AWS Features and APIs


Jeff Barr is the Amazon Web Services (AWS) evangelist. His presentation on AWS is online. Simplest Shop is an example of using AWS to create an alternative shopping experience for Amazon products. The site uses a comparison shopping model in contrast to the standard product view from Amazon. The site is pretty impressive when you think that the guts is all Amazon. Another demo site is the Amazon Lite site. Notice the browse mode on the left-hand side and the history box on the right.

Some Amazon information that needs to be understood:

  • ASIN - Amazon Standard Identification Number. This is the basic key to each product on Amazon.
  • Browse Node - Collections of items. ASINs can be in multiple browse nodes.

Amazon, as has been widely noted, has stayed out of the REST vs. SOAP debate by making their site compatible with both methodologies. I've used the site in a RESTian way and apparently so have a lot of others. Amazon handles more REST-type requests than SOAP-type requests. This probably shouldn't be surprising since if all you want is a simple "give me a listing and let me reformat it" kind of request, grabbing the XML from a search and using the built-in XSLT engine to format it is dead-simple. Even so, the Amazon Lite demo site is done in a RESTian fashion, showing that REST doesn't have to equate to "simple."

Greek Landscapes is another example of a RESTian use of Amazon. The site is all XSLT stylesheets and HTML. Click on a book link and note that the URL is Amazon, but the formatting is for Greek Landscapes.

Jeff describes three types of architectures for using AWS:

  1. Static architecture that uses only HTML and XSLT stylesheets. This is relatively easy to do and doesn't require any kind of sophisticated hosting.
  2. Dynamic architecture that uses server side code and a SOAP or XML interface. DevManagers.com is an example of this kind of site that is built using PHP.
  3. Pseudo-static architecture where you dynamically grab data on a regular schedule and create static pages from it for use by customers. ePinions.com is probably doing this. This kind of architecture scales well for large loads. Of course, data like availability won't be up-to-date in this model.

Jeff is talking about caching. Obviously, Amazon would prefer that users cache the data rather than hitting Amazon's servers every time. An interesting point: this is pretty easy to do in REST mode since the infrastructure of the Internet can already to this and there's lots of proxy code for HTTP already written and available for use.

Here is a tool for exploring the merchandising API. It doesn't work very well in Safari or Mozilla (i.e. its IE specific). Even so, the tool looks like a useful way to explore what kind of results you can get back and even play with the XSL transformation.

The Merchandising API allows a developer to get access to data about the products on Amazon in a variety of ways. There are two major modes: light and heavy. Light is more useful for simple indexes. Heavy is for creating fully functional product sites. I asked about URL longevity. No real answer except general agreement that stable URLs for things like images is "a good thing." The Merchandising API supports the "find" and "discover" legs of the Amazon "find, discover, buy" triangle.

The Shopping API provides the "buy" leg of the triangle by allowing users to add things to their shopping cart. The easiest way to do this, of course, is with a simple link to Amazon. This can simply take people to a page on Amazon, give them a "buy box" or even push the item right into the shopping cart. The more interesting AWS component, however, is called "remote shopping carts." The NBA Store is an example of a site that uses a remote shopping cart. The remote shopping cart creates a hidden cart on Amazon and then transfers that into the users actual Amazon cart and they're transfered into the order pipeline. A new feature announced today is that the order pipeline can be branded. Try it on the NBA Store. You'll see the NBA co-branding with Amazon throughout the order pipeline.

One of the things you've probably noticed when you use Amazon is that it now tells you that there are used items available when you search for something. Amazon does this by allowing other people to sell their stuff using Amazon's platform. The Seller API allows this to be managed through AWS. There are actually three different ways that this works: Marketplace is for Amazon products, zShops is for non-Amazon products, and Auction is for, well, auctions. The Seller API is batch oriented.

There are some external toolsets for using AWS. Rael Dornfest the "hacks" editor for Oreilly and he passed out an upcoming "confidential draft" of an "Amazon Hacks" book. Paul Bausch is the author of the book. Chapter 6 of that book will cover AWS. Here are some other toolsets:

More demo sites:

  • Saturday Night Live People uses AWS to create a vertical niche site around Saturday Night Live and drive sales of books, DVDs and other merchandise related to the cast and guest hosts.
  • Here are three power tool sites: Shop for Power Tools, NE Sales, and Tool Realm. Three different takes on the same product line that all use Amazon as their platform.