Who’s inside that Mechanical Turk?

Andy Baio, otherwise known as Waxy (I don’t know why) is an independent journalist and programmer who lives in Oregon, and in addition to maintaining one of the most interesting link blogs on the planet he periodically takes on research projects — including an exhaustive investigation of all 300 or so samples used in the new Girl Talk album. In order to compile that data, he used Amazon’s “crowd-sourcing” engine known as the Mechanical Turk, and became fascinated by the idea that hundreds of people were spending their time doing small research jobs for him anonymously through the service. So he posted a request that Turkers take a photo of themselves holding a piece of paper, with the reason why they like to Turk. The results? Photos of 30 people, 10 women and 20 men, mostly young and white. Some Turk for the money, some for the “lulz” (or laughs), some just because they are bored. Thanks, Waxy.

Can Oprah overcome the Kindle’s looks?

So what happened when Oprah, the Queen of All Media, mentioned on her show that the Kindle is her “new favourite gadget?” According to Ad Age, the amount of traffic to the Amazon website was about six per cent higher than usual on that day. That’s not a huge amount — but the article also mentions that the number of searches for the keyword “Kindle” rose by close to 500 per cent, which is a pretty big number. Traffic from Oprah’s site to Amazon’s, meanwhile, went up by more than 15,000 per cent.

As Greg Sandoval of CNET points out, Oprah is hugely influential with a certain demographic, one that is much larger than the initial geek/early adopter crowd that gravitates to things like the Kindle. The biggest issue for the device, in my view — apart from the fact that we can’t get them in Canada, of course — is that the Kindle is, well… butt ugly. Seriously, the thing looks like it was designed back in the 1970s, by someone who had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey too many times.

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Google Phone: A mobile Amazon music store?


An Amazon music store app on the Google Phone has been confirmed at the launch of the first phone by T-Mobile, the “G1”. The only downside that I can see is that while you can browse and listen to songs on the 3G network, you can only download them to the device over Wi-Fi. Not sure why that is, but it sounds like a real pain in the ass.

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As the speculation about the launch of the first Google Phone tomorrow continues to ramp up, one of the first reports that I’ve come across that makes me a little excited is the news from MG Siegler over at VentureBeat that the device could be equipped with a mobile client for Amazon’s music store (the other piece of interesting speculation is that T-Mobile might offer free email). Like MG, I think that an Amazon store app — although still just a rumour — makes perfect sense as something to add value to the phone and make it more competitive with the iPhone.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m interested in the Google Phone launch for other reasons, including the fact that I like the idea of the iPhone having an open-source competitor, and I’m hoping that means all kinds of cool apps developed by third parties. But in terms of features, the Sidekick-style HTC device that everyone has been showing photos of doesn’t exactly fill me with lust, if you know what I mean. I’ve used Sidekicks, and other devices with similar slide-up keyboards, and for the most part they were bricks. Useful bricks, but more or less still bricks.

Add an easy pay-and-download music app connected to the Amazon store, however, and the Google Phone becomes a lot more interesting. Amazon’s store hasn’t really gotten a lot of traction as a result of the dominance of iTunes, but a mobile interface that works would be a great way to expose more people to a store that doesn’t have any DRM on its files — which play on any device — and has a growing catalogue at relatively inexpensive prices. An iTunes-killer it might not be, but it would be good to see at least a little more competition for Apple on that front.

IMDB finally gets with the program

Almost a decade after Amazon bought the darn thing, the Internet Movie Database or IMDB is finally getting the ability to stream movie trailers, TV shows and other content, so that when you go and check the site for reviews of a film or goofs (my favourite feature) or a plot synopsis, you can watch some of it right in the page. As Rafat Ali notes at PaidContent, this is so obvious an offering that it kind of makes you shake your head that it has taken so long — but that’s the movie industry for you. Apparently Amazon has signed deals with CBS and News Corp. (for content from Hulu) as well as Sony, and is hoping to get more. I wish them luck.

IMDB was probably one of the first websites I became addicted to — I loved going there before I picked a movie to watch to read reviews, and I loved going there after to read the goofs and other trivia — and it’s also one of the first that I can remember showing other people to try and get them to understand the power of the Web. Unfortunately for me, and anyone else who lives outside of the United States, most of the content that will be available through this new offering is restricted to U.S. residents, and so without some kind of anonymous proxy tool, you will get the dreaded “this video is not available in your country” warning.

What is Mark Mahaney smoking?

Whatever it is, I would like some. According to Henry Blodget, the Citigroup analyst seems to think that Amazon will be selling $750-million worth of its Kindle e-book readers within two years. What actual data is this analysis based on, you ask? Absolutely none whatsoever, as Kevin Maney points out at Portfolio, since the company has refused to give any details about Kindle sales. In other words, it’s just a bald-ass guess. And as far as I can tell, it’s a howler.

As Henry himself knows all too well, making outlandish claims about what stocks and/or products will do in the future can get you noticed pretty quickly — so maybe that’s what Mark is after here. Or maybe it’s a kind of thought experiment, in which you run some theoretical numbers in order to get a rough sense of what might happen. In any case, while Henry seems to think Mahaney’s estimates are reasonable and even likely in some cases, the whole thing seems off base to me.

The Citigroup analyst figures that Amazon will see the same kind of sales growth for its e-book readers as Apple saw for its iPods, but will only sell about half as many. That seems hugely inflated. Like Mahaney, I have absolutely no figures to back me up, but I would guess that the market for e-book readers is less than one-tenth the size of the market for portable music players, perhaps even smaller. And the idea that users will buy a book a month just seems insane. And there’s also the Apple factor, as Rex and others have pointed out.

The only aspect that Henry seems to agree is “optimistic” is the idea that Amazon will make the same kind of revenue from e-books as it does from printed books. As Blodget notes, that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon — since publishers will need to be convinced to sell them, and readers will need to be convinced to buy them, and that means they need to be cheap — and may never happen at all. I don’t know what Mark Mahaney was trying to do with his Kindle analysis, but if he was trying to make a credible argument, he failed.