Sam Newman's site, a Consultant at ThoughtWorks

“Tom Coates'(Podcast of Tom’s Presentation)”: recent presentation at the “Future of Web Apps summit(Casron Network’s The Future of Web Apps Summit)”: did a very good job of expressing what I believe to be the most potentially interesting aspect of the current crop of Internet applications. Early on, applications such as Flickr and started exposing their API’s which previously been uses solely for internal use. Initially the rational was that people would use rich (desktop) applications to display and manipulate data, and it would also people feel safe in providing their data as they could always export it afterwards.

h3. Mashups – Tier Two Applications

What happened of course, was that people started to integrate these API’s into their own internet applications. In the same vein as probably the most famous mashup of all time – DJ Danger Mouse’s “Grey Album(Illegal Art – Summary of the Grey Album Legal Battle)”: – application mashups took data from multiple sources and created something new. The idea that emerged is that the original sources themselves had some value (as did Jay Z’s the Black Album and The Beatles White album), but by combining them you created something new, which itself had value (although no-doubt the lawyers of record companies might disagree). One of the poster children for the application mashup is the “Chicago Crime Database”: By using “Google’s map API”: and the publicly accessible “Citizen ICAM Web site”:, Adrian Holovaty’s Django-powered application managed to created something which didn’t exist before, did a better job of displaying the ICAM data than ICAM itself, and yet was entirely dependent on data and services supplied by external parties.

Many websites use Internet application API’s to enrich their content – pulling in news from other sites via RSS for example, or showing a gallery of photographs from Flickr – however Chicago Crime and it’s contemporaries could not exist or operate without the data and API’s of the services they depend on. Applications such as Flickr, Basecamp, etc are increasingly finding themselves the building blocks of other peoples applications. Topographically we can imagine mashup apps like Chicago Crime, Flickr game “Fastr”:, or the London Traffic Cam site “gmaptrack(gmaptrack – displays London traffic cam feeds onto a Google Map of London)”: operating in a tier above the services on which they are dependent – with Tier one applications such Flickr, Google Maps, et al supporting the creation of newer Tier two mashup applications.

Theoretically, as long as tier one and two applications continue to deliver value reliably, there is no-reason why the trend cannot continue. One wonders when the first tier three application – a mashup of mashup occurs. Of course the growth of such applications has some major potential stumbling blocks to overcome – the lack of any proper service level agreements, the possibility of tier one suppliers monetarizing their APIs, and copyright concerns when user data from one application makes it’s way into another key among them. However at least one major player is convinced that the trend is here to stay.

h3. Enter Amazon – stage left.

With little fan fare, “Amazon’s S3”: webservice was “announced(The Amazon Web Services blog)”: on the 14th of March. The numbers looked good – 15 cents per GB for one month’s storage, and 20 cents per GB of bandwidth use. On the face of it, online storage solutions such as personal favorite “StrongSpace”: or Carson System’s “DropSend”: looked hugely overpriced. However once you look past the headline-grabbing figures, you realise that something is missing from the typical Web 2.0-era announcement. No, I don’t mean the lack of a private, invite only beta. Neither do I mean the lack of a Web UI with gradient fills and rounded corners. Amazon’s S3 has no user interface at all, because it isn’t an application.

When you get down to it, Amazon S3 is simply a large, distributed hash map with an API. Unless people build applications on top of it, it’s useless. Amazon clearly expects this will happen – and what’s more they expect people will pay for it too.

Amazon’s clout, and the fact that paying for a service tends to engender feelings of security, mean that people are far more likely to trust S3 than some new startup with their data. And with those low costs launching using S3 as a backing store rather than going to the expense of writing and hosting your own is certainly attractive.

If Flickr and it’s ilk could be considered tier one applications, then surely Amazon S3 much be considered a tier zero service. Where Chicago crime exists only because of other services, Amazon S3 exists only _for_ other services and applications. Only time will tell if it’s successful – I’ve seen attempts at persistence services fail within big business – but if Amazon are willing to try it out, others may follow.

One Response to “Is Amazon S3 the first Tier 0 Internet Service?”

  1. Dave

    Lots of applications being built on top of S3 now. (Do a blog search.) Jungle Disk, filicio and sync2s3 are all easy enough even for beginning computer users.


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