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
Getting the initial traffic to your site was really hard in those days, the domain was really important for that.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still a winning business model, because this line could easily describe Facebook.
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.
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 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.
Curiously, that domain now redirects to some concrete company, Hanson guitars existing instead at hanson-guitars.com.
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.
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.
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.
This wasn’t a technical requirement though, sex.com would’ve loaded just fine if it had an A record set.
This is back when you could fire up mosaic and read the what's new on the internet today :-)
People used to do that on the x.25 network to find interesting sites.
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 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.
I wonder what it’ll be to fix the Internet this time around?
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.
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...)
It wasn't as good as google is now, but search engines of the time did allow for discovery.
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.
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
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?
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)
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.
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
As then, though, if you are not specific or willing to lean on a name brand, search is effectively broken.
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.
Had to check and verify that claim. I'm familiar with the brand in general but had no idea!
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.
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.
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 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.
They've also made a clone of pretty much every other ecommerce site without any real successes.
Microsoft also made it work by adding something else next to the name. Microsoft Excel. Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft Access.
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 :-)
I can believe it's a thing at really posh high schools though.
Which is good enough and no reason to hold up the whole process for a decent name.
He says it was also because he liked apples, and it was ahead of Atari in the phone book.
(Counterpoint: it is pretty short and pronounceable..)
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.
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.
So just typing sex could be fruitful...
By the way, books.com redirects to barnesandnoble.com
Also, hello mr famous internet person: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Davis_(programmer)
Ah, for the day someone figures out the Amazon of funding open source software...
Got this from your Wiki entry. Hats off to you dear sir!
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 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.
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?
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).
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 :)
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.
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?
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?
Just curious, no agenda, I grew up on the Sears Catalogue.
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.
Would be a fun conceptual project
Config is due to Brazil (and later Peru) requiring it; especially for rebuilds. At this point Config being necessary is orthogonal to Perl.
Offhand it sounds a bit too close to cadaver for the marketing dept, but what would a legal objection be?
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.
That logo is brilliant.
Oh wow that's nice. Yeah, Amazon was definitely a better name choice.
Please tell me you held onto your stock
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.
It probably doesn't feel good to be asked this question. I say this as an early employee of three startups.
1) Any cool anecdotes from Amazon that you can tell?
2) Any advice you have for young entrepreneurs looking to uproar an industry?
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.
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.
You know, there's actually a pretty good chance that he's not pulling this out of his ass.
> 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.
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.
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.
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".
[ EDIT: added "subsequently" for clarity ]
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.
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"?
Amazon was a much better choice.
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.
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’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.
- 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
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 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.
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.
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.
Immoral techniques always find support from amoral tools. Dark patterns are justified by A/B testing. And shitty people.
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.
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...
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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....
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?
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.