When Amazon.com opened its virtual doors on July 16, 1995, it was just one among several online booksellers. As Amazon embraced the technology to categorize and display millions of books in one space, people embraced the ability to search for and purchase books in a new way. The experience of building a successful business based on an open system like the Web has influenced Amazon throughout its history.
Amazon has consistently pushed the technology envelope in their quest to provide a satisfying, personalized experience for their customers. What started as a human-edited list of product recommendations has morphed into a sophisticated computer-generated recommendation engine that tailors product choices for tens of millions of individuals by analyzing their purchase history and the patterns of other Amazon customers. As the Web evolved into a two-way space for discussion and community, Amazon developed features that let anyone post information and advice about products. They embraced the marketing power of other web sites by giving site owners a portion of sales they sent to Amazon. They opened their billing system and catalog to third parties and turned their web site into a marketplace, connecting buyers and sellers.
With this history of opening their technology to others, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when on July 16, 2002, Amazon released a free Web Services interface that gave developers programmatic access to Amazon’s vast collection of product and customer data. With this interface, Amazon combined their core features of recommendations, affiliate marketing, and marketplace commerce into a single technology platform that can be used to build applications and businesses.
The term hacking has a bad reputation in the press. They use it to refer to someone who breaks into systems or wreaks havoc with computers as their weapon. Among people who write code, though, the term hack refers to a “quick-n-dirty” solution to a problem, or a clever way to get something done. And the term hacker is taken very much as a compliment, referring to someone as being creative, having the technical chops to get things done. The Hacks Series is an attempt to reclaim the word, document the (good) ways people are hacking, and pass the hacker ethic of creative participation on to the uninitiated. Seeing how others approach systems and problems is often the quickest way to learn about a new technology.
Amazon Hacks is not intended to be merely an exhaustive explanation of Amazon’s features. Instead, it’s intended to highlight some lesser-known features, show some tricks for working with Amazon efficiently, and document ways to access Amazon programmatically. Developers are already creating new features for Amazon through the Amazon API, and it is this book’s intent to convey some of their creativity and excitement, inspiring the hacker in you.