Amazon.com is universally perceived as the leading e-commerce company, and rightly so. The cynics will say that they are the leaders in how to stay in business while making huge losses, but they have stayed in business while so many of their contemporise failed. I was recently brought to task for claiming that the dot.com companies had been a disastrous failure, while in fact it was the venture capitalists who poured money into ludicrous wild schemes that were the losers, not the technologists.
Things are much better today, and most of us are gaining some advantage from e-commerce. It could be a lot better if there was some other way to gain revenue than by advertising, because most sites are difficult to use because the Web pages are such a complex mess due in part to the mass of adverts, but also to what appears to be a total lack of understanding of human interfacing technology. Quite why people who appear to have no human interaction skills go in for Web design, I don't understand. They are probably influenced by the miserable standard of PC application human interfacing.
Amazon must now be considered a success and as such a role model. Unlike a portal or search engine they are actually selling something directly so that their on-screen presentation can, and is, more orderly and less confusing. However there is still a wide range of products on offer making genuine simplicity very difficult to achieve. Compare this with the user friendly interfacing of the Dutch site, Simplest-shop.com, which is reportedly run by a single person on a part-time basis! But wait, how come the goods ordered come from Amazon, what is going on?
This is the latest variant on "screen-scrapping" (with apologies), since the site is only a front-end which interfaces to the Amazon site. Now even trivial screen-scrapping by reprocessing the keyboard and screen data of an old character terminal application requires a detailed knowledge of that application, even more so if it is to be maintained. Something better then has been used at Simplest-shop.com, in this case based on openstandards. The relevant standards are referred to as Web Services. The objective is to provide a framework on which independent organisations can make their individual systems and applications work together, even when using different technology such as Java or Microsoft .NET. These standards are now published and are available to developers, the key question being who is actually implementing them. This is where Amazon can stand up and take a bow; they have implemented the Web Services standards in their systems. As a result the concept demonstrated by Simplest-shop.com has become a reality. They don't have the resources to build a complete e-commerce system but they can provide an elegant path into Amazon relatively easily simply by using Web Services tools.
Simplest-shop.com can of course also access other sites that comply with the Web Services standards, so all the more credit to Amazon. They have taken the lead again working on the principle that by opening the door of their system to other application developers will gain them more benefit than they will loose. In any case if they didn't then they would leave themselves vulnerable to loosing business to other sites that do open up to the smaller sites.
Perhaps however the biggest interest in this embryonic concept is that Amazon are in effect becoming a technology supplier, giving application services to others. In this closed-shop world this is very much to be applauded, well done Amazon!< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.
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