one could go 100% into right now to bet on?

What else seems like a promising field that one could go 100% into right now to bet on?


Yes cryptocurrencies are one thing but look at the possibilities afforded with having a decentralized, distributed ledger in all areas of life. Having a source of truth in things like law or politics. This would be a fundamental shift for society as a whole not just finance.

Quibble: to me "This is day one" is less about "what market can we get in on the ground floor of and ride a wave". It is more to underscore we are driving the innovation or market and that we are always starting from zero, never too late to change / pivot and we're still aggressively growing everything, or that is the goalline.

That isn't meant to take away from your question. As a developer I'm often focused on leaf concerns. Your question is more about broad strokes and I have to remind myself to think about fundamental changes.

I am in robotics and it seems well poised to grow. There’s a lot of big problems left to solve at the research level but deep learning seems to be slowly knocking down big problems left and right.

I think cryptocurrency is more akin to personal computer. DeFi- the internet.

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