Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Amazon or Google--Which Is More Interesting?

Brian Aker has a great post about how he finds Amazon more interesting than Google, because they have addicting services but no framework lock-in. I couldn't agree more with his conclusion, though for somewhat different reasons.

The contrast between Amazon and Google has intrigued me for a long time. The fact that Amazon is exposing basic infrastructure to build business systems has enormous advantages if that's what you are building. Google on the other hand has been a lot more oriented toward end users. Their services seem more useful to individual consumers.

I got really interested in Amazon services when SQS first appeared. It was clear somebody understood that service-based systems require messaging for integration as well as workflow processing. With messaging, "safe" storage, availability zones, and rapid setup of virtual machines, you can solve some mighty big problems. I can't see how to do this with on-line spreadsheets and free email.

OK, that's kind of a cheap shot. Still, Google services still don't match Amazon by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to building scalable, general-purpose applications.

There's also an implicit difference between the Google and Amazon approaches. When you write software services for money there's usually a business plan somewhere or you don't do it for very long. Business plans in turn require you make some assumptions about the environments you are using like how much they will cost, what features they have now, and what they will have in the future. It's really important that these assumptions be reasonably stable or you can't make much progress.

Amazon may not be very open about how things work, but at least they are reasonably open about their plans. Now think about how many Google services are marked "BETA."

Google Docs
In fact, with Google I'm even very sure about what the term "beta" means. This is not just a problem for me. It's a problem with how Google interacts with the world that will hurt the company in the long run.

In the end I would be willing to go a bit further than Brian. If you write backend systems of any kind, Amazon is more than just interesting. I would be willing to bet that 20 years from now we will look back and say that Amazon provided the model that made the dubious idea once called utility computing really work.

p.s., Don't get me wrong about Google. I googled all the links for this article, which is written on Blogspot, another really nice end user service. Amazon might be the cat's meow but Google is a verb.

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