September 1, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Web giants lure developers
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Photo-sharing Web site SmugMug.com, for example, has tapped into Amazon's storage service, which allowed the company to accommodate more visitor volume while maintaining a small staff of 15 employees.
Amazon Web Services chose to price its Elastic Compute Cloud service aggressively--starting at 10 cents an hour per every server instance--in an attempt to "level the playing field" and reach a large number of people, Selipsky said.
"If you have a great idea and willingness to work hard?the kid in a dorm room has as good a shot as a large corporation at making that idea a reality," he said.
Just like a large number of available applications makes an operating system more attractive, having a large "ecosystem" of hosted add-on services can attract customers, argue advocates.
Salesforce.com has made its AppExchange development infrastructure integral to its business of offering hosted customer relationship management applications.
The philosophy is to "let a thousand flowers bloom" around Salesforce.com, said CEO Marc Benioff at a recent event, where he announced the acquisition of a start-up that used AppExchange to build a tie between Salesforce.com and Google AdWords.
"It's well understood by anyone making a platform play that the way you win is to have people write applications that further embed you into the fabric of the Internet," said Mpire's Cotter.
He added that Web services were at first largely used within corporations, but now services like Mpire.com are targeting consumers with Web services technology.
How Web services platforms stack up
Large Web services platform providers appear to have slightly different motivations in reaching out to developers.
eBay, for example, is offering outsiders fine-grained access to its content, such as catalog items, and deeper integration with its online shopping cart to speed up transactions that go through the main eBay site.
Amazon's Web services, by contrast, are not all explicitly tied to its retail e-commerce operation. The reason the company originally published APIs was to drive business to its e-commerce site through affiliates. But over time it began to view developers as distinct customers, said Selipsky.
For example, it brought out its Elastic Compute Cloud service in response to customer request, he added. Amazon Web Services operates as a profit-seeking subsidiary of Amazon.com.
Yahoo and Google, meanwhile, operate primarily consumer-facing Web sites; opening up their Web tools to outsiders helps enhance their consumer-oriented services with add-on gadgets and drives traffic.
Microsoft, which has a powerful development tool franchise, is turning toward online service development, although with a different twist than strictly software-as-a-service providers.
The strategy, still under development, focuses on the combination of on-premise software augmented by Live online services, said chief software architect Ray Ozzie at Microsoft's TechEd conference in June.
Although they are each vying for developers, established Web services platform providers tend to build links between to each other's services because they can be used in combination, noted eBay's Isaacs.
Programmers themselves have more flexibility in terms of language and products. For on-premise software development, people typically make a choice, such as C, Microsoft's .Net, Java, or scripting languages.
"There's much more 'coopetition,' or fluidness, as a developer takes advantage of eBay as well as Amazon, Yahoo and Google. Before it used to be, 'I'm a Microsoft developer. Period,'" said Cotter. "Now I'm an Internet developer and can look at a different set of tools and protocols."
For Amazon, its technical development focuses on exposing more of its back-end, data center capabilities. Although better known for its e-commerce business, pushing further into utility computing is integral to engaging developers, said Amazon.com's Selipsky.
"My experience is, the way we gained the most attention and achieved explosive growth is when we released or updated really cool, innovative services," he said.
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