All posts tagged ‘Amazon’

File Under: Browsers

Amazon Is Building a Better Browser for Kindle

Browsing the web on one of Amazon’s Kindle e-readers is like taking a step backwards in time. It’s clunky and has only limited support for web standards, and bare-bones JavaScript capabilities.

But now Amazon may be looking to add browser engineers to the Kindle team, according to the job listings on the company’s website.

A job posting for a browser engineer at Lab126, the division of Amazon that develops the Kindle, indicates the company is looking for somebody to develop “an innovative embedded web browser” for a consumer product.

The role at Lab126 includes designing new features for a new browser while supporting the existing code. Job requirements include familiarity with current web standards and web rendering engines, as well as experience with Java and embedded Linux, both of which the Kindle runs.

The Kindle’s current browsing experience is notably subpar. It’s good enough to check your e-mail, post to Twitter or read Wikipedia, but it doesn’t handle images or more complex web apps particularly well. It certainly doesn’t live up to the same vision of the mobile web being outlined by the iPhone, or Android phones like the Droid or Nexus One. And with the coming of the Apple iPad and other threats to Amazon’s dominant e-reader, which should behave on the web about as well as (if not better than) the iPhone, the Kindle had better improve its browser if the device is going to continue to compete with these more capable devices.

Amazon recently launched a beta program for third-party app developers who want to build software for the Kindle.

Apparently, the job listing has been up for a month, but I only became aware of it once CNET’s Stephen Shankland tweeted about it.

Calls to Lab126 and Amazon on Monday morning went unreturned. I’ll update this post if and when I get more information from Amazon or anyone else.

Meanwhile, if you have any advice about improving the Kindle’s browsing mojo, leave it in the comments.

Photo: Charlie Sorrel/

File Under: Business

Amazon Contest Eyes AWS Developers

Amazon Web ServicesAmazon Web Services today launched a contest for developers building their web business off of services like EC2 and S3. The Startup Challenge will award one winner $50,000 in cash and $50,000 in AWS credits, plus potential investment from Amazon.

New startups are commonly using one or more of these web services available from Amazon:

  • EC2 hosts web applications. Our tutorial helps you Get Started With Amazon Cloud Computing.
  • S3 is the “simple storage solution” used by even big name startups, like Twitter.
  • EBS provides persistent storage to EC2.
  • SimpleDB is in beta and provides access to structured data.

In early October Amazon will pick five finalists in the contest, which the public can vote on. A panel of judges will determine the eventual winner. The contest application form is straightforward, with seven long form questions to answer, including the problem being addressed and target customers. Anyone with a qualified entry (I’m assuming this means a site that uses AWS services) receives $25 in AWS credits.

Need some inspiration? Amazon has a list of AWS case studies that show how sites are using their services.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Amazon Expands Elastic Computing With New Storage Service

Amazon Web ServicesAmazon Web Services has released a new storage service that, at first, may look a lot like their S3 offering. The new service, Elastic Block Storage (EBS), is meant to increase the usefulness of their EC2 computing cloud.

In case you’re confused by all these services, here’s how Amazon describes their latest addition:

EBS gives you persistent, high-performance, high-availability block-level storage which you can attach to a running instance of EC2. You can format it and mount it as a file system, or you can access the raw storage directly. You can, of course, host a database on an EBS volume.

While S3 is great for storage, EBS is more flexible with its uses. EBS is used in tandem with EC2 instances. But normally, when an EC2 instance goes away, its storage disappears, too. EBS is, as Amazon says, persistent. It sticks around.

Cloud Computing providers RightScale say EBS opens up Amazon’s services to many new customers. Applications not written directly for Amazon’s other offerings are easier to incorporate with EBS. Amazon even points to a tutorial for running MySQL on EBS.

The costs are similar to other Amazon Web Services, which charge by usage. Storage is 10 cents a GB per month. I/O requests are 10 cents per million. There’s a AWS calculator to help you figure out your own costs.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk Simplifies Automation

Amazon’s automated human intelligence service, Mechanical Turk, has become more useful to a general audience. To use the service in the past required advanced programming skills. Now Amazon has created an interface to bulk load tasks that require human eyes.

Mechanical Turk answer options

Mechanical Turk can help with data collection and correction. Many are already using the service for filtering out obscene photos/comments, or appropriately categorizing and tagging items. Most pay just a few pennies for the answers.

The site is equally catering itself to the workers. There seems to be plenty of interest in the work, called Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITS. I accidentally posted my test HIT, and received eight responses before I could take it offline.

One of the recent changes to Turk are the HIT templates that give requestors an example to start with. Then Amazon provides a comma-separated file to fill in with your data and re-upload. Previously this had to interface with your database via web services.

The name Mechanical Turk comes from an 18th century hoax. A chess-playing machine invented to impress a royal was later revealed to be controlled by a human. As such, Amazon calls its service “artificial artificial intelligence,” because HITs are automated, yet completed by a human.

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File Under: Other

S3 Outage Makes Developers Consider Redundancy

Amazon Web ServicesAt least the downtime gods picked a notoriously low traffic day to punish Amazon’s S3 storage service. The darling of many web apps, including popular Twitter, was down for eight hours Sunday.

Amazon’s service provides storage and transfer of data for a small fee, so that developers can let their own servers focus on more important issues. For small upstart sites, it’s cheaper to buy their data a tiny slice at a time than to invest in a lot of hardware. S3 is especially popular for image hosting, which can be large files in comparison to trim HTML. Also, there are often many images per web page, putting extra strain on a server.

Among the revelations for some developers after a third of a day without S3 is that no single service can be counted on for 100% uptime. Of course, there’s oodles of redundancy built in to Amazon’s service. Yet, still it can go down, leaving many sites that count on it with a single point of failure.

Dave Winer sees a business opportunity in S3 redundancy:

“It would be easy to hook up an external service to S3, and for a fee, keep a mirror on another server. Then it would be a matter of redirecting domains to point at the other server when S3 goes down.”

Developers could achieve the same result Winer mentions on their own. Robert Accettura notes how weathered the S3 outage gracefully:

“They have (slower) back up’s in house for when S3 is down and can failover if S3 has a problem. This means they can leverage S3 to their advantage, but aren’t down because of S3.”

As many have noted, true web scalability and redundancy can be a tough sheep to sheer. While Larry Dignan questions if S3 is too complicated, I think the larger issue is that it is too simple. Too many have viewed it as a silver bullet, with Amazon doing the dirty work for them. This outage (and another back in February) has shown that S3 and services like it can help us a lot, but we still need to do our own work.

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