Jeff Bezos named Man of the Year TWICE!; fear for 2000. by angela gunn

Famine? Pestilence? War? Death? Contrary to 2,000 years of artists' conceptions

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The year in rev-EWWW

Jeff Bezos named Man of the Year; fear for 2000.

Jeff Bezos named Man of the Year TWICE!; fear for 2000. by angela gunn

Famine? Pestilence? War? Death? Contrary to 2,000 years of artists' conceptions of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of the quartet appears to be in his late thirties, balding, and kind of a smiley guy.

We of the Weeklyare reasonable folk and would never think of inflicting such a brain-bender on you. And so I disregarded eBay and Judge Jackson and that judge in Utah who says it's a copyright violation to link to someone else's pages, not to mention non-bitheads like the scientists who decoded Chromosome 22, and I meditated upon the what-is, on why Jeff Bezos is worthy, exemplary, Net-ariffic. (After all, even Bill Gates, whose company actually makes money, limped out of 1999 with just a "best mannered person" award from the Junior League of Cotillions to console him.) Let's take an early 1999-in-review moment to figure out what makes Seattle's new favorite son so dashed man-of-the-year-ish. Consider the following:

Amazon had amazing expansion this year, reminiscent of a gas giant or other unstable force of nature. Then again, so did the entire Net; it's not like Bezos turned around the buggy-whip trade. His company did, however, serve as the avatar of the phantom-profit menace, though analysts assure the public that Amazon could kick the stock-inflation habit and make a profit any time it wanted to, presumably with the help of some kind of patch that would release small doses of venture-cap directly into the skin.

Expansion is sexy: Every time Amazon waded into another field, the market swooned like the heroine of a Harlequin romance. Of course, some folks were harder to seduce than others. For instance, a lot of picky people complained that the featured-book spots were actually sponsored by the publishers, sort of a payola for pages. Though Amazon offered a refund on any book so featured, Bezos holds that every bookstore does it and Amazon was held to a too-strict standard. (That doesn't, however, explain the quality of, say, the toy "reviews," discussed in these pages last week and bearing even less resemblance to any Consumer Reports-style objective content.)

Claiming solidarity with the brick-and-mortar bookstores wasn't the right move. Thosestores have a history of fighting censorship; Amazon has a history of rolling over. Letting the Church of Scientology dictate what books will be offered on Amazon was purest cowardice. There was no injunction here or anywhere else in the world that prevented them from selling A Piece Of Blue Sky. All it took was a nasty letter on legal stationery.

Of course, Amazon's lawyers have been spread pretty thin. As we go to press (and as Timeeditor-in-chief Walter Isaacson calls the Bezos nod "easier than most" for his staff to agree on), calls increased for an Amazon boycott for its anti-Net legal maneuverings. Most of the controversy stems from the bookseller's acquisition of patent #5,960,411, which covers Amazon's "1-Click" online shopping technology.

Though at the moment Amazon is only using the patent to prevent hated rival Barnes & Noble from deploying its own "Express Lane" one-click checkout, Net experts feel that holding a patent on such an obvious (and easily developed) technology bodes ill for the Net as a whole, showcasing not only Amazon's lack of commitment to developing the online landscape beyond its own warehouses but the Net-ineptitude of the US Patent Office.

In other news, in a fascinating display of demographics prioritization Amazon said Greece yes, Lesbos no demanding that tiny amazon.gr give up its domain because the Greek people were getting confused in their mad rush to buy from the American bookseller, and insisting that equally tiny Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minneapolis wasn't really a mainstream bookseller like amazon.com because many of its customers were, you know, lesbians. You choose: Should one be more troubled by Amazon's implication that feminist=lesbian=not mainstream? Or is the weird thing the assumption that said femfolk read a totally different set of books than the rest of the world does, thus implying that Jeff Bezos doesn't know any actual lesbians?

Maybe that's where the buying circles idea came from letting people see what folks just like them are buying. Innovative? Maybe. Intrusive? You bet, especially when IBM can see what Microsofties are buying (to take but one example). Those circle jerks annoyed a lot of folks with this forced intimacy, since one of the nice things about buying books online is that your friends and enemies can't see what you're shopping for.

And the list goes on, though I can't bear to. Man of the year? Yes, if you believe the future is lots of unit-shifting happytalk to desirable demographics until such time as the stock bubble bursts. If that's the main force shaping the future, I'm dreading Y2K, just in case the computers don'tmelt down.

(An earlier version of this article appeared in the December 16, 1999 edition of the Weekly.)

 
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