Thursday, January 26, 2006

Early Amazon: boy-am-i-hard-to-please

Quite a bit of Amazon's early code was written by the first two employees. Nearly all of obidos and many of the tools outside of obidos showed their fingerprints.

Somehow, and I have no idea how, these two managed to find time to do some fun side projects. One of my favorites was called Eyes.

Eyes was well before its time. It allowed readers to sign up to get an e-mail any time a new book came out that matched a search query. It was a great way to hear about new releases, especially in non-fiction.

The page describing Eyes was amusing. It said:
Eyes, your automated searcher, is amazing. Tell it what authors and subjects interest you, and it will track every newly released book matching your interests, author by author and subject by subject. Sign up with Eyes and we'll send you e-mail when the books you want to know about are published.

If you don't think this free service is both cool and useful, please send mail to and tell us why.
Eyes lived on for many years. It was eventually replaced by Amazon Alerts, a good service, but one that is missing the snarkiness of the old.

Sometimes, memories lurk deep only to surface as strange inside jokes. From the beginning of Findory, one of the customer service e-mail addresses has been


Scott said...

Greg, I'm really enjoying these series of blog entires on the early days of Amazon. Pray tell, though, who were these two early programmers, and what are they doing today?

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Scott. I usually am reluctant to name names -- I don't know who wouldn't like being talked about publicly -- but, in this case, this is already generally available information.

Shel was the first employee and the early CTO.

Paul was the second employee. He wrote Eyes among many other things. He left before I joined Amazon.

Many articles and books mention these two. The book "Get Big Fast" has some good quotes. References to both of them can be accessed from that Amazon book detail page under the section "Capitalized Phrases".