One View of the Amazon Game Plan

May 27, 2018

I read “Invisible Asymptotes.” Job One for me was trying to match the meaning of “asymptote” with the research my DarkCyber team has conducted into one slice of Amazon’s business roll outs in the last three years.

As you know, an “asymptote” is a mathy way of saying “you can’t get from here to there.” According to Wolfram Mathword:

An asymptote is a line or curve that approaches a given curve arbitrarily closely.

Here’s a diagram. No equations, I promise.

Image result for asymptote

This diagram suggests a business angle to the “asymptote” reference: No matter what you do, it requires effort and a commitment to “quality”. The good news is that although one can quantify time, one cannot quantify “quality” or “perfection.” Okay, gerbil, run in that Ferris wheel gizmo in your cage.

The write up points out:

We focus so much on product-market fit, but once companies have achieved some semblance of it, most should spend much more time on the problem of product-market unfit.

I am not exactly sure what “unfit” means. The author provides a hint:

For me, in strategic planning, the question in building my forecast was to flush out what I call the invisible asymptote: a ceiling that our growth curve would bump its head against if we continued down our current path.

Okay, the idea seems to be that if Amazon enters a new market, the “invisible asymptote” is what slows growth or stops it completely. (Is this the Amazon phone’s and the slowing sales of Alexa in the face of competition from the Google Home device?)

The reason Amazon cannot grow ever larger is because of an “invisible asymptote”; that is, a factor which prevents Amazon from becoming a company that Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller would have wished they had.

The write up does not discuss Amazon’s semi-new entrance into the law enforcement and intelligence market. That’s a push I am exploring in my lecture at the Telestrategies ISS conference in early June.

The focus shifts to a more mundane and increasingly problematic aspect of Amazon’s business: Shipping fees. Fiat, law, and the costs of fuel are just a few of the challenges Amazon faces. I am not sure these are “invisible”, but let’s trudge forward.

Twitter becomes that foundation for social media. I noted this passage:

No company owes it to others to allow people to build direct competitors to their own product.

If Amazon wants to make law enforcement and intelligence services into a major revenue stream, I think the first evidence of this intent will be cutting off the vendors using Amazon’s infrastructure to serve their clients now. (Keep in mind that most of the specialist vendors in the LE and intel space use Amazon as plumbing. To cite one example, Marinus, the anti human trafficking group, follows this approach.

The author brings up Snapchat and other social media companies. I find this example important. Amazon’s facial recognition capabilities hit out radar when my team was assembling “CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access”, written in 2014 and published in 2015.

We did not include Amazon in my review of LE and intel tools because I had only references in some Amazon conference videos, a few patent applications which were particularly vague about applications in the Background and Claims sections of the documents, and chatter at meetings I attended.

The American Civil Liberties Union has made a bit of noise about Amazon’s facial recognition system. Recognition is spelled “rekognition”, presumably to make it easy to locate in the wonky world of Bing and Google search. The reason is that Amazon’s facial recognition system can identify individuals and cross tabulate that piece of information with other data available to the Amazon system.

Instant bubblegum card.

The write up “Invisible Asymptote” talks about social content and social rich media without offering any comment about the importance of these types of data to Amazon’s intelligence services or its marketplace.

The conclusion of the 10,000 word essay is more “invisible asymptote”. Is this Amazon’s the secret sauce:

Lastly, though I hesitate to share this, it is possible to avoid invisible asymptotes through sheer genius of product intuition.

Here’s a diagram from the essay which looks quite a bit like the self help diagram I included at the top of this Beyond Search post:


Several observations:

  1. The write up makes clear that if anyone thinks Amazon’s platform is neutral, think again.
  2. Strategists at Amazon are not able to “see” and “explain” the nuts and bolts of the “we may be a monopoly but” approach of the Big Dog of the Amazon
  3. The long, long essay does not stray very far from selling stuff to consumers who love free shipping.

Taken as a group of three perceptions, what does this say about Amazon?

For me, I think companies using Amazon’s plumbing will want to do a bit of strategizing using “What if” questions to spark discussion.

For companies behind or beneath the curve, there will be a ceiling, and it will not be easy to break through.

Amazon, on the other hand, may have break through and then replace the old ceiling with a nifty new one made of sterner stuff.

For information about our lectures about Amazon’s Next Big Thing: Intelligence Services, write me at Put Amazon Streaming Marketplace in the subject line, please.

We now offer for fee webinars and on site consulting sessions. On June 5, 2015, coincident with my two lectures in Prague before an audience of LE and intel professionals, I will release a nine minute DarkCyber video exploring some of the inventions Amazon disclosed in an April document not widely reported in the media. Watch this blog for a link.

Stephen E Arnold, May 27, 2018


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