Since its announced launch last week, much has been written about Amazon’s Silk, a hybrid browser that promises to deliver an improved user experience by performing the resource-intensive part of displaying a webpage on the server side. The architecture is designed to decrease loading times of webpages whose content must typically be fetched from a number of different domains, by building the webpage from its constituent scattered parts and optimizing the media on the back-end depending on the format and content types supported by the front-end user devices. The resulting webpage is sent to the device in a single optimized stream, the “thread of silk” from which the browser derives its name. The performance improvement should be especially noticeable for handheld devices, such as the Kindle Fire tablet and Kindle Touch eInk reader that were announced by Jeff Bezos in the same keynote.
Since all Silk browser activity will pass through Amazon’s cloud servers, which build each page before sending it to the front-end, an important consequence of this architecture is that Amazon will have a complete history of every user’s clicks. This highly-coveted information will allow them to construct comprehensive user profiles by combining Amazon purchase histories with online behaviors and from these making highly attractive product recommendations and targeting advertising to users.
It doesn’t stop there, however, the implications go even further.
With a large installed user base, Amazon would be able to measure the very pulse of the web, keeping track of popular webpages (using aggregate information concerning pageviews) and using these to “tune” webpages and search results to maximize user satisfaction; the question being: “measured by what standard?”
Of course, this functionality isn’t exactly new. Google already does something similar with search results, using some super-secret recipe involving Page Rank, search history, trending topics and who knows what else, to churn out “optimal” search results. Likewise, it should go without saying that any browser could in theory use the hybrid Silk model. Opera’s Turbo feature is quite similar, for example. However, Amazon is in a unique position, since not only does it run a leading web content storage network, but it’s also one of the biggest online retailers. This combination gives it significant advantages over both Opera and Google.
Whether Amazon ultimately intends to implement this vision, and whether they will be able to carry it out, remains to be seen. In the meantime, even with more modest ambitions, Amazon should be able to bring together some compelling content offers.
With the announcement of the Kindle Fire and Silk, Amazon is going to be in a great position to offer immersive and cross-platform media experiences. Imagine consuming media in the same way you surf the web. We’re so used to doing it that we don’t even think about it at all.
Say you’re reading this post and you click on a related link below. Therein, you’ll find a video, which you may click and watch. From there, you might look up Gary Flake and read an article by him or maybe you’ll download Pivot and try it out. You’ve just had an immersive cross-media experience on the open web. You’ve simply seamlessly moved from one medium to the next while following your interests.
Here’s another example: Say you’ve just watched the latest episode of Castle. You’re sorry it’s over and you’d like to explore more. What if you could get Richard Castle’s new book Heat Rises from within your media browser and start reading it right away? Or maybe you’ve just watched Thor, and you’d like to play the game on your console, read the Marvel comics, buy a poster or maybe even a Deluxe Thor Hammer (Adults only).
Sure, you can find all those things on the Internet, but you have to look for them. They don’t come to you. The experience isn’t coherent and it’s not seamless, but it could be.
I suggested this idea in a comment on a post that’s well-worth re-reading on Mike Cane’s eBook Test blog. I said,
“I think the future holds a way to make transmedia experiences more seamless. If I watch Time After Time, and want to learn about H.G. Wells or read his stories, why should I have to go to a bookstore or to Amazon to get them? Why can’t that be integrated into my experience of the movie? Let’s say I come out of the cinema after Watchmen, why do I have to go to a bookstore to buy the graphic novel? Why can’t I do it there? If not physically (I know, it’s a distribution problem) then why not on my digital reader? [I know, I’ve already read the novel before going to see Watchmen, but perhaps that wouldn’t be true of *every* film.]
Now games are a little more problematic. If I am playing Assassin’s Creed, and I’d like to read related stories about the Crusades or if I’m playing Call of Duty, I might like stories about WWII missions. Why should I have to go to a bookstore to get them? Why should I have to go to amazon.com? Why shouldn’t I be able to do it *within the game* or at least within the game environment (i.e. on my game console or other playing device)?
I’m not talking about product placements here, I’m talking about being able to explore related content (in whatever form) from whatever starting point I choose.
The future bookstore isn’t a bookstore at all, it’s a media store, and it will *be* everywhere.”
Check out Smart Digital Books: The Bookscape for another vision of how this might work.
A few years ago, when I was still working in digital media, I started work on a system that would provide a cross-media user experience. Unfortunately, the fractured media distribution landscape was the main obstacle to bringing diverse media together into a cohesive experience where users move seamlessly from one medium to the other. For the most part, that’s still true: one provider offers the video service, another one sells the soundtrack, still someone else sells the books, posters and games… it’s just too hard to bring all the players together.
That’s all changed now.
I mentioned Amazon in my comment, but stopped short of suggesting that Amazon step in to provide the overall glue. It seems they have clearly stepped forward to do it now on the Amazon Fire tablet.
The other side of this is advertising. With complete clickstream histories, Amazon is going to have all the information it needs to offer the just the right ads to Silk users. They’ll know if you like to read, or if you’d rather play games, if you like comic books or if you’re a movie buff. They’re even offering a $30 discount on a Kindle if you’re willing to put up with ads. If the price of online advertising didn’t just go up, it will soon.
All this sounds depressing, like the dysfunctional future depicted by M. T. Anderson in Feed. That’s definitely not the vision I had of the consumer-driven experience.
So, is Amazon going to own the Internet (and us)? What could possibly stand in their way? There’s one thing: greed. The “shiny” new Amazon devices and their attractive price point will seduce many. As the size of the installed base grows, revenues will soar. Then as penetration plateaus, to keep profits rising Amazon will crank up the advertising, making every session a hard sell. Like radio, TV and innumerable Internet pages, the very thing that makes the whole experience possible will poison the enjoyment of it. When that happens, it’ll be Game Over.