Ronny Kohavi was at Amazon.com as Director of Personalization and Data Mining for about two years (Sept 2003 - June 2005). The paper contains some mentions of Amazon's A/B testing framework (which was developed in the 1990s, but has been continuously refined since then) and other useful information on running experiments on a live website.
Some excerpts from the paper:
The web provides an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate ideas quickly using controlled experiments, also called ... A/B tests.Amusingly, some details from a couple of the posts on this weblog are quoted at a couple points in the paper.
The authors of this paper were involved in many experiments at Amazon, Microsoft, Dupont, and NASA. The culture of experimentation at Amazon, where data trumps intuition, and a system that made running experiments easy, allowed Amazon to innovate quickly and effectively.
Controlled experiments provide a methodology to reliably evaluate ideas ... Most organizations have many ideas, but the return-on-investment (ROI) for many may be unclear ... A live experiment goes a long way in providing guidance as to the value of the idea.
Many theoretical techniques seem well suited for practical use and yet require significant ingenuity to apply them to messy real world environments. Controlled experiments are no exception. Having run a large number of online experiments, we now share several practical lessons:
A Treatment might provide a worse user experience because of its performance ... because it is slower ... Compute the minimum sample size needed for the experiment ... We recommend that 50% of users see each of the variants in an A/B test ... A small [win] ... may not outweigh the cost of maintaining the feature ... Running frequent experiments and using experimental results as major input to company decisions and product planning can have a dramatic impact on company culture.
Ronny also gave a talk (PDF) at eBay Research Labs earlier this month that covered similar material.
See also Dare Obasanjo's post on Ronny's paper and his eBay Labs talk.
See also "Front Line Internet Analytics at Amazon.com" (PDF), a 2004 talk by Ronny Kohavi and former Amazon.com Personalization Director Matt Round that has more details on Amazon.com's A/B testing framework.
Update: It appears that all three of the authors of the paper -- Ron Kohavi, Randal Henne, and Dan Sommerfield -- were at Amazon.com. Randal Henne was at Amazon Apr 2003 - May 2006. Dan Sommerfield was there Dec 2003 - Jul 2006.
Update: Four months later, Jeff Bezos discusses the value of experimentation at Amazon in a HBR interview [Found via Werner Vogels].