AWS News Blog

Amazon DevCon – Rael Dornfest

Voiced by Polly

Introduced by Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO.

Rael is a serious blogger, he wrote Bloxsom, his own blogging software.

Subject is remix: beyond rip, mix, burn.

Idea is to look at a trend, see what citizen engineers are doing with their stuff — taking apart boxes, throwing out warranties, etc. Hacking cars — hope it is not attached to the brakes.

eCommerce giants like Amazon and Google are opening up APIs. Interesting trend, they focus on hacks, but this is larger than hacks. Customization, tips, attention to detail.

Genesis of  this was a talk with author of XBox Hacks (Bunny Wang). You have to peel off stickers, participate in a little ritual. Manufacturer puts up this barrier to keep the magic inside. Turns out there is no magic inside, and that by opening it you make the magic happen; this is sometimes more interesting than the box itself.

We see it in music. Industry takes songs, press it in a disc, keep the magic inside. One good track, then several poor ones. TV is the same way. Come for Friends, get stuck with Joey. Movies, too. Director’s cuts are what the director wanted you to see, but these are disappearing. DVDs, the magic is all locked inside. IT same deal, once more. Lock machines down, often for good reasons. Handwaving, “you don’t want to do that, trust me.”

Again, websites. They give you your own data in the way they want to, often locking it inside. Just trust us, we did it — magical thinking. Media, data is trapped in proprietary formats, locked onto paper, stuck with it the way you want it. Example: Harry Potter book, way too big to carry on trips.

A hacker is a tinkerer, not a bad guy. An experimenter, take stuff apart and see what happens. Put on a brave front, pop the top, see what happens. Unlike MacGyver, we usually don’t make things blow up.

Hackers are participating, getting involved is more relaxing than watching. Imbued with a hands-on imperative. People approaching the Mac Mini, pushing old ladies out of the way. No fan, very quiet. Hackers want to know how the trick was done. Sleight of hand isn’t enough.

Article in the New York Times, “Here Come the Alpha Pups.” Asked 8-13 year boys, “who is the coolest kid you know?” Followed the chain until the person said “me”, then gave them new games to beta test. Alpha Geeks are now embraced, e.g. FOO Camp, find the coolest people you know. They have the new stuff first, they are the family and neighborhood influencers. Spontaneous inventions, FOO Camp self-organizing conference, someone renamed all of the rooms overnight as a hack. Geeks in the wild.

Conference, hackers playing with red laser pointers. Suddenly a green one comes up, geeks ooh and ah, speaker has no idea what’s transpiring behind him, bizarre 3D Tetris.

Remixers are not just hackers or alpha geeks. This is the “Amateur Revolution“, Charles Leadbeater.

He doesn’t use PowerPoint, waiting for PowerPoint Live!

Sidewalk astronomers, set up and show people cool stuff. Turn into tour guides to expose people to amazing things like the Dobsonian Telescope.

Clay Shirky, dark matter of the internet. Mass amateurization, the conversation is its own reward. Doc Searls: DIY-IT.

Hacks are a conversation. Hacks are remixing, akin to what is done with music. Regular people understand remixing, they get it. Anyone can do it, not all can do it that well. Garage Band on Mac, Rale is a terrible music mixer.

Remixing requires good source, inspiration, skill, trial and error, magic, and some combinatorics. Ebb and flow of convergence and divergence. Prix fix menu vs. ala carte. Big combo things vs. dedicated devices. Mainframe vs. desktop, network vs. platform. Web services let you own a piece of the platform.

Sword from a stone moment.

Idealism, zeal, technological achievement, and sport outstrip business method, legislation, and safety.

If your customers are breaking your stuff in a certain way, they are telling you what your product should be. Incumbents get nervous and try to put the sword back in to the stone.

Bill Gates (in the 70’s) upset that people were stealing stuff, he wrote a famous letter, asked people to stop. They didn’t. Consumers don’t want to be left behind, they want to do this stuff too, breaking out the #10 Torx screwdrivers.

Alpha Geeks are the home IT consultants.

Hacks series helped people to get stuff done. Word Hacks, Excel Hacks, people who don’t think of themselves as hackers. Amazon Hacks (“don’t change anything”).

Hack your system, it is a good thing (Peggy Rogers, the Miami Herald).

We are 20 years into the PC ERA.

How many devices are you carrying? Parents have N-1.

Given enough eyeballs, are features are obvious (riff on Eric Raymond’s “all bugs are shallow”). Concept of the LazyWeb, ask for features, they appear.

The gospel of openness is spreading. Witness the Firefox download phenomenon.

Insanely great products remix end to end as a platform play. iPod + iTunes + Mac.

View Source was huge. Anyone can participate, take a look at how this works. The lesson was, be open to sharing, taking in, giving out.

Firefox and Thunderbird, keep trying, keep offering choice. Mozilla wasn’t quite right, but they kept trying.

JavaScript, break into browser from inside out, make stuff happen. Drag & drop.

First level of desktop integration, web on desktop. Now things like RadioTime, record radio programs. Things that talk to his desktop, various search stuff, not web style, but the web way.

Music. Step #1 is rip. Lesson was that customers wanted the product, but hated the package. The music industry was not listening. Napster, free love, the 60’s all over again. Apple decides to do something that’s just “good enough”. No one believed the rumors about Apple before iTunes. Lesson: Platform play does not mean abandoning product plays. You can still make great products, don’t have to own everything.

TV. Any night can be Thursday night. Better than the old Flintstones cave TV. TiVo made things open and hackable, hidden 30-second skip. Networks retaliate with off-by-one minute scheduling to thwart this. TiVo adds another tuner. Comcast vs. TiVo battle about to take place. He’s Comcast due to HD. Windows vs. Mac style fight brewing.

Remix your network. Apple popularized culture of wirelessness. Commodity hardware made cheap. WiFi hackers untethered everything else. War chalking, free WiFi signs. Hotspots spring up like dandelions. Pringles can WiFi antenna. WiFi became normal, expect the unexpected.

BitTorrent, is real video on demand, it scares everyone except the users. NetFlix scares the hell out of Blockbuster. Most independent video stores (and the personalized recommendations) are now gone. In the face of too much choice, you watch the ball. Cricket.

Watch what the customers do, team up with them.

Remix your data. Scraping begat XML which begat APIs. Hacks led to standards which led to business opportunity. Syndicated ecommerce. Google/Amazon/Alexa, Amazon/eBay for buying and selling, etc.

Creative commons, Salesforce, Blogger/Typepad, Technorati, Feedster, Bloglines. Delicious, feedburner, typekey. Glued with JavaScript, Perl, Python, PHP as glue.

Lesson: There are parts of the platform that you don’t have to own.

Remix your text, T-shirt, “I’m blogging this.” Excited some people, unnerved many. Cone of silence. Blogging remixing journalism, Dan Gillmor book, debating this.

RSS allowed My Netscape to compete with My Yahoo by getting free content. RSS icon is still too low-level. RSS reinvented syndication, not a remix. RSS is still an approximation of something, not sure where it will go. Tiny compared to where it will be. Everyone monetizes RSS. Perhaps a bubble already.

Jeff Bezos, knowledge locked up in paper (Web 2.0). Project Gutenberg, 13000 books online. Internet Archive, Internet Bookmobile (print on demand). O’Reilly Safari, Safari-U.

O’Reilly adopted Founder’s Copyright, have eggs and the omelette too.

IT vs. construction industry. Slew of specialists, hacks become frameworks become foundation. Raw material grows on trees.

Firefox hits the mark, current darling of the IT department and the family sysadmin. Replace IE and Outlook with Firefox and Thunderbird, and life is a lot better. Works for his mom, she barely noticed, and she adapted just fine.

LAMP, it is infrastructure.No longer central to the story, it is foundation and it works well enough. Recognize the infrastructure to be.

Remix your OS. Mac OS 9 > OS X for this. Apple threw “fluffy designer bunnies” together with Unix hackers and grew a community of designer hackers. Sometimes you have to break your own eggs. Mac  people  know that their  machines are  hackable. Great waste of time,  better than Tetris.

Remix Radio,  podcasting. Online streams shifted from  radio to podcasting. TiVo for radio.

Satellite radio made people realize that people would pay to get rid of ads. We need DJs but don’t need them to speak. Radio coming back to the living room. Visit to BBC. Ten Hour Takeover, asked people to SMS in their requests. Radio is ambient, now collaborative listening, local feel.

Don’t forget the low bandwidth bits.

Software wants to be social. Rendezvous, let devices find each other. Bluetooth hacks. Conferences have been transformed by the back channel (IRC, blogs, etc.). Presence is being redefined. Must allow people to snipe. Limiting to positive stuff changes dynamic and kills it. Virtual participation.

It is all about people and connections to each other.

In-store pickup, the circle of packages. Fedex driver is his good friend. Use Amazon to search “meat space” (reality), if he needs stuff now. Search Powell’s. Remix the physical and the virtual. Doesn’t want to run around and look for stuff. Brick and mortars with no virtual presence will essentially disappear into the landscape.  Turn Amazon into a showroom for everyone else, buy stuff in your own neighborhood online.

Remind your world. Brain/Mind. Mind Wide Open, On Intelligence, Mind Hacks.

Space: Space Ship One, Space Ship One-Click.

Open Source DNA hacking.

What is being broken now?

  • Gaming turned TV in to background noise.
  • Make sure your product does not have a big “but”.
  • Digital life, some of them work, some not all that well.
  • Sync is huge, and it still sucks. Apple trying to do better. Calendaring still really hard to do. Mozilla Sunbird  promising.
  • Spam breaking a lot of stuff. Package tracking.
  • Power & fuel, there’s a lot to do, trickle charge through the air, people doing this.

Rules for remixing:

  • If it ain’t broke it soon will be
  • Need to focus on why it is broken, how is not enough
  • Look to the alpha geeks
  • If you are an alpha geek, look to the consumer
  • Remix even if you have no ear for music
  • Keep it open and hackable
  • Think of the end-to-end
  • It is ain’t  broke,it soon will be



Q: Was there a layoff?

A: No, there wasn’t.

Modified 10/23/2020 – In an effort to ensure a great experience, expired links in this post have been updated or removed from the original post.
Jeff Barr

Jeff Barr

Jeff Barr is Chief Evangelist for AWS. He started this blog in 2004 and has been writing posts just about non-stop ever since.