Search and the Bezos Bulldozer

April 13, 2021

For the last three years, I have been giving lectures about the lock in methods implemented by Amazon. I refer to the company as the online bookstore in order to remind those in my audiences that Amazon has a friendly facet. That’s exemplified by the smile logo. Amazon also has a Wall Street persona which is built upon the precepts of MBAism.

I will be talking about Amazon and its policeware strategy at the 2021 National Cyber Crime Conference. If you want a similar presentation tailored to commercial interests, let me know. I can be reached via benkent2020 at yahoo dot com. My LE and intel work are pro bono; commercial works incurs a fee.

I want to mention a subject I won’t be addressing directly in my upcoming lecture later this month. The subject is an Amazon blog post titled “Introducing OpenSearch.” I would also direct your attention to the comments submitted to the Ycombinator discussion of the announcement. You can find those interesting and varied remarks from hundreds of people at this link.

The news is that Amazon is taking quite predictable steps to recast search and retrieval so that it becomes another of the hundreds of functions, services, and features of Amazon Web Services. AWS hired people from Lucid Imagination (now LucidWorks) years ago. Many have forgotten that Amazon operated A9, a Web search system with a street view function, as well. There are other findability functions embedded in Amazon as well; for example, the “search” function in Amazon’s blockchain inventions. (Yes, I have a for fee lecture about that technology as well. Because money laundering is a growing problem, the Amazon methods are likely to become increasingly important to certain government agencies in the future.)

The little secret about open source software, which many overlook, is that the strongest supporters of FOSS and community supported code are large companies. I did a series of reports for the IDC outfit, and I am not sure what that now dismantled organization did with the data. A couple of chapters were sold on Amazon for $3,000, but the topic was not a magnet when we assembled the information six or seven years ago.

Since Amazon is engaged in a battle for one part of the “enterprise” with Microsoft, the online bookstore is actively seeking ways to attract large organizations as customers, lock them in, and then implement the tactics which benefit from Amazon’s knowledge of its customers’ behavior. The use of the “retail” tactic watch, duplicate, and leverage house brands is documented in the reports from vendors who have had their toes nipped by the bulldozer’s steel caterpillar traction system.

Why’s this germane to “search”? Here are the reasons:

  • Search and retrieval is an essential utility for modern work. Amazon wants to generate revenue and other business benefits by having a “better” and (if possible) community supported software base. Search will become part of the lubricant for other Amazon enterprise services; for example, locating tax avoiders.
  • Search becomes the glue and the circulatory system for information analysis and use. No search; no high value outputs. Machine learning is little more than a supporting technology to finding needed information. Many disagree with me, but marketing clouds many experts’ thinking. Search is a core function and requires many subsystems and technical methods.
  • Once users become habituated to search, change is difficult. Amazon is one of the few outfits to have undermined Google search. Product searches are increasingly under Amazon’s control. The ElasticSearch “play” is going to become the vehicle for a broader utility attack.

I have quipped that Amazon has targeted Elastic and the ElasticSearch “system” because it has the same name as some of Amazon’s services. If Amazon is successful in its search maneuver, Shay Banon’s findability play will be marginalized.

There are larger implications quite beyond a comment made to elicit a laugh at a reception at an enterprise search conference. These include:

  • Seamless integration with SageMaker and other advanced functionalities available from Amazon
  • A lever for technical and financial leverage for innovators who use Amazon as the plumbing for their start ups, not Microsoft technology
  • A model for Amazon and maybe other companies to use for shifting open source software into a variation on the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) approach to closing deals. The mantra could become “Nobody ever got fired for buying AWS.”

For the companies generating scorecards for enterprise search vendors, significant change is likely. The numerous vendors of proprietary enterprise search will have to make some changes in their approach to Amazon. Many of these Elastic alternatives use AWS for certain functions. What happens if the pricing structure, the legalese, or the access to certain AWS services “evolve”? What will start ups and Amazon partners do if access to search functions becomes free or requires contributions to the AWS version of open source?

Worth watching, right? The answer is, “Nah, you are way off base.” Yep, just as I was in my analysis of Google for BearStearns many years ago. I have a track record of getting thrown out as I head for second base.

Stephen E Arnold, April 13, 2021

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