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On Reports Of Amazon's Open APIs

You might well have heard by now -- from one of a number of sources -- that Amazon is "contemplating" or "investigating" making their various web APIs into open source ventures. I can sum up the impact of this in six words: instant cloud standard, and let people tinker.
You might well have heard by now -- from one of a number of sources -- that Amazon is "contemplating" or "investigating" making their various web APIs into open source ventures. I can sum up the impact of this in six words: instant cloud standard, and let people tinker.

When most people talk about standards in IT, they draw their examples from two places. The first is the pool of standards that have been developed more or less collaboratively and out in the open, through RFCs and the push-and-pull of public debate about what's really needed or wanted. It's messy and slow, but at at least you get something most everyone can use, and with a whole gallery of possible implementations. (Sometimes that's the bad part -- viz., the wide range of subtle differences between the way web pages render on various browsers.)

The second is de facto standards, things developed by one outfit but which spread to become a standard simply because they get used so widely. Microsoft's FAT filesystem or Sony's U-matic tape format are two good examples of this. The former we all know and use in some form; the latter was used for a long time as both a video workstation format and one of the first common ways to store a digital audio signal for CD mastering.

If what we're hearing about Amazon's web services APIs are true, it'll be a case of them moving from the latter to the former. Amazon always reminded me of Sony in a lot of ways, especially when it came to how they did things: they've home-grown so many of their solutions to specific problems that sometimes it's come at the risk of ignoring perfectly good work done somewhere else or creating a lock-in (like their ASIN product-code system).

If they opened up their web services like this, making the interfaces themselves a public item while keeping their actual technology private, it would be a good way to kickstart a move towards a set of open cloud services. Instead of doing it by committee, which clearly hasn't resulted in much, Amazon could say, "Hey, fellas, we've been doing it for a while now with these APIs and it works. What do you say?"

What's important is that other people can take it and run with it, and do things with it that Amazon themselves never even saw. That's a sure sign you've created something open: people use it as a starting point for entirely different work. But it requires a degree of humility: you have to be willing to believe that your work is not the endpoint but a beginning, and let things happen as they must. They have to be willing to see their work bent.

So I have to ask: How likely is this for Amazon, who have thus far built their career on being a defining example for things (in the vein of Sony and Microsoft) rather than a provider of raw materials for new things?

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the current state of open source adoption. Download the report here (registration required).

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