Jeff Bezos: Web gatekeepers, don't slow us down

Says Amazon's CEO in his annual letter to shareholders: "When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the Kindle Fire in September 2011.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the Kindle Fire. Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has delivered his annual letter to shareholders, and he let customers do most of the talking. Bezos, however, distanced Amazon from rivals in the Web platform wars and noted that the company's self-service enables innovation to flourish.

In some respects, Bezos' riff reflected the Thousand Points of Light speech from President George H.W. Bush. The idea is simple: Enable a bunch of folks to throw ideas up against a wall and do good work and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many folks shine.

Bezos quoted users of the Kindle Direct Publishing systems (disclosure: I've used it to publish an e-book), Amazon Web Services and Fulfillment by Amazon. The money quote of Bezos' letter boiled down to this (emphasis mine):

Invention comes in many forms and at many scales. The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash their creativity - to pursue their dreams. That's a big part of what's going on with Amazon Web Services, Fulfillment by Amazon, and Kindle Direct Publishing. With AWS, FBA, and KDP, we are creating powerful self-service platforms that allow thousands of people to boldly experiment and accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible or impractical. These innovative, large-scale platforms are not zero-sum - they create win-win situations and create significant value for developers, entrepreneurs, customers, authors, and readers....

I am emphasizing the self-service nature of these platforms because it's important for a reason I think is somewhat non-obvious: even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there's no expert gatekeeper ready to say "that will never work!" And guess what -- many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.

That gatekeeper comment is definitely worth noting, but it's safe to say Google would make the same argument that Bezos uses.

The Web platform wars have a series of giant players: Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. The company that creates the most win-wins carries the day. In other words, it's a strategic skill to not be an uber gatekeeper.

Apple is clearly a gatekeeper. Google has a good amount of control over Android's use on devices even though CEO Larry Page gave Amazon props for its use of the mobile operating system on the Kindle Fire. Facebook is already the social gatekeeper. You get the idea.

Amazon will be tempted to be a gatekeeper too. The trick will be resisting the urge.


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